Today is February 1, 2015 and will forever be known as Super Bowl 49 Sunday. My city, Glendale, is the host city for today’s event. I live within spitting distance of the stadium and like my neighbors, we are hunkered down for the day. We’ve lain in supplies and will wait out the day’s mind bending and unending stream of traffic. It’s around noon and the game will be played in a couple of hours. I woke this morning to a dense layer of fog…something about excess moisture and warm air. Now the sun has come out and burnt off the thick, grey fog to the delight of the media, the fans and the NFL. The Valley of the Sun will keep its moniker intact as it breathes a deep sigh of relief.

Our sky is awash with blimps, helicopters and small planes. The helicopters range from media types to security to aircraft delivering VIPs to Glendale’s airport. Small planes fly banners advertising Bud or KFC and also deliver VIPs to the airport. Geez…It’s noisy and busy up there! That’s strange. I thought there was a no-fly zone around the stadium. I guess that’s just for ordinary folk.

Did you know that nearly 6,000 journalists, media folk, etc., are covering today’s Super Bowl? The media isn’t just American but come from Germany, India, England and Japan to name just a few of the countries represented. Heck, I was contacted by a French journalist for an interview. It is predicted that this game will engender the highest TV rating of any show or event ever televised.

This event provides the real reason for this blog of bread and circuses. That phrase was first used by the Roman poet Juvenal in his treatise, Satires, commenting on the Roman Republic’s evolution into a dictatorship. His original quote was, “Give them bread and circuses and they will never revolt.” He went on to say, Now that no one buys our votes, the public has long since cast off its cares; the people that once bestowed commands, consulships, legions, and all else, now meddles no more and longs eagerly for just two things–bread and circuses.” He believed that the general public had gradually substituted the value of democracy in favor of a daily diet of spectacles.

Here’s another historical tidbit. The Roman Emperor Claudius (41-54 A. D.) maintained a calendar of 159 holidays and 93 were for games at public expense. In addition, there were special occasion and private holidays. Hundreds of thousands of people in Rome were on public assistance and those who worked, worked a full time week of less than 40 hours. The ruling class worked hard to ensure that no one went hungry or was bored for they believed “a people that yawns is ripe for revolt.” Does this sound familiar?

Our nation’s narcotic is television.  It would be easy to lay the blame on the media as our drug dealer of choice. But the blame lies within ourselves. We make a conscious choice as to what books we will read, the movies we will watch, the websites we visit and the television shows we tune into. The media simply provides what we crave. We crave games, celebrity news and reality TV.

The effects of our drug of choice lay all around us if we care to pay attention to them. Our children rank in the 20s among the top 100 countries in reading, math and science. We have become numb to violence. The beheading of an American or Japanese journalist is no more jarring than an episode of NYPD, the Stalker or Blacklist. The lines between violent TV and real violence have become blurred and there is a consequent loss of empathy. The death of a pop culture figure has become more important to the masses than the deaths of thousands in the Middle East at the hands of ISIS.  Sadly, more people can name the Seattle and Patriot quarterbacks than can name the Vice President or the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice. “Deflategate” is more important than a national deficit of $18 trillion dollars.

We are rapidly losing the ability to distinguish between what is really important to our need to thrive as a nation, our very survival and those things which titillate and amuse our insatiable desire for entertainment.

Have we become a nation that superficial? Not yet…but that is our future if we fail to refocus. In an increasingly hostile world with threats to our very essence as a democracy the need to preserve freedom is no longer an option but a necessity.

The daily dose of circus entertainment guarantees that we will threaten no one as we preoccupy ourselves with the inconsequential. How numb do we have to become before we wake up? We choose bread and circuses at our peril.

© Joyce Clark, 2015


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