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American Gladiator: what a show

In senior seminar we talked about wrestling as a spectacle, particularly in the sense that Barthes wrote about. One of the modern day references we talked about was American Gladiator. The new and "improved" version of the show started airing on network TV about a month or so ago, and I admit that I have watched a couple of episodes. I was always intrigued by the show when I was young, but never really remembered a lot of it, so I was interested to see how today's version of the show would appeal to me. After watching a few episodes and I have come to a few conclusions, which follow closely with Barthe's observations about wrestling.

American Gladiator is a spectacle. Although it is not as planned out as professional wrestling, there is still very much an exaggerated play on the audience's emotions and expectations. Each gladiator has a character that they play, and some are more obvious stereotypes that others. In the beginning of the show and at the beginning of the events that gladiators are announced and appear with dramatic lighting and music - and lots of flames. Some characters take their characters to extremes such as Toa, who carries a spear with him, and Wolf, who howls and growls at contestants. Each gladiator appears and acts exactly how the audience expects them to. For the most part, the women are fit but also very attractive. The men are bulky and play their characters like they are the kings of the ring.

The stage is set with red, white, and blue everywhere. Fans cheer and hold sign, much like at a sporting event. The announcer of the show even compares the events to "David and Goliath". Everything has been carefully calculated, down to the overweight, "average joe" referee who stands on the sidelines and asks if the competitors and Gladiators are "ready".

One of my least favorite parts of the show, which ironically enough is the part that is supposed to appeal to the women in the audience, is the way that each "moral" contestant is played up as America's hero or heroine. When a new competitor is introduced they show a video of their daily lives and soft, dramatic music plays in the background. They make everyone seem lovable and try to get the audience to "know" them in a 30 second clip. This too plays into the idea of the spectacle, but creating characters for even the regular people. Personally, I think that this part of the show is too corny to take seriously, and the times that I have watched past episodes we have skipped through them with the TiVo.

In the episode we watched in class, we saw the Powerball event. First Jesse and Koya competed against the gladiators Venom, Siren, and Stealth. Jess was injured during the event when one of the gladiator's tackled her against a wall. A replay followed the event, where the contact was played in slow motion to really get the audience to react. The gladiators and the other contestant try to act sincere as though they have a "great respect" for Jesse and all of her efforts in the game. What they are really connecting with is the story she told earlier about raising her three girls. The gladiators do not really "respect" her for the 2 minutes she played the game with them, they "respect" her for her life as a dedicated mother - the real American hero.

There are no real villains in the game. Although the audience cheers against the gladiators, they do not really see them in a negative light. They are strong and sometimes scary, but they never play dirty and always show sportsmanship. This is supposed to be a reflection of true, American sport. Everyone gets a chance and everyone gets the glorification they "deserve".