So I just finished watching Spartacus: Blood and Sand and the first two episodes of its prequel series and am feeling very, very dirty.
It's not that I have a problem with nudity and sex (as Constant Readers are aware) and it's not that I find blood and guts on screen a serious problem, although I did turn off Ichi the Killer ten minutes in. But the basic concept of the Spartacus series is to combine the sex of The Tudors with the classical setting of Rome. And there is a LOT of sex, in many instances presented as entertainment for Roman citizens (their enjoyment of which is then presented for our entertainment). The problem is that at least half of the sex acts on screen, which are nearly always shot in the most salacious manner possible, are acts of rape.
Citizens raping slaves. Slaves raping other slaves at their master's behest. Slaves raping other slaves on their own initiative and without sanction by a master. Slaves being given as sexual playthings to both free citizens and other slaves as incentives in various plots. Perhaps the most remarkable part is that it probably contains more acts of sexual assault against men (by both male and female perpetrators) than any show since Oz. I don't know what the reaction of a male viewer would be, but I'd venture to guess that any inclination to perceive the sexual acts as more than "ooh hot people doing it" would rouse substantial discomfort.*
The part that unsettles me is that although the cumulative effect of viewing the series was to very effectively underline exactly how many ways people can have their sexual autonomy violated,** I still managed to plow right through to the end, where, as promised, Spartacus goes all "Spartacus!!!" and kills everybody. But I absolutely refuse to watch Boys Don't Cry or Irreversible, on the grounds that I just can't handle the rape scenes, no matter how terrific they may be as pieces of cinematic art and virtuoso acting. Spartacus is, to put it kindly, not destined for greatness in those regards. And yet here I am, checking for the air date of episode three.*** Somehow I doubt my reaction would be the same to a miniseries documenting, say, the St. Domingue slave revolt.
* It's all very well to think that being Lucy Lawless's private stud wouldn't be so bad, but even this glossy film portrayal of it makes you think twice.
** Along with the banal monstrosity of the citizen class, which is done well enough that one ends up cheering on the brutal murder of a callow teenage boy.
*** For now I'm going to blame John Hannah and his character's manifold schemes,**** which make it sort of plot crack even when you know how the characters are going to end up. The dude had a lot of built-up capital from my love of The Mummy***** and Sliding Doors.
**** Also Asher, who basically lives by the motto "What Would Iago Do?"
***** Which, relatedly: Arnold Vosloo on Bones! But with hair! Do not want!