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January 31, 2008

The United States of American Gladiators

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To the naked eye American Gladiators may seem to be a brainless show, devoid of cunning, or even the slightest bit of brain activity beyond the brain stem. Under closer inspection the show reveals several themes and critiques of contemporary life: man vs. woman, immigrants vs. natives, hardwork vs. apathy, and the futility of capitalism.

Man vs. Woman
The show seems to reassert that women are weaker than men. During the first event, the single mother is injured. Rather than being beaten by the gladiators she is defeated by twisting her own ankle. The worst enemy a woman can have is a sense of ambition. Her role is to raise her children within the home. When she leaves to try and support her family she only destroys herself. As this first event closes Hulk Hogan announces, “ Now we’re getting serious, here come the guys.? In the last event as the women try to navigate their way across the balance beam they both fall flat on their faces unable to handle the descent. The men navigate the balance beam easily and the camera hardly pauses on this section. By the end of the show the women are breathless, their faces twisted in agony. The men seem only slightly tired by their trials. Does this mean that women aren’t capable of handling themselves in a man’s world of aggression and competition?

Immigrants vs. Natives
After she badly injures herself the American born, mother of three is removed. Her replacement is an Asian woman whose parents “crossed an ocean so she could be here.? “Them imigantz is taken hour jobs!? On a related note, all of the Gladiators yell threats at the contenders. While most of them speak English, Toa, a “savage? from some unknown rainforest, screams threats in what is supposedly his native tongue. What are the odds it was just gibberish?

Initiative vs. Apathy
In the end, the heroic firefighter champions over the lazy skateboarder dad. While the firefighter only gives words of praise to the gladiators and his opponent, conducting himself with perfect manners, the skateboard dad yells insults and seems indifferent about his consistent defeats. In the end his blindly optimistic attitude is crushed by the firefighter’s persistence.

Futility of Capitalism
In the pyramid event the two contestants must fight against the gladiators to reach the peak. The gladiators (big business) crush the contestants (general public). They hold an advantage, being higher up the mountain (having more capital, power). In the end no one succeeds in reaching the top of the pyramid. If they were to work together, they could all reach the top, but instead competition ruins their chances of a greater good. There are referees (laws) present to ensure that the game is played fairly. However they never intervene, even when one of the contestants is hurt so badly she isn’t able to stand.

The spectacle of American Gladiators is most likely not conveying these themes consciously. More realistically, these symbols have been embedded into our collective mind and are now being fed back to us in easily digestible hour-long segments of toil, sweat, and bronzer.