300: Brotherhoods and the Queer Other
Every brotherhood presupposes exclusion. If not–how would it be a brotherhood? Clearly there are people not in it. But, also, there are those who are in it, but not “really” in it: a brother who is not-quite a brother. This phenomenon was first made pretty clear to me in college dorm life. I happened to room on an all male dorm hall at a conservative school, and thus there was a lot of homophobic, faux-homosexual behavior/humor. There was a presupposed homosexual other, some stereotype, the brother not-quite a brother, and there was an irony in taking on the role of this other–a humor. The queer other as this sort of presence by its absence strikes me as the unifying structural integrity of the brotherhood as such (the Lacanian Real). The brotherhood of dorm-life precisely was this fear of the homosexual other, the non-ironic other, the other who was “really” actually an other (compared to the faux-homosexual, homophobic humor).
What’s interesting is the way in which this ironic embracing of the homosexual other, the joking and playful eroticism, was itself an authentic expression of affection. It wasn’t a lie–it was true camaraderie. One just couldn’t go “all the way,” i.e. one could express affection for the father-figure of the brotherhood (the brotherhood-ideal: camaraderie, loyalty, honor within the group, etc.), but there was some point at which this affection became too-much, and it was this reserve of affection that made the brother a not-quite brother, a queer other, a pervert (the paraphiliac).
There are countless examples but the first that come to mind are prisons as brotherhoods and the pedophile as queer other, the military and the homosexual other (“don’t ask, don’t tell”), the “Jew” in much of renaissance literature (the Jew of Malta first comes to mind), or even the Roman Catholic Church’s stance and response as regards pedophilia. These don’t strike me as “fringe” phenomenon, but one’s which constitute what it means to be “inside” the group as such. If suddenly the queer other was admitted as a true presence rather than as absent within my dorm, for instance, suddenly the irony would dissipate–there would be no ironic assumption of the queer other as a performative humor role, because there would radically exist an other. Likewise, the camaraderie of this humor as a unifying integrity would decompose–without this irony there would be no “inside.”
Here the relation of the queer other to the disloyal one, the betrayer, becomes obvious. In the movie 300 for instance, this sort of brotherhood is seen in the Spartans (although, of course, they are a substitute for the U.S. military) who display a host of stereotypical brotherhood “virtues”: loyalty, unity, courage, etc. We have the clear “not” brothers, the Persians–in a pathetic and offensive substitute for the U.S.’s relations with Iraq, Afghanistan, et al–who are portrayed as everything the Spartan brotherhood is not: disloyal, scattered, cowardly (this comparison is most obvious perhaps in the juxtaposition of sex scenes between Leonidas and his wife and the orgiac scene with Xerxes). Ephialtes though, the one who betrays the Spartans, fulfills the role of the queer other. He is not quite a Spartan–he cannot lift his shield high enough, he is literally deformed in the movie, and, just like the queer other, the Spartans often wonder why he was let in the brotherhood in the first place (why wasn’t Ephialtes thrown over the cliff with the other “deformed” babies?). Ephialtes is “in” the brotherhood, but yet not “in” it at the same time. His sexual otherness is even pushed further to the foreground of the film when, while going to betray the Spartans, he approaches Xerxes in the middle of an orgy.
Yet, in a very literal way within the film, the so-called virtues of the Spartans, fighting to the death, even in the face of betrayal, can only be actuated in that Ephialtes betrays them. He represents through his otherness the very condition that is the sameness, the brotherliness, that is the Spartans. Even if Ephialtes would not have been shown in the film as the not-quite Spartan, like in the 1962 version of the film, this conception of a not-quite Spartan would still exist and be the condition of Spartan “virtue.” Think again of my dorm experience–there needn’t be a queer other actually for the assumption of the queer other as performative role to exist. The Spartans consistent denigration of the Persians, the messenger, women, etc., all point to the queer other as an absence as the condition of its irony (how could the Spartans mock un-Spartan like qualities without this absence?).
Once the queer other is made present, recognized to be always already “amongst” the brothers, it must be done away with to preserve the brotherhood. Perhaps I’m stretching, but this functionally seems a scatalogical movement to me. Once the brotherhood is forced to come to grips with its insides, what constitutes it as such, it feels the need to expel what it conceives of as “shit.” The queer reveals itself as a true absence, a reversal of castration, a radical unaccounted for presence always already at work within the brotherhood. Thus the language of betrayal. Thus the desire to destroy the other–restore the hegemonic asymmetry which allows the queer other to only exist in its absence, in its irony, and “restore” the “peace” and “virtue” of the brotherhood.