Noilly Prattle: Bread and..... well, Circuses anyway

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Bread and..... well, Circuses anyway

DID you ever think of modern politics as entertainment—a kind of Colosseum without the blood of throwing anybody to the lions?

Forum Romanum and Colosseum
(composite image)
It could be argued that the greatest contribution to politics and government made by the Roman emperors was the discovery and development of distraction and entertainment for the masses. They realized that a large percentage of the population didn't have that much to do that was actually productive, for any number of reasons, but needed to be fed and kept occupied lest they turn on the leadership. When we visited Rome and the Colosseum a few years ago, our guide explained how the spectacles in the arena were provided free of charge for the citizens of Rome who, in turn, reciprocated with affection for and loyalty to the emperor. Thus, the emperors were left free to pursue their interests and intrigues without having to watch their backs--from the common folks at least.

In our modern mass societies, of course, no “emperor” is wealthy enough to provide free spectacles à la Colosseo. Therefore, I am suggesting, that modern politics and governments themselves are the theater that provides entertainment through the outlet of mass media: news programs, talk shows, newspapers, magazines, supermarket tabloids, talking heads, late night comedy, political party conventions, the Internet, etc. Marshall McLuhan once famously said of mass media that the medium itself is the message. He might readily agree that, however warped, the modern media is a kissin' cousin of the old Roman Colosseum and the message of the media is entertainment and distraction from the tedium of everyday life or, perhaps, a red herring to keep the spotlight off what's really going on.

Heiligenkreuz (12 Century Abbey church)
Between the downfall of Rome and the advent of the mass societies of the modern world, I further submit, religion provided the same service of entertainment and distraction behind the veil of sanctity. If you visit some of the older, relatively simple and chilly stone churches in Europe, say from around the 10th to 12th centuries, they seem to evoke how hard life must have been for their parishioners. Their very primitiveness suggests the huts that the people of the Middle Ages lived in and the drabness and hardship of everyday life. How magnificent, in contrast, the church, in spite of its cold stone walls, with its ceremony, colorful costumes, music and pageantry must have seemed—how entertaining and distracting.  

speaks for itself, doesn't it?
Undoubtedly the greatest show on earth has to be the modern perpetual American presidential campaigns. These non-stop and very expensive mud slinging extravaganzas are widely disseminated in attack ads and fervently reported by the hungry for scandal, red meat and profits 24/7 media “news” outlets for an equally hungry for scandal and red meat viewing public. Our public figures are media stars and celebrities, often enough notoriously so. Royalty is especially big in the entertainment biz. Tabloids and paparazzi shadow them relentlessly in hopes of something salubrious to photograph and/or “report” on. The closer to full frontal nudity the better. The British royals are super stars in this respect.

looks more like a holiday than pissed off protesors
Shit happens, true. But, once it does, it's “entertainment” and manipulative value becomes exploited in commemorative anniversary ceremonies “lest we forget”. Heaven forbid that we should ever forget something that would be better forgotten. Amen. Which brings me to the supremely entertaining flap over a few rocks in the East China Sea. Pure theater! Videos of fishing boat flotillas, screaming mobs, burning flags, upended and overturned cars, burning buildings, blown out windows, paint and egg smeared embassy walls. It's really looking more and more like a B-grade action film. I wonder if Hollywood producers were consulted before the shooting (with cameras) began? Forsooth, truth is stranger than fiction or vice versa.

So, who is producing and directed this comedy? Best guess? Political interests in both countries involved. Why? For the usual reason that the main function of modern governments is the provision of circuses—as a cover for what they don't want publicly understood. What's that? Why, keeping themselves in power or trying to get themselves back in power. What else? The Chinese are in the middle of a party power transition while trying to juggle a slowing economy, a non egalitarian society where over a billion people are still not benefiting from China's recent, admittedly remarkable, growth rates. When domestic issues need to be kept on the back burner, what better way than to encourage a little foreign-country bashing to entertain and distract and keep a restless element of the population occupied. The Chinese government has neither openly encouraged nor seriously discouraged the demonstrations against Japan over the islands dispute.

Japan is also approaching a political showdown it seems. The present administration is showing itself increasingly inept and the sharks of the opposition parties smell blood in the water. My impression is that the clueless administration is being manipulated (into “buying” the islands and stirring up a hornet's nest) by the more savvy party, out of power after over half a century of one-party rule. It makes great theater with the Japanese adding their voices (especially in provocative race-tinted blogs on the Internet) to the rising cacophony and hysteria. The islands issue may be passing its “use by” date, though. People seem to be getting bored with it and it it's getting dwindling media coverage. Maybe we need to throw somebody to the lions? What fun!

Best part of all this entertainment is it doesn't cost a dime or a yen or a renminbi....

Caesar would be proud.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I wake up to it, each morning….with smiles