Look! It Moves! by Adi Tantimedh: This Ain’t No Party! This Ain’t Sparta!

Adi Tantimedh writes;

We all know about V FOR VENDETTA being adopted by Anonymous and The Occupy Movement after the movie came out. V’s Guy Fawkes mask is now a symbol of global anti-authoritarian protest like ANONYMOUS, despite Warner Brothers owning the copyright and collecting a royalty for every mask sold.

What’s a little less commonly known is how Frank Miller’s 300 has become a rally point in Greece for people on the other side of the political spectrum. Since the release of the movie, the Spartans have been adopted by racist neo-fascists in austerity-devastated Greece as their emblems, inspiring tattoos and fascist slogans. Comics writer ALES KOT alerted me to a Comic Book Resources interview with award-winning Greek artist (and musician) VASILIS LOLOS, who condemned the fascists and their adoption of 300 for their racist, nationalist creed.

It’s notable that it was only after movies of V FOR VENDETTA and 300 had been released that their characters and visual symbols moved from the niche world of comic fans into the wider general culture. That seems to be a testament to the power of mass media and the power of visual symbols to the public, when specific ideologies inherent in Art become both reflections and expressions of significant sections of the public to the point of being co-opted by ideological forces. This is something that many governments have always been conscious of, hence the censorship of art in totalitarian regimes both on the left and the right, and the sanctioning of art created specifically for state-approved propaganda purposes.

The appropriation of V FOR VENDETTA and 300 by different political groups is proof of how “the street finds its own use for things”, to paraphrase William Gibson. Both are commercial comics art, though where V FOR VENDETTA is a deliberately political work, 300 has been sold as a more general piece of pulp entertainment with its politics and ideologies implicit rather than truly explicit. Frank Miller’s political stance has been moving further right over the last decade, though the makers of the faithful Hollywood movie would claim they never intended any political messages, its meanings can be easily interpreted by anyone who looks deeper at the story and its representations. It’s no accident that racist, homophobic fascists in Greece should end up finding it attractive.

 

Vasilis Lolos has illustrated THE PIRATES OF CONEY ISLAND, stories in PIXU: THE MARK OF EVIL (Dark Horse) and wrote and drew the two-volume graphic novel LAST CALL (Oni Press). I’ve decided to interview him to discuss further his first-hand accounts of the co-opting of 300 by immigrant-bashing fascists in Greece and his unique perspective as a comic artist trying to make sense of all this. That is, after all, a major function the artist fills in society, consciously or not.

Vasilis has also given us a short comic story about Greece as filtered through his eyes. You can read THIS AIN’T NO PARTY! THIS AIN’T SPARTA! after the interview.

Our mutual friend Ales Kot mentioned your interview at Comic Book Resources where you mentioned that 300 has done untold damage to Greek Culture, that the movie has been adopted by the fascist “Greek Pride” supremacists. Care to talk more about that?

Yes. But no, not really, it’s in my face so much that I need a break. Just a while ago I saw a thing online about police brutality and the doctored mugshots they gave the press to hide the true mangled and busted faces of the young robbers. The comments are a river of “kill them” “fuck the anarchists, fuck the left, fuck the liberals”. Most made by people that have some sort of 300 movie helmet thing as their avatar. And everybody is too busy fighting on the internet that they miss the point. The point is that the police flat out lies to you and there are no repercussions and you get pissy over facebook on who’s “gang” has a bigger cock.

Truth is it’s people with no direction, no sentiment of true self-worth try to validate themselves through “supermench”, adapting alpha male fictional characters as a shield and a badge of honor. Could have been John Rambo if he was of Greek descent in the movie.

But yes, Leonidas’s helmet. Totally HUGE in Greece.

Did it start with the premiere of the movie or did it come up when the Greek economy went down the tubes and the government insisted on continuing with austerity measures that would further plunge ordinary people in to poverty?

It didn’t start anywhere. The movie has nothing to do with anything in reality. Its like looking for an excuse, the void was there to begin with. Its like religion, people see their ideal self in Jesus, Buddha, aliens, whatever and they take that idea, that image and say, “This is who I am. Someone strong, someone great!” Poverty is the cherry on top. If you are poor you are not preoccupied with any of the “good stuff”. You try to make ends meet and if you are not a strong self assured personality you get mad, and upset, and because it’s easy to blame others than do something about yourself. You blame whoever is an easy target. And if you say something against that then, my friend, you are a “liberal fag”, an anarchist and a commie, an enemy of the nation.

Expel the foreigners”… what if someone expelled the Greeks off the United States or the UK or Australia?

Let’s talk about the comic a bit. We all grew up reading and loving Frank Miller’s comics, but 300 seemed to mark a particular turning point in his career. It’s essentially a macho fantasia that whitewashes history. Its heroes make homophobic remarks while the whole book is one big homoerotic fanfest. There are historical records that the Spartan warriors were sexually intimate and that helped cement their strong bond. Does it look like the supremacists completely glossed over that?

The comic is GREAT! Like I said, I own the issues, 2 of each, one to archive, one to read. It’s great, the style is great, the storytelling is nice and gritty. Amazing. Everybody is naked and all hard-body, what stereotypical nerd wouldn’t want a 300 body? And if they had one… naked. 24/7. Or that’s just my opinion. Hahaha.

Ancient Greeks were gay for each other. There are books upon books about it. Most Greeks shriek and pound their chest in nausea to that thought, but there are texts, historical texts that state that. They were so manly that they could only do men. Like mountains colliding under mighty thunder.

Joke aside, it makes sense. Think about it, they loved the idea of being an all-capable man that nothing can surpass him or match him. Spartans were into women. The rest of Greeks were deep in man-love.

Love between men at that time was thought to be a mix between the ideal of noble friendship bonds and great romance. They would die for their lovers, in battle and in life. It’s not just a “homoerotic thing”. The bonds between lovers were really idealized to the point of no return, romanticized and held in really high regard.

There are texts that talk about the custom of shaving their wife’s head on their wedding day to resemble a boy. Lights out, transition time. Women were there to breed. There are texts about this, about that, about anything and everything. One thing is for sure, like Leonardo Da Vinci they loved the male figure and it was thought to be the greatest creation. But again you have to remember when you talk about ancient Greece, it’s a span of thousands of years, it’s not like Xena were every ancient Greek celebrity that co-existed in one lifetime. It’s not like ancient Greece was a period of 100 years. Society went through a lot of shapes and changes.

So 300 is really true to that notion. Go abs or go home. Although I really didn’t get a homoerotic vibe off the comic as you say, it was the movie that was like a bride’s bachelor party. Some people think of 300 as a documentary and not a movie.

It could have been a tale of some dudes that lure a shitload of invaders in a narrow hallway and fight them one by one. But it is not. It’s Rambo 2.

It’s very telling that movies have a greater impact on culture than books. Both the original comic versions of V FOR VENDETTA and 300 had been around for ages before the movie versions brought them to the attention of the greater culture at large. It seems these two stories have become ideological opposites in global culture. Do you suppose 300 appeals to the sense of fear, insecurity and plain ignorances of the right-wingers in Greece who have taken it to their hearts?

Yes, “He who is not Greek is a savage” as ancient Greeks put it and recent ones use as a motto… V is 4chan and 300 is the NRA forum. As plain as that. Sometimes they cross territories. “Real” far right supporters and members of the parliament think of the 300 movie type things as garbage. “Real Spartans were not like these American Hollywood garbage” They in their turn pick and choose history to create their own “Jesus” figure, the ideal superman to worship and fight for.

Do you suppose the sense of emasculation that many of these men felt when they faced losing their jobs in the economy’s crash contributed to the crisis in masculinity that has given fascism a way in?

No, you raise a very logical point but this is how things have been always, before the comic before the movies… It’s the new power-images that take something and ups the crazy. It would happen eventually, it was always there.

I’ve joked for years that the movie is probably the most expensive gay porn movie ever made. Starz’ SPARTACUS series wouldn’t have been possibly without 300, and goes further with even more naked flesh and full frontal nudity. I’ve even been told by someone in Hollywood that its popularity is in part due to both a female and a gay following. Do they show SPARTACUS on Greek TV as well?

Porn, i don’t know about that …Where’s the cumshot? Where’s they payload? Although there was a very intense moment between Leonidas and Xerxes. I don’t know, I love it, coz i see it for what it is, a very epic funny picture about being epic, having a beard and oiled up abs. It’s just movie, entertainment. I don’t tattoo the 300 logo/shied/helmet on me and allow an idea to ruin my life. I got video game console collecting for that life-ruining scenario. Spartacus is not on Greek TV, or is it? I don’t watch any. It pisses me off. It’s all “you go outside you will be raped by a Pakistan gorilla and have demon seed babies eating your guts.” Lock the door. If I want someone to scream scary obscenities at me, I listen to more black metal.

I don’t blame movies or music or any form of art. Art should always be free. I blame the people who can’t raise their kids to be logical members of a sane society.

Can you talk about what it’s like to live in Greece as a artist watching all of this practically happening outside your front door?

If you go to the center you might get gassed by the police, see some Molotov cocktails and a LOT of barely alive junkies roaming the streets like zombies. 5 gym dudes stab homeless 18 year-old immigrants. Police brutality in every sense of the word. It is very…. It’s not okay. I get really upset. It makes me want to work, more get money and …like a migrating bird, get the hell out of Dodge. Makes me nostalgic for the years I used to live in Brooklyn NY.

I have to ask this: you’re going on record here talking about what you’ve seen. Do you have any concerns that some of those idiots might read this interview and coming banging down your door?

Man, I haven’t said anything from the stuff that I’ve seen haha. It’s no secret, this stuff in on BBC all the time. These things we talk about, it’s just common sense, and you cannot argue with common sense. Plus I’m buff and I have a black belt. For real.

I take it all of this inspired the comic you’ve given us here?

It is a small outlet. I have great stories to tell stuff that happened to me, but I refrain from doing “this is me doing stuff” comics, I take the crazy and put it in my stories. Incognito. Sometime I will do a couple of comics about the real life stories and the situations I’ve found my self in, and nobody will believe me.

Your comic is intensely personal as you say. For us, Art is important because it reflects our lives and how we make sense of our lives, how we choose to organise the randomness of life into a narrative. Would you like to talk about the comics you’re currently working on?

I’ve been working on this book ELECTRONOMICON for the last 5 years. It started off as a short story. I did it initially as a mindless exercise, just put a couple of things that I like to draw together and maybe put it online. But it stuck with me because even at the time, I didn’t know it, but I was putting a lot of soul in this short electro-horror story. Since then I don’t even know how many times I’ve reworked it and redrawn it from the top. I have 40 page chunks that I reworked over and over. But I swear this time is the last re-re-re-re-do. With the book evolving since 2008 I went full head on transforming it into a audio visual project. I created a one-man-band called “LA SUSPIRIA” that fits the story of the book and started on the soundtrack of ELECTRONOMICON. I also plan to make some animated bits to “enhance the story experience”. Since the start of that project I’ve taken music much more serious. It’s good fun man. VENTING and groovin’.

But yeah, comics, I am working on ELECTRONOMICON to be published by ONI Press, AKANEIRO based on the upcoming videogame by AMEIRICA McGHEE published by Dark Horse Comics and written by JUSTIN ACLIN. There are also some things here and there that will be coming out like a collection of my short stories since 2005 and a weekly web comic called THRASHERS, about liking Metallica’s “RIDE THE LIGHTNING” album too much. I am trying to make up for the time I spend out of the comic industry during 09-12.

Vasilis Lolos, thank you.

Vasilis Lolos has a blog and an online shop.

http://steamrobo.blogspot.com

http://vasilislolos.bigcartel.com/

His band LA SUSPIRIA has a Youtube channel:

http://www.youtube.com/user/lasuspiria/

You can follow him on Twitter.

http://twitter.com/vasilislolos

Stay away from weird rituals at lookitmoves@gmail.com

Follow the official LOOK! IT MOVES! twitter feed at http://twitter.com/lookitmoves for thoughts and snark on media and pop culture, stuff for future columns and stuff I may never spend a whole column writing about.

Look! It Moves! © Adisakdi Tantimedh

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