Monday, June 4, 2012

Bread and Circuses

This is an older post, but worth sharing again.  I am not a big pro sports fan.  I’m not even a little pro sports fan.  In fact, I think the time, energy and money invested in professional sports is criminal.  Sports in school, even college, can be very valuable.  I think it has a place and should be nurtured there.  The trouble is, that love of sports in school, seems to mature into addiction to pro sports later in life, and schools are used as feeders for the pros.  I’m aware that following sports is a way to unwind, relax, channel and release aggression.  But following sports also has a dark shadow side that too often goes unnoticed and un-remarked, except by the power brokers and so-called leaders in politics and business.

The dark side can be summed up as bread and circuses, the phenomena that contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire.  Bread and circuses.  As the Roman Republic, became an Empire, Roman citizens stopped acting like citizens – stopped taking an interest in their community, stopped being actively involved in politics and in many cases even stopped working. 

To divert the mass of the population and keep the public’s mind off the collapse of the Republic and its values and ideals of Justice, the concentration of wealth and power and the abuses of power – the leaders of Rome gave the population bread and circuses.  Bread to feed them, circuses to amuse and divert them.  Arenas were built in every large town, and wheat was imported from Egypt.  Once hooked, the public’s appetite for free food and entertainment grew and grew until circuses weren’t enough and bloody battles between gladiators and feeding Christians to the lions were required.  As long as the elite rulers provided bread and circuses, they could do whatever they wanted.  That was bread and circuses.

I thought about bread and circuses as I watched the faces of the World Cup winners and losers on the so-called news last night.  Did you see the faces?  The faces of the Germans whose team lost – the grief, deep sadness and actual mourning?  It reminded me of the pictures of the faces in the crowds when Jack Kennedy died.  Hey! I shouted at the TV screen, it’s only a game!  And the winners in Madrid?  Thousands and thousands of people jammed together yelling and screaming, actual tears of joy running down their cheeks?  And I thought, too bad just a little of that energy and enthusiasm can’t go into saving the planet, and seizing the opportunities masquerading as the problems of poverty and injustice.  Instead, all that energy is bread and circuses.

The usual response is, hey, give us a break!  Those people needed something to celebrate and it also gave them a moment of national pride and unity.  Oh, yeah?  And what about the Germans? And all the other teams that have lost, and have you noticed the way the sports system is designed there’s always more losers than winners, that’s real healthy isn’t it - where’s the national pride and unity there?  And even for the so-called winners, how long will the pride and unity last?  Will it carry over into their everyday lives?  Will their everyday lives be better for the ‘victory’?

It’s all a momentary diversion, bread and circuses. But, its not just ‘momentary’ any more, pro sports is a year round, heavily marketed, designed to be addictive, trillion dollar business, a constant diet of bread and circuses.  And everybody’s in on it, from the President to your next door neighbor. 

But think about it, what if only a small part of that energy and enthusiasm could be channeled to dealing with the real life threats and opportunities surrounding us?  Only a small part; pro sports wouldn’t have to go away – much as I’d like it to, I realize that’s impossible.  It’s not an either/or, zero/sum, winner-take-all thing (as the sports metaphor would have us believe), but a both/and, win/win thing.  Couldn’t we do both, have sports and seize the opportunities in our seeming problems?  Aren’t we capable and competent enough to do that – to figure out a way to channel a small part of all the energy and enthusiasm that goes into pro sports to dealing with the real life threats and opportunities surrounding us? 

No comments:

Post a Comment