Recall the image of Kyle Rittenhouse on the streets of the small town of Kenosha, Wisconsin. He had been attacked by a communist pedophile, and defended his life with lethal force. The onslaught continued from there, and two more people payed in blood. But this essay is not about the rights and wrongs about what transpired that night, but about the imagery of it all. With a gun around his shoulder Kyle held up his hands calling for paramedic help, but that is not what the image seems to portray. Instead it seems as if Kyle is gloriously holding up the number three, the number of opponents he had defeated. One can almost imagine Kyle uttering the famous line of Russel Crowe’s Maximus, “Are you not entertained!?” A question arises when the image is seen in this light: to whom is Kyle holding up this calculated symbol of his victory? To the audience members of the coliseum? What this image symbolizes is the transmutation of the ancient Roman Colosseum to a grittier, no holds barred, open world version of the ancient state sanctioned gladiator games.
The mutation, though still state sanctioned, starts from a rules based spectacle held within the confines of an arena and has ended up as an anarchic war taking place on the very streets upon which real life takes place. The arena was built for death. The streets of American cities were not, though now this is what their use has become. And though one may first posit that what is taking place in our streets—random political warfare between Antifa, Proud Boys, and other political factions in-between—isn’t much akin to those ancient games, one must consider how these instances of violence are consumed: as content, as spectacle, as the “circus” portion of Juvenal’s “bread and circuses.”
Indeed, the mass of Americans no longer consume these bits of violence as tragic pieces of news, but as the spectacle of their political victories or defeats. This is yet another aspect of this transmutation. The gladiator games were not so political. It was not one warrior with the backing of the emperor fighting a warrior backed by the emperor’s chief political rival. This, though, is always the case with today’s twitter spectacle. Antifa cheers on the death of “Nazis” and everyone else cheers on the slamming of malnourished vegans smashing out windows of local businesses.
Now, when people watch Antifa roaming through the streets, and one of them get’s absolutely laid out onto the ground or sprayed with generous amounts of pepper spray, they more likely than not take such a showing of violence one of two ways. One, as a victory for true justice, as an instance of someone getting what they deserves. Two as a miscarriage of justice, as a loss of a healthy comrade and foot soldier. The gladiator games have now become a proxy for the larger culture war.
The final aspect of this transmutation is from games of death, to games of minimal violence and craven cowardice. The gladiators entered into a sacred agreement entering the hallowed grounds of the Colosseum, agreeing to a fight to the death; this was noble in a sense. Two men entering an arena and agreeing to honor a commitment of life and death is not something these new gladiators could relate to. Nowadays sucker punches reign supreme. Many men use peppers pray and send women into the fold as well—acts of pure weakness. These gladiators also have taken to attacking the pretorian guard that they know have been ordered to fight back only in the most severe life threatening situations. So they do not push the boundaries too far, opting instead to attack in groups and disperse like cockroaches once the slightest sign of retaliation comes.
All in all, this new iteration of the ancient Roman Colosseum is one of ignoble, politically partisan violence. Rather than satiating the peoples thirst for violence and endearing them to the emperor for his gift of wild entertainment, it enrages the people and pushes them to despise the government that allows such unmitigated, grotesque vandalism to go almost completely unpunished. What this shows is both the historical ignorance and complete detachment of this current ruling class. In understanding the nature of this mutation we can see how we are much worse off than Ancient Rome and much closer to an internal collapse than anyone is predicting.
As Christians, we must look upon such spectacle as nothing short of tragic; tragic in the sense that an utter waste of a beautiful human life is on display for the whole world to see. Giving one’s life to a political ideology is one of the single worst decisions a person can make. These people’s lives are fruitless because of this decision to worship political power and fight for a taste of it out in the streets of our once great cities. We must not only pray for them, but do our best to reach out to them with Love and offer any alternative that we can, be it a church, a trade, a skill, a hobby, a friend—something that can serve as a life preserver in these most tumultuous and restless seas of the pagan body politic.