Sunday 10 April 2011


I am startled yesterday morning to read in the Daily Torygraph that a Professor Roberto De Mattei has asserted that the Roman Empire collapsed because of a "contagion of homosexuality and effeminacy". The article is wryly illustrated with pictures of Frankie Howerd as Lurcio in Up Pompeii and Laurence Olivier being bathed by Tony Curtis in Spartacus - plus, by way of "contrast", rugged Maximus in Gladiator (though I thought Russ Crowe looked quite gay in that too).

A few hours later this all rings a bell as I bop in the O2 (what used to be the notorious Millennium Dome of vile memory) as one of 20,000 attending Kylie Minogue's Aphrodite Les Folies concert. This is the biggest, campest extravaganza I have ever seen and based on classical themes - Kylie in a diaphanous white peplos emerging from a sea-shell like Aphrodite, Kylie being dragged in a chariot by oiled-up slaves in S&M leather harnesses, Kylie in a helmet surrounded by mini-skirted graeco-roman (male) dancers etc., each tableau of the tiny Welsh-Antipodean diva more eye-popping than the last until she finishes with big hair and the trademark hot-pants to send us on our way. Check out this sample from last night (not taken by me) to see what I mean. The audience is an odd mixture of three groups: young gay men, women d'un certain âge like Mrs Blog who have followed Kylie from her girl-next-door days as Charlene, and young girls who think K is absurd but can spot a good ironical night out when they see one.

The music is, well, Kylie but the acoustics are rubbish not I suspect for technical reasons but because it is the modern way just to pump up the bass and to hell with the detail. The last concert which I attended in a huge venue was Bob Dylan (before he became a prat) at Earls Court in 1978. The music was loud but completely clear - I remember his saxophonist got a big cheer at the end for his bravura contribution which couldn't have been discerned without clean sound. But then Kylie isn't Dylan.

And what of Professor De Mattei's thesis? It turns out he has form in interpreting history to justify conservative viewpoints in the Catholic Church so nobody takes him seriously. In fact the whole Roman thing was pretty gay from the start - at the risk of stereotyping from the early Republic onwards there were the simultaneously militaristic and louche hard men, the larger-than-life matriarchs scheming for their boys, the bath-house politics, etc. I'm not exactly saying that Rome fell because it stopped being sufficiently gay but Gibbon probably got it righter than the pious professor by blaming Christianity for the fall of Rome - though the boring explanation of mass movement by vast Germanic tribes has to be acknowledged too.