“Dancing with the Stars” appears to have captured the public’s imagination. Along with other reality shows and “American Idol” the U.S. audience has become transfixed by people attempting to excel outside their areas of expertise, or by talented amateurs seeking moments of glory and lifetimes of fame. Ancient Roman writer Junenal decried the First and Second Century Roman’s obsessions with freebies and entertainment. He claimed the distracted Romans longed for two things: “panem et circenses,”…bread and circuses. Many in our present day society share these attributes with our Roman predecessors, our Middle Ages forefathers, our Elizabethan ancestors and nearly every generation since Adam and Eve. Reading Gibbons gives one the sense that nations, empires and societies are doomed to fail because the vast majority of people are interested in whatever they can receive for little effort or whatever pleasurable distractions are available.
Back in 1963 Marshall Mcluhan achieved some level of fame by observing that “the medium is the message.” His thesis that certain media are “hot,” and others are “cool” was based on the involvement or investment of the audience in a particular message delivery vehicle. For example, television was characterized as a “cool” medium because the viewer had very little direct involvement and was, in essence, a passive participant. Radio, on the other hand, was considered to be a “hot” medium because the listener had to engage his/her imagination to benefit from its entertainment product. McLuhan’s taxonomy may be too restrictive with today’s proliferation of entertainment diversions. Are Gameboys and video games “hot” because the user is totally engaged in the exercise, or are they “cool” because the player appears to be totally disengaged from her/his surroundings (active passivity or passive activity)? The bottom line is that the “circuses” that have distracted citizens for eons are more varied and more accessible today than ever.
Active distractions are not limited to high tech diversions. Slow pitch softball, bowling, darts and square dance clubs all compete for citizens who wish to play their ways to oblivion. The passive opportunities are scrapbooking, genealogy pursuits, television, film and portable music libraries. The “circus” is multi-ringed, but the result is the same. A gluttonous, carnal, pleasure-seeking populace has unlimited opportunities for fulfilling its most primitive appetites. And Rome (Washington D.C.) is burning. At some level one can understand the governing elites’ disdain for the average citizen because so many go through life without ever becoming involved.
John Adams understood that “Liberty cannot be preserved without general knowledge among the people.” We can be relatively certain that Adams’ concept of “general knowledge” did not include the finalists for “Idol,” but was directed toward an informed citizenry who would prefer freedom more than distraction. Take heart. Jefferson (Thomas not George) stated that “One man with courage is a majority.” If just a few men and women of passion discard the “bread and circuses,” then there is hope for liberty to prevail. The recent proliferation of Liberty-oriented groups has created a basis for optimism. Even some of the Tea Party organizations despite their partisan blinders offer a glimmer of hope for the cause of freedom. All that is needed is a committed, knowledgeable and persistent remnant that refuses to yield to tyranny. A cluster of passionate patriots who will goad their couch-potato colleagues into action is the nucleus of resistance. It requires some fiery friends of freedom who will not be diverted from their goal of personal liberty.
The bread from the state is nutritionally insufficient. It feeds the body to some degree, but starves the mind and soul. The circuses are temporary and illusionary. “Reality” shows are not real…and neither is professional wrestling. Major crimes are not committed, investigated, and solved in 60 minutes. Let’s pray that the liberty remnant and those who have become aware of our need for freedom can nourish the hope. Otherwise, we may be condemned to singing off key and dancing with two left feet in order to enjoy a moment of freedom as we shuffle and stumble toward disaster.