Quick Notes: Spartacus, American Gods, and James Arthur Ray

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Just a few quick news notes for you on this Friday.

Swords, Sandals, and Sex: I know I’ve been talking about Starz new series “Camelot” quite a bit lately, so today I’d like to highlight an excellent essay concerning its stylistic predecessor at the cable network: “Spartacus.” Academic and Patheos.com columnist P. Sufenas Virius Lupus has recently watched both seasons of “Spartacus,” and files this examination of how the show treats sex, history, and religion at his personal blog.

“However, my main critique of the newer Spartacus isn’t its history, nor its sexuality (although more will be said on the latter in a moment), it is precisely the matter that Rome got right (even though some bits weren’t quite right in terms of timing, e.g. the taurobolium in the first episode)–the religious aspects of Spartacus: Blood and Sand and its successors is very off. In the 1960 Spartacus, the character of Crassus (a member of the First Triumvirate) says to the very young Julius Caesar at one point that he’d like to obtain a pigeon for a sacrifice, to which Caesar replies that he thought Crassus did not believe in the gods; Crassus replies, “Privately, I believe in none of them; publicly, I believe in them all!” And this is precisely the matter that the newer incarnation of Spartacus goes wrong on–it makes the matter of the gods too much about “belief,” when that is not what pre-creedal religion’s spirituality was based upon.”

The entire essay is fascinating reading, and I’m glad P. Sufenas Virius Lupus took the time share his analysis. Popular entertainment does influence how we engage with history, and the spate of films and television set in the ancient world that depict the protagonists as modern-style atheist/agnostics (“Agora,” “Troy,” “Clash of the Titans”) do a disservice to  the adherents to pre-Christian faiths.

American Gods Coming to HBO: While fan expectation is ramping up for the epic fantasy series “Game of Thrones,” there’s another project in development for HBO that may interest modern Pagans quite a bit. It seems there’s been serious movement on bringing Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods” to the cable network.

“As HBO prepares to unveil its epic-sized series adaptation of George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones this Sunday, the payweb has begun talks to acquire the Neil Gaiman novel American Gods to be developed into another fantasy series. The project was brought to HBO by Playtone partners Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman, and it was brought to them by Robert Richardson. The plan is for Richardson and Gaiman to write the pilot together.”

Robert Richardson, for those who don’t recognize the name, is a famous cinematographer who has worked with directors like Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino. Since the show features an assortment of Pagan gods and goddesses in a variety of contexts, it will no doubt draw quite a bit of comment and interest from modern worshipers/followers/devotees of said gods. The book has been matter of conversation within our communities since it was first published in 2001, mostly centered on the treatment and depiction of various deities. I expect those conversations will heat up once again when production gets underway.

James Arthur Ray Mistrial Request Denied: For those who’ve been following the trial of James Arthur Ray, accused of negligent homicide when a sweat lodge ceremony went horribly wrong and killed three people, this past week has been particularly event-filled. Ray’s lawyers filed for a mistrial after it was revealed that a preliminary report by environmental investigator Richard Haddow was not sent to them. However, prosecutors claim that the situation was inadvertent, and that the report’s finding were repeated in other material sent to the defense team.

“Monday’s motion by Ray’s legal teams cited the omission of environmental investigator Richard Haddow as a means for the state to withhold an alternate cause in the deaths of Kirby Brown, James Shore and Liz Neuman after a Ray-led sweat lodge at the Angel Valley Retreat Center on Oct. 8, 2009. The state’s response, however, signed by co-counsel Bill Hughes, states that information about the construction of the sweat lodge, with its off-center rock pit and lack of air circulation, had been provided to the defense in other forms. Further, the motion contends that the evidence contained in Haddow’s report is not exculpatory, but rather further proof that Ray is guilty of the three counts of manslaughter raised against him.

If the evidence truly is damaging rather than exculpatory, it can only mean that Ray’s defense team is grasping at straws trying to derail this trial by any means necessary. A desperation perhaps incited by last week’s damaging decision by Judge Darrow to allow testimony regarding previous sweat lodge ceremonies that Ray has held. In any case, there won’t be a mistrial, and instead defense will be granted extra time to analyze the data and witness.

“While Ray’s attorneys pushed for a mistrial, prosecutors argued an appropriate remedy would be to allow the defense to interview Haddow and gather its own witnesses if it chooses. Darrow didn’t immediately elaborate on his decision to allow the trial to move forward, but said he would issue an expanded ruling later.”

Blogger LaVaughn, who’s been following the trial in-depth, says that “the Haddock email was a red herring to get a mistrial and now they’re stuck with it.” Meanwhile, public opinion and the press have not been on Ray’s side. CNN recently profiled the life of Kirby Brown, one of the three killed in the 2009 sweat lodge incident, describing a horrific death where she “wheezed and gurgled and foamed at the mouth.” Even if Ray somehow manages to escape all this with no legal repercussions, his “brand” will be permanently tainted by these deaths.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!