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Opinion piece: The new reboot of Gladiators has finally arrived. Should we be concerned?

For those who have been around as long as I have, you would have remembered a short lived series nearly 30 years ago involving elite athletes wearing tight spandex taking on beleaguered yet hopeful contenders. The show was called “Gladiators”. Athletes with names such as “Taipan”, “Cheetah” and “Hammer” portrayed as immortal beings that average humans contend with to test their physical prowess.

As a teenager, I was drawn to this show. Seeing women doing ariels and ninja kicks on TV brought out the wannabe athlete in me, however after watching contenders get pummelled by these “demigods", while also nursing a few pulled hamstrings from trying to emulate their ninja moves, I eventually lost interest.

In this era where body shaming and bullying is slammed in the media, I am surprised that this show has reemerged.

In the initial promos, you see these “superheroes” emerge from the sky with volts and flames shooting from their pores. Any young child would mistake these as members of the Justice League or the Avengers with their striking poses and eyeballing the camera. Girls wearing too much eye make up and men showing off multiple tattoos are already sending the message that to be the idealised version of yourself, you need to look like this!

If you look at their bios, you will see that they are all either cross fit trainers, stunt performers, body builders, fitness influencers, triathletes and former Olympians. In other words, physical fitness is what they do for a living. So how can the average person compete with that? Or is that just the point?

To give the show credit, I managed to watch the first 15 minutes of episode one. After watching “Phoenix” take down the first contender on the “duel” round with a single punch, while seeing the same contestant limp halfway out of the “powerball” match with a sprained ankle, I finally had enough. It seems as though these shows are set up to reaffirm these elite athlete’s physical capability while reminding the contenders just how average they really are in comparison.

What also doesn’t help is the playful banter that the gladiators and the contenders exchange before a match. Usually the script follows where the gladiators insinuate how he/she is gonna take them down while the competitor playfully retorts. Again, any young child would look at this and assume that this is normal behaviour and the next they would target someone at school, usually someone who is smaller or defenceless because in this world, it’s the survival of the fittest that matters!

In terms of representation of women, it’s nice that we have a diverse section of women from all different cultures and nationalities, but in terms of celebrating body shape, that’s still questionable. For example, you have “Chaos”, who I commend the producers for hiring someone who looks more well proportioned compared to her female counterparts, however despite her numerous strengths, is often portrayed as an ogre compared to the petite and angelic “Halo.” Often Chaos sticks out her tongue (complete with piercing) while also showing off her biceps (as shown when she breaks a locker door with her fist in the second episode) making her appear even more masculine, whereas Halo sashays across the arena in her revealing white ensemble making her seem more innocent and desirable.

Without sounding like a prude, I was also alarmed with the various close ups of women’s derrieres, and I have never understood why they still have to reveal the competitors’ weight as well as height and age. In this era where body image is a global issue, why do we need to exacerbate this, especially to those who struggle to maintain a healthy weight range where it seems nearly impossible to achieve. People are using more social media filters than ever to hide their flaws and people as young as 23 are undergoing cosmetic surgery!

I know these shows are designed to promote healthy lifestyles and some harmless competition, which is why I don’t have a problem with “Australian Ninja warrior” where people have to perform superhuman feats of strength to achieve numerous physical obstacles. This doesn’t bother me because these competitors are merely competing against themselves. Yes, you may have the elimination rounds where the final contestants do the same obstacle course simultaneously but before they would have had to get to that point, they would have singlehandedly had to overcome their own inhibitions and limitations. No unrealistic comparisons here.

I am curious to see how this reboot pans out. If audience members are discerning enough, maybe people will watch it for the amusement (or for the schadenfreude), or as my 5 year old daughter calls the Gladiators “actors” similar to WWE: it’s all about the entertainment in the end.


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