Sunday, 11 May 2008

Gladiators and Nostalgia

Ah, another trip down memory lane. Is it possible to feel nostalgic for a programme that last visited our screens a short eight years ago? Sky One certainly thinks so. The changes made to Gladiators from last time around are merely cosmetic. Gone are the irritating double act of John Fashanu and Ulrika Johnson and in comes the twee pairing of Ian Wright and Kirsty Gallacher. Meanwhile the old (classical?) Gladiators have been pensioned off and new blood taken on. As you would expect they're hard bodied, rippling with muscles, athletic and very, very sexy. The events haven't really changed either, but this is nostalgia so would we really want them to?

We were treated to just five events in this debut. The new Gladiators showed their mettle by easily disposing of their opponents in the one on one events. Wielding the pugil sticks Panther to send the hapless female contestants flailing into the waiting pool below, while Spartan ("the flirt in the skirt", apparently) made short work of the men. And on the Pyramid our contenders were, as they say in parts of Derbyshire, given a good shewin'.

They fared slightly better on Hit and Run and Powerball - events that put the contestant against a team of Gladiators. The latter involves running around and dumping a ball in glorified buckets, while avoiding rugby tackles, grapples and the like. And the former sees our plucky contenders sprint across a bridge, trying their best to dodge attempts by the Gladiators to bump them off with a foam padded demolition ball.

With the end of the show in sight, the new Eliminator was revealed. The old Krypton Factor assault course had nothing on this. Swim a length, climb a cargo net, get on the monkey bars/hand bike, run up the pyramid, glide down to the travelator, scramble up it and over the line ... and into the quarter finals! In short, harmless fun for all the family!

The return of Gladiators is symptomatic of the deep nostalgic tendency within contemporary Anglo-American culture. The fluidity and rapidity of change, the heaving complexity of social relations stretched across the surface of the globe, the unchecked dominance of capital; all conspire to generate cultural economies of great uncertainty. The paradox of the erasure and absence of tradition is the creation of a longing for it, and it is a longing capital tries to fill to feed its eternal hunger for more profits, more accumulation. And so capital meets existential crisis with packaged titbits of nostalgia: Rick Astley's Greatest Hits, limited edition Whispers, skinny leg denim, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and Gladiators.

But this is commodified nostalgia. It anchors you temporarily in the illusion of a time when things seemed so much simpler. And so for an hour Gladiators trod the well worn path of the first series, minus the 80s hair hang overs that afflicted many of the original bunch. Oblivion is Wolf. Spartan is Warrior. Atlas is Hunter. Inferno (pictured) is Jet, etc. But this is disposable nostalgia. As new TV shows fill the nostalgia vacuum, the short-lived celebrity of the cast will disappear with the inevitable demise of Gladiators, until a third revival at an unspecified point in the future with a new cadre of built bodies, and so on for as long as capital stands as the arbiter and driver of culture.

You want Gladiators forever? Then you need socialism my friend ...


steven rix said...

Hmmm you are losing me man, I don't even know anything about film's/TV's industry.
Now if you say BBC2 or Channel4, then we can talk.
If you say "Sir David Attenborough" or "James Burke", then you da man :)
I feel it's a loss of time to watch movies - I prefer to let go my imagination on a good documentary since I feel like I need to learn something about life. But then again it's just my personnal choice :)

Oh by the way did anyone watch "inside the medieval mind" on BBC TV4 with Robert Bartlet?

Phil said...

No, I didn't watch the Medieval season. Believe it or not, I don't watch that much TV! I'm very, very selective when it comes to settling down in front of the box for a couple of hours.

But on the nostalgia thing, not being in the US I'm speaking from a position of relative ignorance, but it's my feeling nostalgia plays as big a part in US culture as it does here. Which begs the question, as a French guy, what do you do for nostalgic kicks in the land of the free?

Anonymous said...

Yes, the whole medieval season was very good. Phil bc is very selective. Lol. Only the best scantily dressed young women for Phil bc!

Brother S

Phil said...

What are you trying to say Brother S? I watched Gladiators with a view to writing an intellectually stimulating blog post on the topic. The various states of (un)dress of the female Gladiators was entirely incidental ;)

Anonymous said...

Is it an obsession with nostalgia if I just gave up trying to keep up with popular culture in about 1996?

Whatever happened to originality by the way. When you read womens magazines (yes that's as close as I get to real women) they're always going on about how the fifties look or the hippy look is in this summer. Did all the fashion designers just get bored of coming up with new ideas at some point. Or is it a ploy by altruistic fashion gurus to get us buying all those granny clothes from oxfam.

Personally I'm just waiting for the 90s resurgence to kick off in about ten years time so I can be cool again.

steven rix said...

/// what do you do for nostalgic kicks in the land of the free? ///
What is nostalgia anyhow?
I am today what was built yesterday in my past. I just keep working, trying to make a living here, and when I get some rest, I spend my time reading books or watching documentaries.
In the land of the "free" (and home of the brave) time still doesn't matter to me. Only capitalists are worried about time, not a socialist :) I'm just being careful on how my life should be managed when I have the choice to manage it. When you grow older, you realize that your present will determine your future, that's the only good thing when you grow older and wiser hopefully.

///Yes, the whole medieval season was very good /// Yes I was very impressed. No wonder why we call this period the "Dark Ages", it was pretty macabre with cerfs and feudalism and religion with their cathedrals. I conserved medieval writings but they are in France in my library. Here is something interesting: during the plague in the medieval ages, people bought diamond rings to get protected from the pest, and we kept this tradition until nowadays. People just forgot what precisely this tradition came from.
I like the medieval period. When I was a kid I was working in a cloister, and years later I went to study in the abbaye of La Chaise-Dieu (it's the place where you can see the "dance macabre"'s painting) but I did not want to become a monk so I gave up. Talking about nostalgia, that's certainly one of my deepest regrets. And life goes on :) Heir today, gone tomorrow.

Madam Miaow said...

Omigod, another pic in Splintyvision ... Phil, take a pill, fer gawdsake. Arf!

Phil said...

The pic of the rather engaging Inferno was the best Gladiator photo I could find. Blame google images, not me!