"...it's not the training to be mean but the training to be kind that is used to keep us leashed best." ~ Black Dog Red

"In case you haven't recognized the trend: it proceeds action, dissent, speech." ~ davidly, on how wars get done

"...What sort of meager, unerotic existence must a man live to find himself moved to such ecstatic heights by the mundane sniping of a congressional budget fight. The fate of human existence does not hang in the balance. The gods are not arrayed on either side. Poseiden, earth-shaker, has regrettably set his sights on the poor fishermen of northern Japan and not on Washington, D.C. where his ire might do some good--I can think of no better spot for a little wetland reclamation project, if you know what I mean. The fight is neither revolution nor apocalypse; it is hardly even a fight. A lot of apparatchiks are moving a lot of phony numbers with more zeros than a century of soccer scores around, weaving a brittle chrysalis around a gross worm that, some time hence, will emerge, untransformed, still a worm." ~ IOZ

Sep 12, 2011


I don't normally write about television. Because it's television. I don't get criticizing shows for their lack of [insert your preferred demographic], or their failure to be properly [insert your preferred cause] because telly shows are produced to sell shit to people who cannot afford to buy that shit.

Some are well written. Some are not.

I started watching Spartacus: Blood and Sand, "just to laugh at [it] and stayed with because [I] couldn't stop watching" it.  I thought it would be a poorly written, soft-porn train wreck.

It's not.

What it is is a surprisingly well produced, acted and even more than occasionally well written passion play. Perhaps most significantly, it is unrelenting in its portrayal of the upper classes of late Republican Rome - and by rather obvious imputation, the wealthy in general - as a venal, grasping nest of asps and climbing spiders. Spartacus is unforgiving in its depiction of the ruling and upper classes. Every choice made by a slave owner, magistrate, legate or equestrian merchant overlord results in surprisingly well sketched degradation of an immediate and identifiable gladiator, house slave or commoner. The connection between power and violence done to the lower classes and the slaves is drawn in stark imagery; and it is done to characters the show's producers have invested considerable talent in persuading the audience to embrace. No sexual act between the rulers and the ruled is ever treated as voluntary. No exchange or bargain offered by a Batiatus, Ilythia, Lucretia or Claudius to a slave is ever kept honestly, or honorably.

The message, written in blood and betrayal, is stark: the poor may be brutal, because they are brutalized, but the wealthy cannot ever be trusted.

That's refreshing, for English language television, especially here in the States, where we get a choice between Noble Cop, Noble Doctor, Noble White Teacher, the Noble Magic Negro or the Noble Spy Who Must Unfortunately Kill Brown People.

So, it's sort of sad (in a way I would not have expected) to learn that the star (Andy Whitfield) who gave the fictionalized Spartacus such compelling life has died from the cancer which forced him to leave the show.

Thirty-nine is too young for anyone.

In this one case, it's too young for a man who'd taken a "laughable" sexed up Starz original show and turned into in a story of pathos, revenge and even moments of high art.


augustus818 said...

Damn. The last I had heard Andy's cancer had been in remission and they were starting the second season. You're right 39 is way too young.

Jack Crow said...


Did I characterize the show's unexpected anti-Romishness accurately, you think?

Keifus said...

Yeah, I tend to find this aspect of television very interesting: sure, it's art wedged in there as an attraction between the advertisements (or product spinoffs or tickets or subscriptions), but sometimes the art comes out anyway, despite the constraints. I mean, if you're talented enough to generate material about what's compelling or funny about the world, then it's not so likely you'll see things the way your bosses do, who, if you're a writer anyway, are probably underpaying you.

One thing I liked to do when the kids were littler was (when I wasn't trying to subversively criticize the whole model, something I had more energy for a few years ago) to look for any good jokes or genuine pathos the writers managed to sneak through saccharine corporate mandates of children's programming.

It's also interesting that a more liberal-themed market (enjoying stories of victories of the little guy against corrupt forces) emerges to consume relentlessly capitalist Hollywood product, or that cogent social commentary like The Wire or, evidently, Spartacus, can make it through the pay channels.

You wonder if scriptwriting became more lucrative, it would be worse.


Chris said...

I shall watch this show tonight...because I love class warfare