Saturday, May 27, 2006

Bread and Circuses

I have never watched "American Idol" so I consequently missed the finale Wednesday when a white "soul singer" named Taylor Hicks (have they redfined soul while I've been unplugged from the TV cable?) was declared the winner. What caught my attention in the news of this event spread over the front page of all the newspapers was that over 63 million votes were cast for the new idol, more votes than President Bush received in the last election. At least half that number watch this show every week. What are these people thinking?

When I was growing up, Ted Mack's "Amateur Hour," esstentially the same kind of talent show, was popular. Raw talent from the hinterlands competed for prizes and recognition, the 15 minutes of fame Andy Warhol hoped we would all have. Americans love to root for the underdog. That helps to explain the popularity of the Rocky movies. We are an incredibly generous people. We open our pockets to the victims of global natural disasters, like the tsunami in southeast Asia.

We also are a murderous bunch who slaughter the innocent in our quest for power and world domination. Just now we are uncovering an Iraqi "My Lai" where angry U.S. Marines indiscriminatly killed men, women and children (click here for story). Our young people respond to the unspoken recruitment slogan: "Join the Army. Travel to exotic distant lands; meet exciting, unusual people and kill them." The son of a friend is currently in Iraq, flexing his young machismo, and he told his parents than when his tour of duty is over he will return as an employee of one of the private security firms (in other words, a mercenary soldier).

President Bush has told the country that we are engaged in a global war on terror, one that will last for a very long time. But unlike in previous wars, we have not been called upon to sacrifice anything. Sure, gas has gotten a little expensive. But there is little evidence in this country that we are a nation at war. There is no draft. The body bags are hidden. In fact, the President told us that the best thing we could do, to keep the economy afloat, was to shop . If it's good for business, it's good for America. And he also suggested the we visit Disneyland, if we can afford the gas.

Bread and circuses. It's a phrase used by the Roman poet Juvenal to lament the falling heroism of Romans after the decline of the Roman empire. “Two things only the people anxiously desire—bread and circuses,” he wrote. The government kept the people happy by distributing free food and staging huge spectacles in the Coliseum. When I visited the Coliseum in Rome last summer they were getting ready for a free concert by Elton John. We are an easy people to please. We're satisfied with watching desperate housewives, amateur survivalists competing for money in remote locations, and entertainers hoping to be the next "idol." Our government doesn't even have to pass out free food to keep us happy, content, and silent.

Am I the only one who thinks he's living in a nightmare? We should know better. We've read about the passive German people during the rise of Hitler's regime. I've been studying the history of Argentina in preparation for a month in Buenos Aires this summer when I'll study Spanish. The Argentinians suffered under a murderous military dictatorship in the 1970s. Suspected revolutionaries and terrorists, many in their teens, were arrested by the police and "disappeared." Over 30,000 cannot be found. It was later revealed that some were dropped alive out of airplanes over the bay. Pregnant women were imprisoned, the babies were adopted by families in favor with the regime and the mothers killed. Can horrors like this happen here?

Bread and circuses. Keep watching your TV. "Dont worry, be happy."

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