Being cultural adviser to iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad must be one of the more thankless jobs on the planet, but Javad Shamghadri manages to keep busy. His latest foray is into the cultural space occupied by the teenage bloodlust demographic.
What bothers Shamghadri - and quite a lot of other people in Iran - is the new Hollywood hit 300, a computer-enhanced comic book of a film that shows impossibly buff and noble Greeks seeing off an attempt by evil Persians to strangle Western civilization in its cradle 2,487 years ago.
They think it's "psychological warfare" against present-day Iranians, thinly disguised as a story about their wicked Persian ancestors.
Shamghadri is so clueless about the workings of Hollywood that you really want to take him gently by the hand and walk him through it. "Following the Islamic Revolution in Iran (in 1979)," he says, "Hollywood and cultural authorities in the U.S. initiated studies to figure out how to attack Iranian culture. Certainly, the recent movie is a product of such studies."
After pausing for a moment to savour the notion of "cultural authorities in the U.S.," let us move on to the Tehran paper Ayandeh-No, which is quite close to the regime.
Under a headline screaming "Hollywood declares war on Iranians," it complains that "the film depicts Iranians as demons, without culture, feeling or humanity, who think of nothing except attacking other nations and killing people. It is a new effort to slander the Iranian people and civilization before world public opinion at a time of increasing American threats against Iran."
Now, I must admit that I haven't seen 300 (and neither has anybody in Iran). I suppose I should have gone to see the movie before I wrote about it, but a) I'm in Cuba at the moment, where it isn't playing; and b) I did see the trailer, which gives you quite enough sense of the thing's style to let you decide if you really want to let it occupy any more of your life.
So can we all just laugh at those stupid, paranoid Iranians for getting their knickers in a twist about a dumb, harmless splatter film cleverly disguised as art? Fraid not. It really is war propaganda of the crudest, nastiest kind, even though there are no "American cultural authorities" and the people who made the movie have probably never had a consciously political thought in their money-grubbing lives.
We all swim in the same sea of images, and we all get the same short list of "things to worry about right now" from the media. It's not a plot, it's just how things work. So the filmmakers had a great story to work with: the battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC really did save Greece from conquest by the nearest Asian empire, Persia (although all the Greeks at Thermopylae died). They had the extraordinary images from Frank Miller's comic book retelling of the story. And they knew that Iran is next on the U.S. hit list.
For several decades now, the bad guys in American action films with an international setting have mostly been Middle Easterners (or at least the rough ones are; the smooth ones are still generally British). Iranians actually do live in the Middle East, so lay it on with a trowel. And as for the stiff, super-patriotic, over-the-top macho dialogue, most of it comes straight from Miller's comic book, and he presumably just picked it up from the general culture in the U.S., which has been deeply infected by that sort of thing for a number of years.
So no plot, nobody to blame, and yet the film is everything the Iranians say it is. The Persians are depicted as "ugly, dumb, murderous savages" (in the words of Ayandeh-No) who want to conquer the free people of the world, while the Spartans are clearly Americans, spouting the same slogans about "liberty" and "freedom" that are sprinkled on all political discourse in the United States like sugar on corn flakes.
What's more, the Spartans are underdogs. In almost all U.S.-made action films with an international setting, the American heroes are underdogs fighting against enormous odds, even though they come from the most powerful country in the history of the world. However, you know that they are in the right, because in the movies the underdogs are always in the right, and they always win.
So the gallant Greek/Americans triumph over the evil Persians, and let that be a lesson to evildoers everywhere. But our Iranian friends should not worry that this film is juicing up American youth for an invasion of their country, because the kids just won't get it. Down in the teenage bloodlust demographic, almost nobody knows that the Persians of ancient times and the Iranians of today are the same people.
Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 email@example.com