By Nitika Khattar (she/her)
Let’s start by quoting Emperor Nero: “How I wish I had never learned to write!” or if you prefer the Latin, “Quam vellem nescire litteras.” If any scholars know that this quotation is grossly inaccurate, forgive me and ImperiumRomanum.pl. I harken back to this because it’s my own plight. How do I lightheartedly comment on an inherent meme that is just funny and blithe and wholly unconcerned? It could never be insidious—or that deep, for that matter.
So: Roman Empire or bust. What do you make of the post-Republican state of ancient Rome?
Arbiters of taste on the internet have taken it upon themselves to ask the hard-hitting questions of What Men Think About and how, upon asking the men in their lives, it is determined to be the Roman Empire. (Nevermind that most of the men answering this question are white and it seems to be a common thread of the glorification of war and memorial of a period specifically seen as White and Hypermasculine. Nevermind at all.) At the beginning, before all these threads were connected, this was funny. As most things on the internet start out.
Personally, my father (upon being asked) looked at me very confused, clarifying that he hadn’t thought about the Roman Empire since being taught in school. It is also a thing worthy of note that a lot of this takes place in America, which stands on rotting legs and imperial vestiges as it is. But again, internet culture is not that deep, right?
What comes next? The great philosophers of the internet must have their day: What Do Women Think About That’s Like The Roman Empire? What’s in their heads? It’s tempting to think that there’s a universal answer, much in the same way that the Roman Empire was assumed for men. Answers have ranged from the Ex-Best-Friend to the nebulous subject of poetry to the generalized fear of walking alone at night. All valid answers—as much as they can be.
I’d argue that there’s two: the Roman Empire itself, being of great standing and stature amongst the internet history crowd, and (more accurately, I think) true crime. Most women I talk to seem to be downright fascinated by the morbid and grotesque content of True Crime podcasts. It’s been around for years with people obsessing over it unethically (like the inappropriate over-glorification of the Roman Empire by men without being aware of the actual historical goings-on of the time period). It’s not exactly a secret that families of the victims in these cases find the true crime community quite harmful. In the same vein as the Roman Empire for Men, True Crime for Women has the same critique and similar reason for indulgence.
Roman empire, roman empire, roman empire. Said it too many times. Memes are fun. Sometimes they’re like this. If you do think about the roman empire, more power to ya! I do too. The point here is to go beyond the superficiality of the content we consume and think critically about the dimensions of universality in these trends. In a world laced with dog-whistles and secret meanings and malignant rhetoric, it is all we can do to not unknowingly endorse harm.