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#131 Gladiator Games

September 28, 2011

"It won't make us stand out, will it?" wonder London's new riot police.

This was back when summer was briefly simmering. The open space outside the Guildhall had been converted into a makeshift amphitheatre with a sandy killing ground – this was a recreation of the kind of gladiatorial games the capital would have enjoyed two thousand years ago on this spot, and it worked a treat.

The only drawback was that it was filled with the Wrong Sort of Geeks. The Right Sort of Geeks have lightly-vintage-themed pullovers, thick black glasses (they’re thinking of switching to horn-rimmed ones now, though), carry iPhones and are doing work experience in things like Transmedia Facilitation or Cross-Cultural App Creation. The Wrong S0rt of Geeks are middle-aged, wear red pac-a-macs, and laugh too loudly at Latin puns. They also Join In Enthusiastically. They’re your future.

After the Emperor had thundered in on his chariot, we sat to watch dedicated re-enactment pro-ams give it their all. The crowd was divided into London and non-London halves, which made for a lot of partisan screaming. Unarmed prisoners were pitted against armoured burly thugs. A masked man dressed as Chiron, Ferryman of the Styx, put wounded gladiators out of their agony with a warhammer’s strike. Women slaves even got their turn. Fake blood stained the sand. The crowd got to shout for whether they wanted losers to be spared or put to the sword. The Wrong Sort of Geeks had a great time, and frankly, so did we. If only there had been lions.

"KILL HIM! KILL HIM!" we bayed, and then saluted an Emperor and condemned a slave to death. Happy days.

Strange, isn’t it, how crowds can be worked to a frenzy by pre-arranged fights? It’s exactly how pro-wrestling works, of course. One thing that this sweaty, enthusiastic display definitely made clear: it’s easy to see how normal folk would be enthused by the fights to the death. In fact, we’d go so far as to say that two thousand years ago, it would have seemed weird not to be enthused. As well as being a great show, it also functioned as a slightly sinister exploration of how people are pushed and shoved into bloodthirsty fascism without a second thought. That’s entertainment, folks!

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