I don’t remember much about going to see 300 except that I left the theatre with an uneasy feeling. Something didn’t sit right about the way the characters were portrayed. My father was a high school film teacher, so I had been given the tools to analyze a film’s ideology and meaning, but this was the first time I really did it by myself.

I recognized the way the Spartans could easily be replaced with Americans, and that the Persians were kind of meant to be Al Qaeda or the “evil” Middle East. The film was a fantasy for a post 9/11 United States audience. And it didn’t end there. I was actually most struck by the way the Persians were queered in the film, and the Spartans were the peak of heterosexual hyper-masculinity. I began to think: How would this film affect the way people view current events and, more importantly, other people? What are the stakes here?

Suddenly I understood the importance of meaning-making and what studying the humanities was all about. I talked about the film to anyone who would listen for weeks: “Don’t you see how this film conflates queerness and femininity with evil?” and so on. I felt such urgency about it. It was a major turning point for me in understanding how ideas are disseminated and perpetuated. It was somewhat of a dark experience, but one that changed my life forever.

When I got to grad school and began to learn about hegemony, power, and ideology I always went back to 300 in my mind. It’s how I learned to make sense of these vital concepts. As I grew up I learned that many critics had seen the same things I had seen in the film, and that my ideas were not nearly as novel as I thought in my youth. This just further cemented my desire to pursue this kind of work. Now I study American Studies and I focus on film and how Americanness is depicted and designed. So I guess it turns out that even the works of humanities that you don’t like can change your life for the better and help you find your path.

– Emily (Ph.D. Student)