TV UK, 18 November

Rome: for men only? Bollocks.

Dolan Cummings

Topics Culture

Some of the responses to the BBC’s lavish historical drama Rome (BBC2, Wednesdays at 9pm) have characterised it as a series strictly for men, or in the even more annoying post-feminist vernacular, ‘boys’. Apparently all that crunching violence and shouting doesn’t appeal to ‘girls’ (1). What a lot of bollocks.

Indeed, in this week’s episode, the ruthless Atia (no girl she) made her son Octavian eat goat’s testicles to counter what she thinks is a worrying feminine streak in his character. He ought to be terrorising slave girls, not being all highly-strung and intellectual and showing a precocious interest in politics. In fact, it is in its treatment of politics that Rome belies the notion that it is for ‘men only’.

Even despite the stark gender division in ancient Roman society, it is impossible to separate Atia’s feminine scheming from the military manoeverings of Caesar and Pompey: politics involves both low wiles and high strategy, personal charm and abstract intellect. Anyone who wants to succeed needs both ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ qualities, and as Rome shows, most human beings are far more complicated than such categories allow.

And not just human beings. Take the troll who lives on the sofa. Please. But seriously, for the past few weeks, the troll has been cultivating a beard in imitation of the castaways on Lost (Channel 4, Wednesdays at 10pm). That might sound butch, but the troll also has a feminine side, and is starting to express an ambiguously situated preference for Sawyer over Jack. The troll is also a long-standing fan of Sex and the City, which is considered the epitome of ‘girls’ TV’, to be enjoyed with Chardonnay and nail varnish. Of course it has tendencies in that direction, but as a well-written satire of certain aspects of contemporary social life, it can be appreciated by anyone, sexually ambiguous trolls included.

To the extent that any TV programme, or anything else apart from sanitary towels and the like, is intended for just one gender, it is always going to be a bit rubbish. The whole idea of ‘men’s magazines’, for example, is a pitiful recent imitation of women’s magazines, themselves an embarrassing relic of women’s historically subordinate role as domestic airheads on the lookout for make-up tips. Caesar’s slave describes his master’s wife as ‘a species of statue’; that men want to ape this condition, albeit in Meccano, is just depressing.

In the Channel 4 sitcom Peep Show (Fridays at 10pm), one character said last week that he couldn’t refuse a ‘threesome’ because he would be put on trial by Nuts and Zoo magazines. It’s one thing being fed goat’s testicles by your mother, but to have a gender identity thrust on you by crappy magazines is plain pathetic. Peep Show specialises in capturing the emasculation of contemporary British men, and is consequently difficult to warm to despite its cleverness. It’s enough to have you yearning for the virtues of the ancient world when men were men, even if that does sound a little bit gay.

Read on:

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(1) See, for example, Latin lovers, by Kathryn Flett, Observer, Sunday 6 November, 2005

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Topics Culture


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