The Spartacus TV show was never going to be for everyone. It’s a maelstrom of brutal violence, cartoonish gore, nudity, sex and imaginative swearing. Almost anything that could offend a person is here.
Everything except intolerance.
The world of Spartacus is full of inequality. Class, gender, and wealth all affect people’s chances in lives. It’s the story of slaves and masters, underclasses and overlords. Inequality drives the action.
But you don’t see much of the intolerance that accompanies it in our society. Nobody is judged, either by the producers or by the characters, for their skin colour or sexuality. Gay relationships are treated no differently from straight ones. The cast is mostly white, but the characters never comment on the presence of people of other colours. When race comes up it’s about region of origin – whether someone is a Gaul, a German, a Syrian, a Roman – and even on the lips of the most vicious characters it seldom carries the implication that one group is inferior to another.
I think this ties into a broader moral underpinning of the show, and one that’s surprisingly forward looking for a production that plays to our basest pleasures. Spartacus is very open about sex and violence. We see full frontal nudity, both male and female, displayed with casual ease. We see sex, straight and gay, in a range of different forms, whether it’s about love, fun, power, or something else. We see violence as something horrifying yet strangely fascinating, and are sometimes exposed to the scars it brings, both physical and emotional.
I’m not trying to hold up Spartacus as some shining beacon of modern television. But as I work my way through the fourth and final season it’s providing me with a lot of food for thought, not just insane spectacle. I can’t help thinking that, despite appearances, its heart is in the right place.
If you haven’t watched it already and aren’t put off by gore and nudity, then I totally recommend Spartacus. For folks in the UK, it’s now all on Netflix.