Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Violence Against Women in Advertising: Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana, Redwall & Gold Disk

The “alienated spectator” is now a driving force for the way in which ads are constructed and the meanings that are ascribed to them and inherent in them (Goldman & Papson, 1996, p. 83).  One of the ways in which marketers have attempted to regain the attention and focus of viewers in today’s saturated markets is through ads that utilize, reinforce, and glamorize patriarchal norms of violence targeted at women.  Given the universal scale of the issue of violence against women, these aggressive and sexist images of gender relations in advertising has the potential to set the stage, promote and naturalize all forms of abuses including physical, and sexual.  This paper will provide an in-depth analysis of the approaches and ramifications of four print ads that illustrate violent images and vocabulary in order to market to consumers and sell products.  These include ads from: Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana, Redwall, and Gold Disk.
The effectiveness of these ads is primarily due to their shock value.  Shock value is a technique “of grabbing the spectator’s attention that turns alienation into both the subject and the framework of discourse” (Goldman & Papson, 1996, p. 88).  I aim to show how these advertisement campaigns also use shocking material as a “creative” way, through their references to physical and sexual abuse against women, as a means to invite and direct the interest of the cynical audience member.  In the first part of the paper, a brief background on the global issue of violence against women will be provided followed by an analysis of the ads and the techniques they employ to normalize aggression and ferocious attitudes towards women as an acceptable form of male-female interaction.
Violence against Women: A Global Issue
Violence against women has and continues to be a global crisis with severe consequences.  Violence targeted at women is defined as anything that “may result in death, injury or permanent disability, unwanted pregnancy, sexually-transmitted diseases, and/or emotional trauma” (“Violence Against Women & Children”, n.d., p. 2.)  Continued and repeated exposure to violence could also lead to many other forms of chronic illnesses.  For all women around the world between ages 14 to 44, violence is now the second cause of injury (Woodruff, 1996).  Between 1998 and 2002, in Canada alone, spousal violence constituted the most significant category of civil matters in adult courts.  In more than 90% of these cases, the offenders were men and in particular men that were known associates to the women (“Violence Against Women & Children”, n.d.).  Furthermore, approximately 51% of Canadian women “have been victims of at least one act of physical or sexual violence” with the most prominent age group being 25 to 34 year-olds (“Violence Against Women & Children”, n.d., p. 6-7).  Although these statistics allude to the severity of the problem that exists, many corporations still try to cash in on this sinister phenomenon by portraying women in ways and positions that make references to them as being victims of violent acts which reinforces dominant patriarchal ideologies that views women as weak and inferior to men.
Two factors have been identified as unique to the belief system of men who are perpetrators of violence against women.  These include: 1. “the belief that violence is a legitimate way of solving problems and 2. a belief that it is okay for a man to control women” (Woodruff, 1996, p. 331).  If these are some of the underlying attitudes of male batterers, then it is of no doubt that cultural and social vehicles contribute to laying the grounds for promoting and influencing these types of aggressive behaviours.  For instance, from childhood, men are taught to be strong, tough, and in charge, especially in respect to women.  Furthermore, they are socialized to believe that violence and aggression are the correct answers to all of life’s barriers, circumstances and frustrations (Woodruff, 1996).  Thus, violence is not only tolerated, in today’s society, but it is also sometimes even propagated, encouraged and glamorized through various service sectors such as the mass media and advertising.
The Ads: Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana, Redwall, & Gold Disk
            Here are four examples of ads that are shocking due to their glorified depictions of violence against women. 

The first is a poster by Louis Vuitton which shows a woman’s hands, legs and feet wearing a pair of multicoloured Louis Vuitton heels, standing firmly against an oversized, red and pink dartboard (Gender Ads.acom, n.d.).  In addition, four knives (signifiers) which are there to represent darts (signified) are resting on the dartboard inches away from the woman’s bare, tanned legs.  The faceless female as well as her willingness to be used and positioned in a demeaning and dangerous manner advocate the powerlessness of women and justify their treatments as objects. By situating the woman alongside the game of darts, which tends to be a male-oriented activity, this ad aims to serve to a male audience in more than one way.  The woman is being equated to an inanimate object while serving as another source of entertainment.  By changing darts to knives and adding a woman to the picture, it appears that Louis Vuitton is trying to transform an otherwise boring sport into a thrilling, violent and sexually fuelled game.  Unfortunately, this glamorization of violence does injustice to women and their worth and dignity.   

Secondly, at first glance, an ad for Dolce & Gabbana clothing and shoes illustrates a woman being restrained on the ground by a shirtless man while being watched and surrounded by an additional four half-clothed males (signified) (National Organization for Women Foundation, 2008).  What this ad portrays are the asymmetrical power relations that exist between genders in today’s society.  The positioning, angles and the arrangement of the woman’s body versus the men’s, in this picture, reinforces power differences amongst men and women where women are submissive and inferior to their male counterparts.  The male figures are communicated to be powerful and in charge through the way they are standing above the woman and looking on.  The way the woman is being surrounded and outnumbered by men, further alludes to a romanticized gang rape (signifier).  The man holding down the young woman appears to be the first of many perpetrators of sexual violence.  Other clues are also used to illustrate a woman who is being attacked and dominated against her will. These include: her turned head, closed eyes, arched back and upward pointing knees and hips which signal a lack of interest and fear.  By combining sexuality and violence, this ad’s message is both inappropriate and disturbing. 

Redwall, an Italian handbag brand, shows a woman cornered, wearing a see through, plastic mini-dress and heels holding a red leather purse in-front of her face while a semi visible man, wearing all black, aims a gun at her head (Gender, n.d.).  Clearly, the audiences’ attention and focus is supposed to be directed at the only colourful and normal thing about this ad which is the bag; however, one cannot and should not ignore all the other elements apparent in this picture.  The Italian slogan below the image reads: “La Borsa è la Vita” which when translated means “your money or your life” (Revers, n.d.).  In other words, the woman in this picture is being robbed at gunpoint by a man; either known or anonymous to her.  The purse (signified), in this image, is being used as a shield (signifier) for the woman.  In other words, what the brand is trying to communicate is that this bag is strong enough to protect even a woman from strong, tough men.  Thus, women are left to their imagination as they ponder all other forms of violence and abuse they can be saved from if they purchase this durable purse which seems to be the only answer to unwanted aggression towards them.  Essentially, enormous power is accorded to an accessory to make it seem more appealing and desirable to female consumers.

Finally, Gold Disk’s VideoDirector ad offers “alienated spectators” a different, yet equally similar celebratory perspective on violence against women.  At the top of this poster, a heading (signified) in an extra large font reads: “Cut your wife’s head off? Not a problem” (signifier) and right below this obscure and allegedly “humorous” statement, is a picture of the packaged product which displays a grinning and smirking middle-aged man (Gender, n.d.).  The use of humour is further distasteful and insulting as it desensitizes the seriousness of the issue of spousal violence.  It appears that VideoDirector is a video editing program that allows one to cut, delete, and rearrange captured footages.  Apparently, the only thing approach this brand could take in order to differentiate itself in today’s “promotional culture”, as termed by Andrew Wernick (1991), was to offer their male buyers a quick and easy way to behead their spouses, even if it is just in their subconscious (p. 182).  
Dehumanization of Women and Glamorization/Rationalization of Violence
Additionally, all the ads listed above support wide-held ideas of women as objects that can be subdued, which gives an indicator in the direction of violence towards women. By minimizing the humane side of women and/or portraying them in inferior ways, these ads justify acts of aggression against women.  Shock or cognitive dissonances are two responses a viewer can have when first exposed to these ads.  For those who are shocked, the advertisers’ goal has been met.  As mentioned previously, “shock value” has become a prevalent marketing strategy in “hailing the alienated spectator” (Goldman & Papson, 1996, p. 83).  Whether one’s offended or taken aback by these vulgar images and words, their attention has been grabbed and redirected towards the ad.   On the other hand, those who experience cognitive dissonance, which occurs when a person simultaneously holds two conflicting ideas, may feel uncomfortable until one or both of those cognitions are rationalized (Aronson & Pratkanis, 2002).  This is where dehumanization plays a role.  By depicting women as objects, weak, faceless, it becomes easier for audiences to tolerate these depictions and also convinces them that somehow these women “deserved” the treatments they received (Aronson & Pratkanis, 2002, p. 47).   Dehumanization, through the use of innovative images and vocabulary, is seen in the Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana and Redwall ads, where women are either sex objects, disfigured or are subjective to violence.       
Another problematic message these ads send is that “they grant permission” for everyday household products to be used for an execution of “a range of abusive behaviors” or to “protect” one from these acts of aggression (Woodruff, 1996, p. 333).  This is most evident in the Gold Disk poster where it is suggested that a video editing program can effectively enable men to “cut their [wives’] heads off” which supports and reinforces beliefs that violence is an acceptable form of interaction between spouses.  In addition, in the Redwall ad, a red shiny purse is presented to as the best weapon a woman can have with her at all times as it can provide effective protection against even the most deadliest weapons. 
Lastly, Henry Giroux (1996) argues that violence in the mass media today is “stereotypically masculine” (p.19).  One genre of violence that has become commonplace in advertising is what he terms “ritualistic violence” which “is racy, sensationalist, and testosterone laden” (p. 19).   Ritualistic violence appears in most ad campaigns discussed above with the exception of the Gold Disk poster.  Within “ritualistic” violent ads, pornographic references are adopted in order to make violence against women appear tasteful, sexy and pleasurable.  The most prominent example of this is the ad discussed above for Dolce & Gabbana, which presents a fantasy world of “gang bang.”  These allusions to multiple rapes are vulgar, hostile and aimed at shocking consumers.  Louis Vuitton and Redwall also depict violence in an attractive manner in their ads through the use of sex appeal.  Kim Gandy, the President of The National Organization for Women Foundation, proposes that brand name corporations use these outrageous and “provocative” illustrations solely to get publicity (Gandy, 2007). Therefore, “getting publicity” appears to be a more significant goal for these well-known advertisers than offending and degrading women. 
Violence against women is a global issue that needs a global solution.  Majority of women have been a victim of at least one act of physical or sexual abuse in their lifetime (“Violence Against Women & Children”, n.d.).  As Giroux (1996) points out, everyday acts of violence stem from somewhere; they are “neither...innocent nor [do they] emerge outside of existing historical contexts and social relationships” (p. 78).  Advertising is one social dynamic that plays a role in presenting women as conventional targets of violence as seen through the campaigns of: Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana, Redwall, and Gold Disk.  Such advertising significantly contributes to reinforcing, rationalizing and legitimizing existing, ideological myths about the inferior positions of women in society and the belief that men can and should control women.  This is done through the techniques of dehumanization, shock value, “ritualistic violence”, as well as the glamorization of violence.  It is time for marketers to accept a degree of social responsibility and to challenge hegemonic ideas about gender relations and hierarchies.  One way to do this is to eliminate and replace ads that exhibit gender inequality and violence with more positive and equal representations.  
By: Sonia Ejtehadian 

Aronson, E. & Pratkanis, A. (2002). Age of propaganda: The everyday use and abuse of persuasion. New York, NY: Holt Paperbacks.
Gandy, K. (2007, March 08). Love your body: Offensive ads. Retrieved March 8, 2010, from
Gender (n.d.).  The gender ads project: Violence. Retrieved March 07, 2010, from (Louis Vuitton Shoe Ad)
Gender (n.d.).  The gender ads project: Violence. Retrieved March 07, 2010, from (Redwall Purse Ad)
Gender (n.d.).  The gender ads project: Violence. Retrieved March 07, 2010, from (Gold Disk Video Editor Ad)
Giroux, H. A. (1996). Fugitive cultures: Race, violence, and youth. United Kingdom: Routledge
Goldman, R. & Papson, S. (1996). Sign wars: The cluttered landscape of advertising. New York: The Guilford Press.
National Organization for Women (NOW) Foundation. (2008). Love your body: Offensive ads. Retrieved March 07, 2010, from (Dolce & Gabbana Ad)
Wernick A. (1991). Promotional culture: Advertising, ideology and symbolic expression. Newbury Park: Sage.
Violence Against Women & Children (n.d.). Retrieved March 10, 2010, from
Woodruff, K. (1996). Alcohol advertising and violence against women: A media advocacy case study. Health Education & Behavior, 23(3), 330-345.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Overt Racism in the Movie 300: Dehumanization, Violence & Political Agenda

On the Left: Gerard Butler as King Leonidas. On the Right: Xerex played by Rodrigo Santoro

The media are a potent force in communicating, constructing, altering and elaborating notions about race (Hall, 1995).  In particular, visual media “have become major transmitters of society’s cultural standards, myths, values, roles, and images” (Henry, Tator, Mattis & Rees, 2000, p. 296).  Today, Hollywood movies that deliberately and unashamedly degrade minority groups are more often than not huge successes (Berg, 2002).  This is because these blockbusters films have, embedded in them, ideological and dominant narratives of white superiority and minority inferiority.  These lingering hegemonic beliefs embrace Western traditions of thoughts and ideals; while viewing and treating Easterners as inferior, barbaric, and second-class citizens.  An example of such a blatantly racist movies is 300 which I will use as a case study in this paper to illustrate some of these prevailing and continuing patterns of stereotyped representations of the Other which, in this case, are Persians. 
By relying and drawing upon examples from the movie, I will illustrate how 300 embraces and emphasizes notions of the “Orient”, “Occident” and “Orientalism,” as coined by Edward Said (1978).  Said (1978) defined Orientalism as “a style of thought based upon an ontological and epistemological distinction between ‘the Orient’ [Persians] and ... ’the Occident [Spartans]’” (p. 2).  The Orient and Occident are fabricated terms that represent a relationship that can be characterized by an imbalance of power, control and domination.  In addition, a thorough exploration of the two main techniques, dehumanization and violence, adopted by the writer and director, Frank Miller and Zac Snyder, will also be provided in order to explain how the movie constructs and maintains a recurring central theme of “us versus them” (Kunucen & Gungor, 2008).  Moreover, throughout the text, economic reasons for why we continue to see racist and chauvinistic representations of Persians, as well as, other minority groups in the mainstream media will be afforded, followed by the primary political agenda of the movie 300 to propagate the myth that Middle Easterners are innately antidemocratic and incapable of appreciating civil rights and freedom – the principle discourse that feeds Western apathy towards the Orient.


According to Henry et al. (2000) “the media set norms, create stereotypes, build leaders, set priorities, and educate the public in matters of national interest and concern” (p. 296).  This agenda-setting process is apparent both explicitly and implicitly in the movie, 300.  Based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller, the film 300, directed by Zac Snyder, is a fictionalized retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae (Kunucen & Gungor, 2008, p. 188). A basic storyline is as follows:

The film begins with “Spartan King Leonidas’... refusal to bow down to Persian God‐King
Xerxes...and his army of over one million soldiers.” Leonidas and the “300 Spartans, who
know no other life than defending their Sparta, fight to the last man against Xerxes in order to keep Sparta free from Xerxes’ massive attack and his willing to take control of Sparta” (Kunucen & Gungor, 2008, p. 188-189).

Besides some of the inaccurate historical events presented in this movie which have been largely exaggerated, distorted, and falsified, my intention in this essay is not to conduct a fact-finding inquiry on what is represented but rather how it is presented which is where the broader racist ideologies lie. 

Dehumanization & Violence

There are two major techniques which are employed in the movie 300 that are often used in Hollywood films to reinforce ideologies of white superiority, as well as, to reveal and embody dichotomies between the West (Spartans) and the East (Persians).  One of such methods is the dehumanization of minority characters.  Dehumanization is the “process of depriving a [group of people] of human qualities, attributes and rights such as individuality, compassion, or civility” (Hairston, 2008, p. 66).  Consequently, infrahumanization can be summarized, in psychological terms, as the act of viewing and treating out-groups as inferior and undeserving of humane consideration, treatment and respect.  This denigration process also occurs in the motion picture 300, where the Persian characters are degraded in more than one way. 
Firstly, whereas the archetype (the white protagonist), Spartan warrior King Leonidas and his followers, all exhibit heroic, attractive qualities such as charisma, courage, intelligence and fidelity; the Persians in the film are depicted as cowards, feeble, treacherous, and imprudent (Berg, 2002).  Secondly, there are blatant physical features that are further used to differentiate the two groups.  On the one hand, the Spartan warriors are all good-looking and possess the Western “ideal” body type in that they are built, tanned, toned and athletic.  The Persians, on the other hand, are literally faceless monsters who are weak and unfit.  Thirdly, while the Spartans are nearly naked, throughout the entire movie, accompanying only minimal pieces of clothing including metallic face shields, red cloaks, brown boots, and tight briefs; the Persians are depicted “dressed in typical Middle-Eastern [attires] in pure Orientalist fashion, which only degrade them into invisible and insignificant characters without stories” (Jehanzeb, 2009). 
The salacious, suggestive, and erotic Spartan costumes that are rich in sexual innuendo, pose a sharp contrast to the Persians’ long, dull shaped and coloured garments.  In addition, the inclusion of turbans and veils, worn purposely and for particular effects  by the Persian warriors, represent clichés of a fantasized East where people are “fashionably challenged,” conservative, backwards and restricted.  Furthermore, the Persian costume presented in the film also denotes additional dominant ideologies of “us versus them.”  This is because a cross is to Christianity what hijab is to Islam (Manal, 2010).  In other words, turbans, veils, and burqas have come to symbolize and trigger a Western versus Eastern dichotomy in mainstream society.  These points of divergence predominantly prevail in the domains of religion, politics and philosophy.  To the white status quo, Muslim hijab, which is the process of veiling one’s body and hair, with long restrained clothing, signifies an opposition, hatred, threat and resistance to democratic ideals, such as gender equality and freedom, as well as to Western values and citizenship (Kay, 2009; Manal, 2010).  
While turbans, veils and long loose apparels are incorporated to characterize Persians in a negatively connotative way to the wider audience, the utilization of images of well-built, nude bodies to represent the “white man,” also has its own specific implications that are worth noting and exploring.  In particular, the bare legs and chests of the Spartan warriors are deeply embedded with different hegemonic layers.  For instance, in his book, White, Richard Dyer (1997) argues that the presence of the white man’s semi-naked body in films is a fairly recent phenomenon.  The reasons being, that clothes have always been an indication of wealth, power, and status.  In addition, a bare body is susceptible to many dangers, both in social and literal senses (Dyer, 1997).  This may then leave one to wonder why it is that the movie 300 features partially-naked white men, almost the entire time.  The basis for this decision is that there are also numerous advantages in displaying and exposing the white male body, which was not known or understood until the latter half of the 21st Century.   
First of all, the body shape, size, and appearance can help support and/or refute some pre-existing notions about “the white man”.  On one end of the spectrum, it can aid in reinforcing hegemonic views about the “bodily superiority” of the white Aryan race (Dyer, 1997).  At the same time, it is intended to serve as a counter-argument to alternative claims that “perhaps non-whites have better bodies, run faster, reproduce more easily, [and] have bigger muscles” (Dyer, 1997, p. 263).  Thus, the “near-perfect” body figures of the Spartans in 300 serves as both a confirmation of some dominant, lingering perceptions; while, also challenging and marginalizing unconventional expressions of thoughts that endanger widespread beliefs of white superiority (Adam & Savran, 2002).  This authentication process, which is achieved through exhibiting the bare chests and legs of the Spartan warriors, vastly outweighs the pitfalls of displaying the vulnerable body of a Caucasian man.
Another benefit of exhibiting toned and athletic Spartans in the movie 300 is that notions of “bodybuilding in popular culture articulates white masculinity,” and white traditions (p. 264).  Among these are the ancient references to Greek and Roman art that this depiction of the built body makes.  Thus, the image of the Spartans in 300 represents a mythical past where the white man conquered and dominated all other uncivilized lands and cultures.  Additionally, the Spartans’ fit bodies also denote other existing ideologies, such as what it means to be a true American which, at its best and purest form, entails adhering to a “fortiori Californian lifestyle.” This standard of living can be characterized by an individual who is affluent, successful and makes health-conscious choices in life (Adams & Savran, 2002, p. 264; Dyer, 1997).  
Furthermore, the toned and athletic appearance of the Spartans has religious connections and significations as well.  The presence of bodybuilding in Hollywood films “draws on Christian imagery [as] the activity itself involves pain, bodily suffering, and with it the idea of the value of pain” (Adams & Savran, 2002, p. 265).  These religious overtones help in broadening the appeal of movies like 300 to include a wide white Christian audience.  In addition, the physical aesthetic features possessed by the Spartans, display and emphasize signifiers of whiteness as the epitome of power, wealth, accomplishment, beauty and naturalness. 
Last and most importantly, while the Spartans are white, pure and willing to sacrifice everything they have to defend their land in the name of honour and freedom; the Persians are dark-skinned (sometimes even black) barbarians threatening to invade and kill the “civilized” Europeans.  In dominant discourse, blackness has, and continues to be a prime attribute of the perception of the Other.  This stems from long-held beliefs that associate blacks with “the dark side, evil, and villains [and Whites as] the good side, truth and heroes” (Kunucen & Gungor, 2008, p. 192).  This parallelization of skin color to other abstract meanings has been termed the “possessive investment in whiteness” by George Lipsitz (2006).  In other words, by using one’s skin colour to signify either conformity (black) or freedom (white), movies like 300 firmly contrast two races and cultures from each other.  In addition, these distorted views serve to enable the “Occident” to “gain in strength and identity by setting [themselves] off against the Orient” (Said, 1978, p. 3).  
These harsh and aggressive models of comparison based on irrelevant relationships between one’s skin colour and character are amongst some of the naive and racist narratives that have occurred repeatedly in Hollywood films.  One of the main reasons why such prejudiced discourses have continued to reverberate is because they demand limited or no justifications and explanations.  Essentially then, as Berg (2002) puts it, “stereotypes are an extremely cheap and cost-effective means of telling a movie story.”  Additionally, the evolving white audience tastes have also played a role in the progressively intolerant rejection of movies that depict minorities in a positive light or that consist of casts that whites cannot identify with (Gray, 2005).  Therefore, in order for a movie to be a “blockbuster hit,” it needs to always incorporate a white cast, alongside foreign and un-relatable characters.
The oppositional representations between the Persians and the Spartans in 300 only intensify the “us versus them” dichotomy that has prevailed in mainstream media and, in particular, in blockbuster movies. Notions of Orientalism are evident in the way this film portrays Persians as subservient, pathetic, and feeble-minded creatures that are barbaric and uncivilized.  In Said’s (1978) view these imagined stories about the East serve as a “corporate institution for dealing with the making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it,...teaching it, settling it, [and] ruling over it” (p. 3).  In addition, the persistent and highly destructive demonization and tantalization of Middle-Easterners in Hollywood has led to stereotypical views of the Other as cruel, vicious, merciless, heartless, brutal and primitive (Shaheen, 2001).  Lastly, these leading binary constructions allow for the sustaining of a racial power hierarchy that privileges whites.   
Another purpose dehumanization serves is that it eliminates “any dissonance that may be aroused by [one’s] cruelty towards [his or her] enemy” and, importantly, legitimizes violence (Aronson & Pratkanis, 2002, p. 47).  In other words, when audience members are exposed to the extremely violent-natured movie of 300¸ they may begin feeling uncomfortable and even sympathetic towards the Orient (Persians), given the film’s gruesome battle scenes.  This is a risk that mainstream Hollywood directors and producers want to avoid at all costs.  Again economic reasons factor into these decisions and views as whites continue to be the “ideal subjects of consumerism and representation; while people of color are simply political subjects [whose] cultural traditions and identities...must be transformed” in order to attract white audiences (Gray, 2005, p. 95).  Thus, the mainstream movie industry merely cannot afford to jeopardize, alienate or insult these highly profitable and sought-after audience segments of population.  Hence, to prevent offending and confusing White audiences, and in order to cater and appease to their changing tastes, the practice of the dehumanization of Persians is adopted.  Through dehumanization, ruthless acts of violence are justified in the audiences’ minds as they are led and encouraged to believe that the “victim somehow deserve” the treatment they received (Aronson & Pratkanis, 2002, p. 46).  This minimization of humanity and maximization of the culpability of the victim is seen in 300 through the depiction of Persians as malformed giants covered in facial and body piercings whose sole mission is to destroy the White civilization.
Henry Giroux (1996) argues that representations of violence and race are interconnected events rather than isolated ones.  In fact, through a strategic process of exclusion and inclusion, these depictions strongly reinforce one another.  By portraying Persians as the common enemy, excessive violence is used and rationalized by the Spartans in order to defeat them.  The impact of violence in movies and television shows on audience behaviours has been extensively studied in fields of psychology, sociology and communication (Anderson & Bushman, 2001; Pratkanis, 1997; Schneider, 1987).  Albert Bandura was one of the first researchers whose influential findings brought light to the issue of the effects of aggressive mass media models on behaviour. 
Through an extensive experiment, Bandura was able to confirm that children tend to imitate violent models seen in TV shows and films (Aronson & Pratkanis, 2002).  In his now famous 1960s experiment, Bandura first showed half of the participating children a brief film of a woman beating up a Bobo doll and then offered them an opportunity to play with a variety of toys, including the exhibited plastic doll.  Those who had just watched the adult figure harm the Bobo doll, were more likely to smack, strike, and punch the Bobo doll, once they were offered a chance to play with this toy, which illustrates that aggressive models can have negative impacts on viewers’ behaviours (Aronson & Pratkanis, 2002).  Other studies such as those conducted by Atkin, Greenberg, Korzenny and McDermott (1979) and Murray (1994) have also reached similar conclusions in their experiments, providing support that exposure to aggressive models is positively correlated with a range of antisocial behaviours among audience members including verbal and physical abuse towards complete strangers.
As nearly five decades of research have shown: there is a cause and effect relationship between aggressive models and viewers’ behaviours (Aronson & Pratkanis, 2002; Atkin et al., 1979; Murray, 1994).  There is now no denying the fact that media violence can have ensuing negative effect on children’s’ and adult’s actions; regardless of whether the act is a segregated one or part of a more complex scenario (Aronson & Pratkanis, 2002).  This is why the welcomed and accepted use of outright violence in 300 sends the wrong message to viewers.  The highly aggressive depictions in this film not only normalize—but even glamorize harsh and volatile relationships with and towards minority groups.  Thus, it can be argued that movies like 300, which display highly aggressive models, can impact Caucasian spectators by instilling and reinforcing in them attitudes of dominance, control and strict authority over the Other (Said, 1979). 
In addition, it is important to keep in mind that everyday acts of violence stem from somewhere; they are “neither...innocent nor [do they] emerge outside of existing historical contexts and social relationships” (Giroux, 1996, p. 220).  Motion pictures are one way in which people learn how to interact with members of other races.  Hence, through repeated exposures to films like 300, it becomes increasingly tolerable to marginalize individuals belonging to an identified out-group through force and violence.  This dangerous message disseminated can also contribute to an increase or promotion of “hate crimes” in society.  Hate crimes are defined as serious criminal acts that are almost always motivated and fuelled by racial and ethnic differences (CBC News, 2004). 
The Political Agenda of the Movie
While a chauvinistic discourse prevails in 300, some supporters of the film still insist that the movie is not racist for the following reasons: firstly, they claim that Frank Miller and Zac Snyder had no motives or objectives in creating a Hollywood production that would be racially prejudiced towards Persians. Secondly, that free speech is a sacred American right which allows, welcomes, and protects diverse expressions and points of views; and lastly, that motion pictures are mere entertainment and thus should not be taken seriously (Kirby, 2005).  These types of statements and rationalizations are unequivocally false, naive, and dangerous as they do not take into account the contexts and conditions under which most of these movies, including 300, are released or the highly negative social and political impacts they can have. 
For instance, 300 was released in 2006, post 9/11, a historical period marked by a series of highly traumatic Al-Qaeda terrorist attacks in America (Nazemroaya, 2006).  The years after 9/11 also saw the launching of a “War on Terror,” an international-scale conflict between the United States and two Middle Eastern countries: Iraq and Afghanistan.  The September 11th events can be attributed with drastically changing the representations of Middle Easterners in the media and particularly, in Hollywood movies (Nazemroaya, 2006).  One of the main dynamics that has emerged since the onset of 9/11 is that Hollywood producers and writers have continuously and increasingly tried to cash in on this devastating phenomenon by creating and disseminating movies that reinforce and reinstate audience’s lingering fears and anxieties of the Other.  As Lipsitz rightfully (2006), argues “blockbusters profit from exploiting white fears and provoking them into panic selling” (p. 14).  This is primarily achieved through biased portrayals of Middle Eastern countries and peoplesas is the case with Persians in 300which strategically appear in emotionally-charged times of instability and chaos. 
It is also worth noting that it was during the same time span that the American people were beginning to have doubts about the War on Middle East, given the tremendous amounts of time, money, and innocent lives this on-going conflict was claiming (National Priorities Project, 2010).  Consequently, the American people were beginning to express these opposing views while, at the same time, withdrawing their support and resources for this war (Shah, 2007).  This state of transition, characterized by a swinging political support, posed a significant threat to the status quo, which needed media vehicles to lead the wider citizenry back to their state of compliance and loyalty (McNair, 2007).  Thus, in a sense, Zac Snyder’s and Frank Miller’s film, 300, can be seen as an agenda-setting project aimed at regaining the confidence, trust, and assistance of the public by portraying a segment of Middle Eastern population, the Persians, in a degrading and demeaning manner.  In addition, due to their timely production and circulation, Hollywood movies like 300 can be accredited for re-legitimizing the war by sustaining hostile relationships between the East and the West and maximizing the degree of popular consent (McNair, 2007).   
The circumstances listed above serve as the underlying and hidden political motives of of the movie’s director and writer.  In addition, the agenda-setting function of this film is further evident through an explicit interview that Frank Miller gave with National Public Radio (NPR), following the release of 300 on January 24th, 2007.  In this revealing dialogue, when the 300 graphic novelist, Frank Miller, is asked about his opinion on President George W. Bush’s annual state of the union address, he responds the following:

It seems to me quite obvious that our country and the entire Western World is up against an existential foe that knows exactly what it wants…. Mighty cultures are almost never conquered, and frankly, I think that a lot of Americans are acting like spoiled brats because of everything that isn’t working out perfectly every time (National Public Radio, 2010).

In this passage alone, Frank Miller’s bigoted opinions about the East are ludicrously clear.  His referring of Middle East as “an existential foe” provides an understanding of his portrayals of Persians in his book 300.  As well, his superiority views of the Western World as “mighty cultures” are yet another distorted element that is incorporated in the fiction of 300.  In addition, his perceptions of Americans as “spoiled brats,” suggests that one of the main intentions of the movie was to regain support for the war by reclaiming the trust and confidence of the public through a fictionalized defeat of the inferior East.  Here are some of the other important excerpts from the telling and self-explanatory interview derived from the NPR Web site (2010):   

NPR: ...When you say we don’t know what we want, what’s the cause of that do you think?

Frank Miller: Well, I think part of that is how we’re educated. We’re constantly told all cultures are equal, and every belief system is as good as the next. And generally that America was to be known for its flaws rather than its virtues....

NPR: A lot of people would say what America has done abroad has led to the doubts and even the hatred of its own citizens.

Frank Miller: Well, okay, then let’s finally talk about the enemy. For some reason, nobody seems to be talking about who we’re up against, and the sixth century barbarism that they actually represent. These people saw people’s heads off. They enslave women, they genitally mutilate their daughters, they do not behave by any cultural norms that are sensible to us. I’m speaking into a microphone that never could have been a product of their culture, and I’m living in a city where three thousand of my neighbors were killed by thieves of airplanes they never could have built.

NPR: As you look at people around you, though, why do you think they’re so, as you would put it, self-absorbed, even whiny?

Frank Miller: ...Where I would fault President Bush the most, was that in the wake of 9/11, he motivated our military, but he didn’t call the nation into a state of war. He didn’t explain that this would take a communal effort against a common foe.

As evident through this candid interview, Frank Miller’s rhetoric and ways of thinking are both racist and ignorant.  By using loaded words like “enemy” and “common foe,” Miller is tapping into widespread Western anxiety, fears, and views of the East as a global threat to safety, peace, stability and security.  In particular, his demonization of the Other only reinforce Orientalist binary constrictions of race while rationalizing and promoting maltreatments of scapegoated groups.  Perhaps the most disturbing part of this dialogue is his critiques of the then president, George W. Bush, for not calling “the nation into a state of war” immediately following 9/11, and the education system for teaching that “all cultures are equal, and every belief system is as good as the next.”  These chauvinistic attitudes suggest that, like many other white supremacists, Frank Miller also believes that the only appropriate form of interaction with other races is through the use of overt violence, terrorization, and dominance.   Additionally, why accepting and perceiving everyone as virtuous and as of equal status is problematic is beyond insulting, ignorant, and fathomable.  
Through his xenophobic and distorted perceptions of Middle Easterners as barbaric, violent people, Miller’s political agenda, in 300, is revealed through this on air discussion, which was heard by millions of people nationwide (National Public Radio, 2010).  Specifically, in order to protect political interests, this graphic novelist legitimizes existing hierarchies and asymmetrical power relations between marginalized and mainstream groups.  Ultimately, the words and phrases Frank Miller utilizes in this broadcast interview provide valuable clues to the significant role his subconscious and deep-rooted stereotypes could have played in his prejudiced depictions of Persians in 300.  As one Persian audience member has framed it, Miller’s stereotyped portrayals and ways of thinking attribute shared global values of peace, solidarity, and justice to the “monopoly of a ‘select’ [white] race while [undermining] the countless achievements and contributions of other races to human civilization” (Rezaeiyazdi, 2005).  
            The mainstream media are a significant mechanism for sustaining hegemony (McNair, 2007).  Through reinforcing pre-existing ideas of race and white supremacy, Hollywood movies today, manufacture and maintain support for Western dominance over Middle East by replicating and distributing knowledge that favours and caters to white interests and status quo (Ericson, Baranek, & Chan, 1991, p. 12).  In particular, the distorted representations of Persians in the blockbuster movie 300, serves as an ego-boosting of white, middle and upper class racial identity by reaffirming doctrines of superiority.  This is achieved primarily through techniques of dehumanization, inferiorization, and violence, as well as, contrasting images between the two races. 
The “us versus them” dichotomy appears in many forms, some blatant and others more subtle.  Firstly, while the Spartan warriors possess heroic and attractive traits, the Persians are depicted in the exact opposite manner, as cowards and treacherous individuals.  In addition, overt distinctions are exposed through the physical characteristics attributed to each racial group.  Whereas the Persians are disfigured, faceless creatures; the European counterparts are all good-looking, fit, built and athletic.  Finally, in order to highlight and reinforce negative stereotypical beliefs about skin colour, the Persians in the movie are dark-skinned and sometimes even black, while the Spartans are white symbolizing purity and freedom.  Such naive, arbitrary and bigoted differences employed in this film contribute to supporting white chauvinism. 
Excessive violence directed at the Persians in the movie 300 also raises wider racial issues of discrimination.  As discussed above, numerous studies have shown that aggressive mass media models can have profound harmful impacts on viewers’ behaviours and actions.  Thus, through the use of welcomed and accepted use of outright violence, these highly problematic depictions not only normalize but even glamorize harsh and volatile relationships with and towards minority groups (Aronson & Pratkanis, 2002; Atkin et al., 1979; Murray, 1994).
It is time for Hollywood producers and directors to start accepting some degree of responsibility and accountability for the social and political messages their movies convey and disseminate.  As long as profit-oriented motives are the driving force for the construction and circulation of mainstream films, then we will continue to see racist ideologies prevail.  If change is to ever occur, the existing economic equation needs to be replaced with more socially conscious ones.  In addition, greater opportunities and spaces need to be afforded to minority voices so that they can also build, encourage, and promote more diverse and positive representations of their cultures and peoples.        

Movie Trailer: 

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