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Spartacus: Blood and Sand

Barbaric satisfactions!

I’ve just reached the end of Episode 13, Kill Them All.  It isn’t called that coincidentally.  Episode 12 concludes with those fateful words, and the season of WAY over-the-top violence (with more than a little sex in it) and frequent paroxysms of difficult, sidelong, elevated speeches comes to an abrupt stop.  One pants in anticipation of the second season.

On the other hand, Andy Whitfield’s summation oration lights his face oddly from below.  The camera, which is also low, finds Berchtesgaden darknesses on Whitfield’s upper lip.  His rousing Bravheart oratory kinda stinks of Roman corpses that litter the central square of the villa and foul the bold and hopeful words with rivers of elite Roman blood.  St. Crispin’s Day, it ain’t.  Also, I don’t imagine Andy Whitfield was hired for his uncanny resemblance to Laurence Olivier’s acumen with the written word: 

“Dude doesn’t look totally ridiculous in a loincloth, so yeah.  Lex Barker, Jr.  Yeah, that’ll work.”

It worked fine!  Unfortunately, most of the BigBads that drove this season probably died.  Chief among these was the almost-credible John Hannah, as Batiatus (formerly Peter Ustinov as Bat Eye At Us), the ambitious, plotting, conscienceless weasle almost-absolutely-positively-certainly died.  Lucy Lawless as Lucretia definitely took Crixus’ blade in the foetus, but she was still twitching when credits rolled…so…?  And there absolutely was no shortage of deeply nasty people this season to get in the way of the run-up to the (to be continued) inevitable slave revolt, next season (and maybe a couple of seasons after that).  See, Spartacus (1960) wound up weaving his army up and down the length of the Italian peninsula as though they were lunch-hour customers at a preChristian Taco Bell.

However it gets where it’s surely going it’s going to be fascinating television. 

I came to the series solely because of Steve DeKnight, the creator, and nobody who spent years writing at Mutant Enemy takes bloodshedding lightly, so WAY over-the-top violence (the cardinal signature of this rendering of the story) won’t go gently into that good DeKnight.  Even utterly-righteous violence leads to dire consequences for heroes, or I’ve been misreading a lot of amazing writers for a long, long time.  (Entirely possible.)

And on yet another hand.  Henry Jenkins, today, called Twitter-attention to an interview here:

http://www.boingboing.net/2010/04/16/reducing-the-worlds.html

The discussion of his evolving perception of the myth of media violence is pretty cool.  I’d just like to add the notion that most media violence is packed with amplified bullshit, and that systemic violence tends to go largely unnoticed.  Systems that fail to meet the needs of the people (who subscribe to and support those systems) exhibit deeply embedded flaws in particularly interesting television shows like Breaking Bad, Deadwood (where we watch those infrastructural systems grow from nothing to institutions in the course of several months) and pretty much every show that David Simon’s ever touched.

It’s bound to be months before I tie into Treme, but the stuff I’ve read suggests that Hurricane Katrina wasn’t the problem that devastated New Orleans.  Criminal systemic failures did kill, displace, and brutalize people.  And the acts of violence visited on the inhabitants of that city will (if I’ve read the intent of the creative force behind the production correctly) show through even to the dimmest of us; acculturated to see criminal behavior as confined to certain strata of our society.  Guns and anonymous decisions made deep in the safety of corrupt institutionalized infrastructures don’t kill people, people do. Actually, bullshit kills people.

Systemic violence and technological innovations that reduce personal options are aspects of the same thing.  It’s not a popular subject, but needs considerable attention.   That’s why I wish Professor Jenkins had elaborated on his description of things that suck (the life out of people/culture) because many of them are directly attributable to systemic, bureaucratic, ideational quagmires; beta slop that needs field testing.  And there’s no better time to be a corrupt politican (or firmware developer) than the moment when the press provides less-credible criticism of our institutional systems than fictional drama.

Interesting that I’ve been watching television for 50 years and yet I’d never seen a castrated man crucified until Spartacus: Blood and Sand.  Sure, that’s an awful thing, but what’s even worse is the institutional repression that blunts the shock of violence people do to people.  In that context, media violence is far from mythic.  It amplifies the bonebreaking sound of a slayer’s punch (that never lands) and refuses to show the stump of a severed dick.  That’s downright bizarre.

“But what about the children?!” 

Just when a kid needs and deserves an honest clue in order to make informed choices about (you name it), some asshole farts that moronic question as a justification for bullshitting.  No wonder people who risk their lives to preserve our ways of life believe we can’t handle the truth.

I really liked John Hannah’s work in Rebus, and yet Ustinov played BatEyeAtUs more interestingly than Hannah’s BattyAtus.  The differences between these two recitations of the Spartacus story are numerous, but I think the essential differences are localized in Batiatus.  John plays him like a grasping, malicious, tolerated, minor Wall Street criminal.  Peter’s portrait (of Judas) bats-his-eyes-at and flatters Real Power.  Both portrayals present a man who goes-along-to-get-along.  John plays a tragic, rigid paranoid, Peter plays a flexible coward.

Given that historians and storytellers lie, each of us is obligated to play the role of Batiatus.  More decently.  What redeming quality resides in your Batiatus that punches through the web of lies and 41st Century agendas fashioned by future historians?  I wrote goofy sentences.  I’m obligated to do better.

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17 Apr 10 - Posted by | Uncategorized | ,

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