It’s no secret that I’m a huge TV buff. Nor do I hide the sort of television shows I watch. Back in 2011, a newly-made friend was surprised when I told him I liked Californication for example, and immediately chuckled and said, “Don’t tell the feminists you watch it, they’ll eat you alive!” The statement was less of a slur to feminists and more an acknowledgment that as charming as Hank Moody may be, he’s a womanizing, misogynist douche who cannot be vindicated by his true love for Karen of how he sexually objectifies women.

Meh. The man’s a pig, but what can a feminist who was watching The X-Files when she was nine years old do?

Other favorite shows of mine are the old historical dramas like Spartacus, The Borgias, The Tudors and lest we forget, Game Of Thrones. All the shows have gratuitous soft porn in common, as well as a generous dose of misogynist societies where women, even those in power, often wind up victims of crimes, abuse, or just plain unfortunate circumstances. There is also the fact that even the women in power have limited authority, which is second after their husband or father’s authority. Patriarchy you see, still prevails, despite the illusion of female power. And this power is displayed in fascinating ways; on the Orbis Mediology blog, a post regarding Spartacus describes this female power;

Women’s roles in Spartacus are complex. Lucretia and her rival, companion, and ‘frenemy’ Illythia, often call the gladiators to them. They gaze upon them as objects, just as women were so often objectified by the ‘male’ gaze in traditional Hollywood cinema and film. This new female gaze is no more kind, for the men are viewed as objects to be used and abused and little else, for they are slaves, and in the eyes of the wealthy Romans, living toys and workers. Hulking men with exquisite bodies and complex personalities are treated like toys by the women.

I’m not a fan of the soft porn at all either, at times, it gets tedious waiting for it to end. I feel that perhaps, the defense of the producers and writers of the show would be that they aim for a historically accurate show, which means getting the social system of a society right, however misogynist it may have been, and considering that slavery, which is a key aspect of Spartacus, was as common as the show portrays, that the slaves were helpless to their master’s whims, to see how casually women are fucked or used as currency for sealing deals isn’t really surprising. But does that justify the graphic nature of the show? A feminist writer to whom I expressed my disgust to regarding subliminal advertising responded, “Sex sells sweetheart. Number 1 rule of advertising.” I’ve never forgotten this, or how accurate it is for television overall. But, I’m also reminded of The L Word creator Ilene Chaiken’s interview in The Advocate, where she’s asked about a plot twist involving a character Jenny Schecter, and the revelation to the audience that she was sexually abused as a child.

“We all know that it was an incident of sexual abuse. I had not wanted to be more explicit about it than that… I really am loath to portray rape as a film-maker. I think it’s really hard to do it without becoming complicit and exploitative.”

Veering off from that statement into Spartacus, we return to the point regarding gratuitous soft porn and too-frequent images of women being fucked. What happened to the days of television shows where all you saw were two people making out, and then suddenly under the sheets in bed, smiling at each other? The answer is quite simple; sex sells.

But if we move beyond the crude sexuality and porn and the station of women in Rome, the show is complex, to say the least. Its premise is Spartacus, the soldier taken from Thrace, away from his wife Sura, to serve Rome. Lets talk about Sura. She reminds me of Grandmother Willow from Pocahontas, firmly rooted into the earth, gentle, wise, and yet, fierce in her own right. At first, she’s just the pretty, wise wife whose husband marches off to war; then the Romans attack her, and she whips out a knife and well, shows her fierce side. Nor does Spartacus sweep her aside when he rides in, not to the rescue btw, but to fight side by side with her.

Throughout the first season of the show, Sura is the driving force behind everything Spartacus does, first to reunite with her, and then to avenge her death. Spartacus cannot develop as a character without Sura. Essentially, he has no storyline without her. And this storyline comes full circle in the end of season 2, when as he raises his sword above the last person who was complicit in Sura’s death, we see flashbacks of the woman who wasn’t behind Spartacus, but right beside him.

Crixus, who is the champion of the ludus and Spartacus’s initial rival, falls in love with a slave girl. Unfortunately, he has earned the fondness of Lucretia, the dominus of the house, and therefore, their relationship is doomed due to her jealousy. And sort of dull. This excellent, fangirly blog describes my feelings for season 1 Naevia/Crixus perfectly.

“He went from caring nothing about glory and honor in the arena to being blindsided by feelings that he obviously had no experience in.. seeing him struggle to keep this relationship alive while he and Naevia were at the mercy of those above them. But of course, this was at the expense of Naevia, who seemed nothing more than a faceless cipher for the development of Crixus, who had no characterization beyond being beautiful and gentle.”

So let’s flash-forward to season 2, and the real reason behind writing this blog; Naevia’s rescue. It is revealed that she was ferried around to various influential men by Batiatus to curry favour, once the cunning slave Ashur exposed her secret relationship with Crixus, and when this was finished, she was sent to the mines. Naevia is traumatized, and suffering a great deal. But then, something magical happens that seldom happens on television;instead of continuing to mope and die a tragic victim, doomed to be eternally exploited and harmed, Naevia asks Crixus to teach her to fight, so that no man can ever hurt her again. And Crixus agrees. The transformation here is staggering. It is as if learning to fight is the healing Naevia needed, bringing back courage, and strength, so that the passive little slave-girl is but a thing of the past.

And then, there is the climax to her transformation; Ashur visits the rebel encampment, and Naevia asks to avenge herself for the crimes he committed against her. The ensuing scene is beautiful. As Naevia battles Ashur, the men stand by. The terror and anguish on Crixus’s face is visible; he is terrified that he may possibly lose her a second time. But, oh the beauty of this fact, he would rather risk losing her as she fights to avenge herself, rather than swoop in as her white knight and lose her by dishonouring her in the worst way possible. There is a point when Spartacus starts to step forward, seeing Naevia’s possible defeat. And the cocky prettyboy-turned-lover Crixus stops him. And then, it happens; Ashur stands above Naevia, mocking her, saying that she was and remains weak. The men stand by, anguished but determined to honour their fellow warrior. Then it happens; Naevia stabs Ashur in the crotch, screams that she is no longer weak, and rises to lop off his head. As a relieved Crixus embraces her, Naevia admits that he was right, that it is not easy to take a life. A humble man,  gazing at the woman he loves and his equal, solemnly says, “then I will teach you,” and embraces her again. The beauty of this entire scene cannot be forgotten. Naevia seems to have come full circle.

Lets not forget Mira, Spartacus’s lover, whom he drifts away from and eventually severs romantic ties with amiably. Mira weeps as this happens. But she also wipes away her tears and tells him that she needs to go conduct archery training, as she is one of their best archers. This is the same Mira who, in season 1, was so helpless to her master’s will that if they told her to have sex with Spartacus, she had no choice in the matter. And when Mira is training in archery herself, another slave-girl who uses sexual favours to win protection from gladiators says that she is trying to make her place in the world. Mira tells her to do so of her own worth, and not by what’s between her legs.

The show’s also LGBT-friendly and multi-racial, by the by. That wasn’t part of this blog, but I feel it important to mention this fact, because it adds to how much win this show is made of. While I’m still uncomfortable with the porn and the way women are treated and portrayed, I’m still a fan, for Saxa, the fierce, madcap Germanic warrior woman, for Mira, for Naevia, and for feminism. It isn’t an ideal feminist show, no, but for me, it’s a step in that direction.

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Comments
  1. Georgia says:

    So totally agree! The scene with Naevia fighting Ashur was one of the best of the entire season. The writer’s did a good job of allowing her to blossom and not just remain this whiny female who has to be constantly saved.

    • Ghausia says:

      I know, and they’re doing even better this season! (Don’t want to give away spoilers if you haven’t seen the current season) They could have just let her simmer in PTSD and weep over her situation. Instead, they empowered her. ❤

  2. I think I’m going to give Spartacus a shot for sure. By the way, I watched the first few episodes of The Tudors. It was good but I think not enough. I left it soon enough.

    • Ghausia says:

      Do! I’m used to nudity and soft porn from watching other shows like this, Rome was the very first one (epic, beautiful show) but in Spartacus, its excessive, I don’t deny it. But its such a wonderful show! I need to rewatch The Tudors, I stopped watching briefly, even though I liked it. Saving it for hiatus in the summer!

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