Jeanne (mieza) wrote in history_rant,

An Open Letter to the Media (on Stone, Alexander, and sex)

I've about had it with the recent media treatment of Oliver Stone's Alexander.

And no, my irritation doesn't stem from slams at the movie generally (I'm keeping an open mind, but I'd be lying if I said I entertained no doubts).

It also doesn't stem from any misbegotten notion that history is some sacral discipline not to be besmirched by fictional treatments. I write historical fiction, too. They just label it 'history,' print it in journals, and shelve it in non-fiction. ;> (Any historian who won't admit how much supposition goes into her/his theories about the past is rather too precariously balanced on a high horse.)

No, my irritation relates to one thing and one thing only ...


There. I feel better.

Good God, what is with the utter fixation on Alexander's 'sexuality'? (A modern term imposed on the past incorrectly anyway.)

All that says far more about US than about Alexander.

News Flash: Alexander's 'sexual exploits' were a non-issue in antiquity. Nobody much gossiped about it. Why? Because he was regarded as rather boring in the sex department. Yup, really.

What was he critiqued for in his own day?

His drinking. His ambition. His temper.

He had a terrible temper. In a fit of rage, he speared the little brother of his own nurse, a man who'd once saved his life. (And to be fair, he was inconsolable for days -- but that doesn't change the fact he did it.) His drinking was considered a problem even by ancient standards (although how much of that may owe to a difference in Greek and Macedonian drinking traditions is very much a matter of debate).

But his REAL fatal flaw? HUBRIS. The man had an ego the size of ... well, Persia.

Ancient sources tell us he could be enormously charming, the kind of person who draws ALL eyes the minute he walks into a room. (Something I fear Colin Farrell may not have captured. Broody alone won't do it.) One of the voice-overs from the film has Anthony Hopkins saying that he's know many great men, "but only one colossus." That's it. Alexander really WAS a colossus, with magnetic charisma, unparalleled perseverance, unbridled ambition, and the (probable) talent of a polymath. (He did a number of things extraordinarily well, imo.)

And all the (especially) American media can fixate on is who he slept with? (Oh, and the dye job. We mustn't forget the dye job! Really, people ... ATG was [probably] blond; Farrell isn't. That requires a little peroxide; too bad they forgot to lighten the eyebrows, too.)

Does all that make him a 'good' man -- a 'hero,' someone to admire? No. These guys were SHARKS, make no mistake. Alexander was just the Great White, and there are a LOT of things we can critique him for, and a lot of things we can discuss about his reign. (See Brian Bosworth's Alexander in the East.)

And what DO we talk about ... endlessly, in almost every article? His interest in both genders.

Er, fixated much?

What's wrong with talking about sex and sexual preference? Why, nothing. And yes, I'm well aware this is the first time such a big-budget film will feature a main character who's predilections ran both ways. But let's be clear that when we seem impelled to note this, it's OURSELVES we're talking about ... not Alexander. Some of the media writeups I've seen would lead one to believe Alexander was some kind of sybaritic debauchee! Yet this is the same man who once quipped, "Sleep and sex remind me I'm mortal." Not exactly a mantra for orgies.

Get it through your heads, [U.S.] Media ... Alexander the Great was a bit of a PRUDE.

He really was. If sex scandals are what we want -- the ancient equivalent of Zippergate -- we're all barking up the wrong historical tree. Go read about Alkibiades, nephew of Perikles, or even Alexander's father, Philip II of Macedon. THEY had sex scandals. Oh, boy, did they! Alexander? Not hardly. The worst they could accuse him of was publicly kissing a eunuch quickly on the lips after a dance. And he was applauded for it. Whee! Definitely hard core scandal there!

(Keep in mind that Philip II was killed by a former lover who'd been replaced by a boy who was the younger brother of Philip's last wife ... And Philip may also have had an affair with Olympias' younger brother ... another Alexandros. 'As the Macedonian World Turns' -- that was Philip's court. One needs a flow-chart to keep up with Philip's affairs. And Alkibiades? The biggest wanker of the ancient world. He's the one Hollywood should make a movie about! Alexander was downright TAME, folks! tame.)

Please, please, please ... stop overdramatizing the WRONG thing.

Or at least be honest and admit we're excited because -- ooooh -- Alexander was emotionally loyal to one person for 19+ years ... longer than the average modern marriage. That gets our (American) panties in a wad these days because that 'person' just happened to be the same gender as Alexander.

The plain truth is Alexander and Hephaistion would have been utterly baffled by all the hulabaloo ... and would probably laugh their heads off, if they knew.
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you good now? hehe... I love how media loves to mess up history. I haven't studied much ancient history, but I do know that seemed to be a lot of implied homosexual relationships. Now that may just be my profs point of view of things. I do remember though in the back of my mind that Alexander loved his horse ^_^

sorry random babbling
you good now? hehe...

Much better, yes. ;>

Alexander did love his horse. Named a city after him. ;>
Good comments.

I'm simply unexcited about the movie because it's got Angelina Jolie in it, who is irritating.

Oh well. It should prove to be an interesting movie, nonetheless.
Jolie doesn't bother me, per se, so much as the fact I know she was cast to play a particular version of Olympias that I have serious personal questions about (I've been too influence by Beth Carney's version of Olympias in her several excellent articles as well as Women and Monarchy in Macedonia)
Yes. I know next to nothing about Macedonian history, and probably would have trouble locating Macedonia on a map. Seeing as how my specialties are the subarctic fur trade and Canadian indigenous history, I'll take your word for it.
My only foreknowledge of this movie is that it's supposedly... awful. Bad acting, bad directing, poor script, the works. That's from critics, whom I frequently disagree with, but they're awfully loud about it this time.

It's a pity, too, since we have so few decent movies about the ancient world. If it is awful, though, we'll have the blessing of it being panned as a "bad movie" and "poor research" will be seen as another nail in its coffin rather than the nit-picking of history buffs.
If it is awful, though, we'll have the blessing of it being panned as a "bad movie" and "poor research" will be seen as another nail in its coffin rather than the nit-picking of history buffs.

Actually, poor research isn't going to be much of a problem (and yes, I startle myself in saying so). As a Macedonian specialist -- and while I certainly have quibbles -- overall, I'm impressed by what I've seen of the sets and costuming. If there are historical anachronisms, I think they lie more in conceptualization (see below, on Freudian interpretations).

My rant above really isn't aimed at the FILM, per se, so much as at too many media reactions to it. And I should be fair and point out that not all media people write bad or silly articles. In fact, our local paper, The Omaha World Herald, had a rather good one just today, for which I praise Bob Fischbach. It was well-researched, it was sensible, and he raised several good points. He's a GOOD A&E writer. We need more like him.

In any case, I make no promises to like the film -- I may; I may not. But I've simply had it up to the roots of my hair with media people insisting on discussing ATG's "sexuality," even when the cast and director have tried to avoid doing so -- appropriately, I think. In fact, Stone & Co. have been slammed for everything from deliberately underplaying it to ducking the issue to making cuts to the film to appease homophobic studio producers.

We will never know what really goes on behind closed doors, but the one point too many media people seem reluctant to accept is that maybe Stone honestly DID cut scenes because they were deadwood ... they didn't need to be there in a film that is looooong already. Not because he was kowtowing to anybody. I think he's wanted to make this film for so long, and has weathered SUCH storms of controversy for other films, already has 3 Oscars ... he just made Alexander for himself. Like anyone who puts his artistic child out there, he'd love it to do well, but in the end, he made the film he wanted to make and that's that.

There are, in ATG's life, many BIGGER fish to fry than his sex life -- and from what I've read, Oliver Stone realizes that. I may still not like his film, but I do think he 'gets' that ATG's sexual expression was rather far down on the list of his issues. If I were to carp at him, it would be for imposing Freudian psychology on a polygamous court structure where it didn't belong. ;>

So I see it mostly as the Dreaded Media Hype that his 'bisexuality' keeps getting dragged back out to dance like a tired partner. Not only do some of the A&E reporters whose reviews I've read NOT understand ancient sexuality ... they dont seem to WANT to understand. And that pisses me off. Ignorance is one thing. People can learn. But willful ignorance because one wants something 'juicy' for the hoi polloi? Ugh.
I agree, they DO need a movie about Alkibiades.

Maybe i need to go into the directing business....*ponders this thoughtfully*
Alkibiades would be a wonderful topic. And Peter Green's written a novel about him, called The Shield of Achilles. It's far more interesting than the Steven Pressfield novel on Alkibiades.


November 26 2004, 13:22:51 UTC 15 years ago

Actually it is not known if Alexander and Hephaestion were lovers or not because it is often considered that they have been historically portrayed as lovers to represent Achilles and Patroklus because Alexander was obsessed with The Iliad and Achilles.

No one alive can prove this either way.
Please see my article:

J. Reames-Zimmerman, "An atypical affair? Alexander the Great, Hephaistion Amyntoros and the nature of their relationship," Ancient History Bulletin; vol. 13.3 (1999) 81-96.

It discusses Alexander and Hephaistion in detail, with full citations. I don't have room here, and there's no reason to repeat it.


November 26 2004, 16:42:44 UTC 15 years ago

I am Greek Macedonian and I know all about the history of Alexander.

I repeat that no one alive knows the truth of whether or not they were lovers and I am sorry but that includes you.

I have spent all my life in Macedonia researching Alexander and there are no definitive answers to his personal life.

I have walked in his footsteps and lived in the areas he called home, there is nothing on earth that I do not know about him.

But I like all people studying Alexander do not have access to Alexander himself or anyone who knew him.

I don't care what his sexuality was, I know all the history of sexuality of my people and I celebrate it not disregard it but no one knows the truth.

Why don't you try reading the article before you decide what it says, eh? ;>


15 years ago

ha! great rant...
Thank you. :-)