The Times, 18 May 2010

Index on Censorship Blog

Spartacus: Blood and Sand has got everything it needs to get pulses racing: sex, violence, swearing, the lot. It was first shown in the US on Starz (a subscription only channel), and faced calls to be banned there, as it became clear that the gladiators wouldn't simply roam around with tridents and nets, but that legs would get chopped off at mid-height (provoking, at least for me, memories of the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, shouting at King Arthur to come back here, so he could bite his knees). As if that weren't enough, there are orgies aplenty, and full frontal male and female nudity. It starts on Bravo next week, in the UK.

We've certainly come a long way since Up, Pompeii. If Frankie Howerd seemed risqué, with his puns, his lascivious manner, and his sexpot slavegirls, then Spartacus: Blood and Sand may not be for you. Certainly, it isn't for mediawatchuk, who have already expressed their worries that children might find the programme online.

And do you know what? They might. But here's the problem with this. Children can find anything online, for the excellent reason that they have grown up in an online world. They aren't mystified by the internet, any more than I was mystified by the video recorder which baffled my parents. And since the internet is, let us be honest, chock full of stuff we wouldn't want kids to see, then Spartacus is the least of our worries.

What's so frustrating about mediawatch's attitude here is that they start somewhere reasonable: many of us wouldn't want an eight-year-old to watch John Hannah getting blown by a slavegirl while gladiators half-decapitate each other in the background. And then they take it to an unreasonable conclusion: if children might see it, and children shouldn't see it, it should be banned.

Quite aside from the necessary truth that it just isn't possible to remove from the internet everything we don't want kids to see, it also isn't desirable to do so. The blurring of boundaries between childhood and adulthood has created many things I dislike (small girls wearing 'Porn Star' t-shirts, grown men on tiny scooters. Equally chilling). But none bothers me more than the belief that all art, all culture must be child-friendly, in case a child inadvertently lights upon it. Children shouldn't be watching Spartacus because it isn't for them. I shouldn't be watching In The Night Garden because it isn't for me. So can't we all just agree to act our age?

And on the subject of swearing, ten points to John Hannah, who plays Batiatus (played by Peter Ustinov in the Kubrick movie) for delivering the line, 'You have no mother. You were belched from the cunt of the underworld', with a world-weary air. I may be over-reading, but I think he's channelling Dido in Aeneid IV, when she tells Aeneas that his mother was no goddess, but he was born from harsh rocks and nursed by tigers. Only, you know, with swearing.