How Are We Entertained?

I am having some health problems of late and seem to lack the will to return to those themes that have inspired years of posts in this blog. And, heaven knows, I strive mightily to avoid politics these days. So, instead I shall offer up from time to time a post that seems to me to have some resonance with today’s goings-on. Today’s topic is suggested in the title of this post.

A number of theorists have drawn interesting parallels between Rome and contemporary America. With one eye on Rome the founders of this nation feared the dissolution of our Republic from within as people lost their sense of civic virtue and went off on tangents into self-indulgence and the seeking of unnecessary wealth. Aldous Huxley later warned Western civilization about its urge to satisfy endless pleasures. I doubt, however, that any of these people could have foreseen the sort of incident that happened in Florida recently.

It is certainly the case that our nation can no longer brag about its commitment to the common good and its practice of public virtue which puts the good of all above one’s  own self-interest. The pursuit of wealth has become synonymous in the minds of many with democracy and freedom. In this regard we do resemble the ancient Romans. But one of the most compelling parallel between today’s Republic and the Roman Republic is our love of diversions. The Romans loved their bread and circuses. Clearly there need to be some diversions, especially at a time when there are pressures from all directions on nearly everyone in this country. But as Aristotle warned, “everything in moderation.”  The love of diversions in this country has reached absurd limits when events like Nathan’s hot dog eating contest takes center stage — only to be upstaged recently by the eating of worms and cockroaches. A recent storytells the sad results:

MIAMI (AP) — The winner of a roach-eating contest in South Florida died shortly after downing dozens of the live bugs as well as worms, authorities said Monday.

About 30 contestants ate the insects during Friday night’s contest at Ben Siegel Reptile Store in Deerfield Beach about 40 miles north of Miami. The grand prize was a python.

If it weren’t so sad it would be positively funny — shades of Monty Python (sorry, ‘had to go there). But one must ask, really, where are we headed in this culture? How does this sort of absurd spectacle pass as entertainment? Even if the man had not died — and he may have died for a number of reasons having nothing whatever to do with his latest meal — what’s with 30 people standing around watching idiots wolf down bugs and worms to see who would win a snake? The sponsors of the “event” thought it fitting to donate the python to the family of the man who died. As the story tells us, “The Miami Herald reported the grand prize has been put aside in Archbold’s [the diseased] name and will be given to his estate.” If we knew how to laugh at a person’s untimely death (as Mary Tyler Moore did)  this, too would be funny. What on earth will this man’s grieving family do with a python?

Twenty years after writing Brave New World Aldous Huxley revisited a number of the themes he had raised in that novel and collected his essays in a book titled Brave New World Revisited. It is a fascinating take on events in the late 50s in light of Huxley’s own predictions in the 1930s. I quoted him in a previous blog as he notes “mankind’s almost limitless appetite for distractions.” Never were truer words spoken and this should make us take seriously his many other warnings about the future of a people who seek nothing more in life than the satisfaction of their own pleasures. But eating bugs and worms? You must be kidding! Surely this is the reductio ad absurdum of our love of distractions and invites another long look at what happened to ancient Rome.

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14 thoughts on “How Are We Entertained?

  1. Hugh, the parallels between the Roman empire and US are very interesting. One more is professional football is becoming a gladiator sport with players come from parts of society with fewer options due to concussions.

    As for those diversions, eating roaches is definitely a bridge too far. The one that also puzzles me is the Tide pod challenge where the pods are designed to disintegrate in water.

    I wrote a post today that you might find of interest – an interview with Putin in 2035. The demise of US influence is part of the subject matter. Keith

    • Yes. Professional football at the collegiate and post-collegiate levels are very close to gladiator sports as is cage fighting, which is gaining popularity.

  2. 🤢 Are people really so bored with their lives? The expression “hard up for entertainment” takes on new meaning in light of this. Sigh. I’m happy that I didn’t read this post as I was eating, as I sometimes do …

    I am so sorry to hear you’re not well … please take care of yourself, my dear friend, and I hope you feel better soon!

    • Boredom is a state of mind and is less prevalent among those whose minds are busy and full of ideas. But the kinds of entertainment many seem to be closing in on do seem to be the kind that require no mental activity whatever. That is worrisome.

      • True. Last time I was bored was when I was 10 years old! It is indeed worrisome. My nieces regularly post on Facebook that they are bored. Why they insist on telling the world that they are bored is beyond me, but my stock answer to them is: How can you possibly be bored with all the books in the world waiting to be read? It shuts them up … until the next time. Sigh. Whatever happened to the desire to lose oneself in a book, the thirst for knowledge? The world of today makes me very sad.

  3. When I was in my teens, I used to read the novels of Taylor Caldwell. It was her contention that the US was a modern version of Imperial Rome. That was a LONG time ago.

    As for bread & circuses, I think that professional sports fit the bill a bit better for the “circus” part. Our current welfare system might be the “bread” in that phrase, although the poor in our country would probably disagree; I know I would. Rome’s poor were much more demanding than our beaten-down working class. Cut our benefits & there’s barely a whimper.

    The “roach-eating” content you mentioned … would fit better into Julius Caesar’s mother’s neighborhood of the Subara … something the plebs would have done on their own for entertainment. Not “circus” … just street fun.

  4. Hi Hugh, and I am hurriedly writing from the dark library at the museo in portoviejo. the title of this gave me a smile, as my idea to travel via burro to get home this weekend would make for some great distractions – not only for me but for those who might follow the story! i am sorry to know that your health is waving some flags of distress, but not surprised either, as long-term concerns over many serious subjects can create negative health/problems. suffice to know that i am thinking of you.

    I look forward to reading this when back at the apt.

  5. ‘Boredom is a state of mind and is less prevalent among those whose minds are busy and full of ideas. ‘ Great statement, Hugh.

    After several months of taking care of my friends’ cloud forest property, I was asked by a (remote) neighbor, “You bored yet?” He was smug, and I bounced his attitude back at him with, “Never!” – and I meant what I said!

    Reading your words and pondering about that person who died – oh my, there are so many people living lives of quiet – or high-profile – desperation. At what age does a person veer in the wrong direction? In the Overstory, which I just finished reading, there is one quote that is quite fitting for this discussion: “A seed that lands upside down in the ground will wheel –root and stem–in a great U-turn until it rights itself. But a human child can know it’s pointed wrong and still consider the direction well worth a try.”

    If today’s Wise Ones could somehow live for another 100 years, without fading memories, they might be able to explain what happened to society. So many are blindly following the herd, searching for shock or adrenaline distractions to post on social media as if to illustrate, “SEE? I have a life!” when their souls are dying a bit more each day from atrophy.

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