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Guilty Pleasures of a Devout Hellenist

Oh, Kevin Sorbo, you hot Norwegian-blooded Minnesotan human pec monster, you gave me much fap fodder during my teens.

Which reminds me: The series, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess did mythology wrong, so very wrong. They did ancient Greece even more wrong. They gave a more unflattering image of the gods than even Homer, but you know what else? They're something I genuinely enjoy watching.

I've noticed, since becoming a traditional, devotional polytheist, the term "guilty pleasure" has taken on a whole new meaning. It doesn't just encompass Ed Wood films or Emma Bunton records, things that are apparently unaware of how awful they are, and more importantly, unlike, say, the film  Zardoz or records by Yoko Ono, have no redeemable artistic merit. No, "guilty pleasure" has also come to include campy films and television, that are seemingly aware of what's wrong with it --like Hercules and Xena-- and even media that is artistically valuable on some level --like the cinematography of 300, or even the comic it was based on, both of which are just stunning in their apparent goals of updating the Greek vase look for their respective medium-- but is generally panned by my religious community because of either its mythological or historical failures, or just because it gives a piss poor portrayal of beloved deities.

Now, in my experiences, Hercules and Xena are sort of popular as guilty pleasues in the community, because where they fail on history and myth and general portrayal of the gods, they more than make up for in conscious camp appeal and being generally entertaining. It's easy to see why my co-religionists generally like these programmes at least as often as there are people who hate them.

300, especially the film, is one generally panned by the community and is not forgiven nearly as much as Hercules and Xena. I still love it, mainly on its artistic merits: That film did a beautiful job of melding live-action with CGI animation to basically bring the original comic to life. The comic, visually, basically updated the Greek red vase aesthetic in a manner that was conscious of its medium. Furthermore, while the film deviated from the comic, it did so in a manner that serves as excellent meta-commentary on the use of propaganda, especially if one IS aware of the history it incorporates into the story. That also seemed to be Frank Miller's intent, at least to some extent, based on his response to Alan Moore's criticism. It's not about historical accuracy, it's the pictures that nations paint of themselves and others during war.  As commentary on war propaganda, it's beautiful, but at the same time, the acting is so over-the-top, and the history is so bad, that most of my co-religionists just never liked it.

I also love Oliver Stone's Alexander. To be fair, i've only seen the super-long Alexander Revisited cut, which has an optional intro by Stone explaining that his goal was to make an opulant, high-budget three-hour-plus sword-and-sandal epic along the lines of 1964's Cleopatra or 1960s Ben Hur.  So, yeah, the costuming will be mostly white tunics and sandals, despite the fact that the ancient Greeks loved colours on their clothes, and if you really notice some of the detail on vase painting, and look up some of those UV photos of the trace amounts of paint left on ancient marble statuary, the ancients liked it more garish than a drag queens dream closet.  But stone wasn't making a historically accurate film; he was re-creating the early-1960s BCE-era epic.  I grew up on those films, so I didn't even need Stone to explain it to know what he was doing, and honestly, i think if this cut was the one that went to the cinema, it would've done a lot better, and my fellow Hellenists probably would've liked it at least as much as they like Liz Taylor as Kleo VII.

Those are at the top of my own list.  What about you?

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Ruadhán J McElroy is a Helenic polytheist recon (Boeotian traditions) currently living in Lansing, MI, and maintains a blog focused on Boeotian religion and his own Neo-Cyrenaic Pluralism philosophy that blends the fragments of Cyrenaic Hedonism, the pluralistic philosophy of Empedocles, and some proto-Hedonism from Democritus. He also writes a series of fiction focused on the Mod subculture, has a shop on Etsy, and occasionally works as a DJ of Mod Revival and Ska music.

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