Of Bread And Political Circuses

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - January 18, 2012
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“Give them bread and circuses and they’ll never revolt,” wrote the poet Juvenal as he watched the once exemplary Roman Republic decline into a dictatorship.

In a recent conversation, Clarissa Kuniyoshi, a retired Hilo High School social studies teacher and a friend of half-acentury, invoked Juvenal’s “bread and circuses” to describe the current degradation of our American democracy into plutocracy.

Circuses certainly envelop us, with sports for one. The sports conglomerate known as ESPN has become a 24/7/365 national circus of college and professional basketball, baseball and football with hockey and sundry other sports thrown in. A huge American audience, primarily made up of men, fill their days following the Cowboys or the Packers, arguing the comparative merits of Drew Brees and Tom Brady, discussing which teams will make the Super Bowl and going online to bet a few dollars on a game.

Never mind that in the midst of the Great Recession many of these men live on unemployment checks the slice of Juvenal’s “bread” the government offers them. Never mind that the while the Big Top music played, plutocrats at the top of American corporations have been shipping their jobs overseas to whatever faraway land had a peasantry that would work for nearly nothing.

But sports isn’t the only distraction television provides while our democracy degrades. Television brings us a corrupted version of “reality” as well: the talentless Kardashians, the everpartying denizens of Jersey Shore, talented and not-so-talented American idols, desperate housewives of Beverly Hills and God knows where else. The list goes on and on and on.

Then there’s the political television circus, perhaps the most distracting to them all.

Fox presents not “fair and balanced” news coverage, not even fairly balanced. It’s just plain right-wing dogma: Hannity, Cavuto, O’Reilly ad nauseum.

I live in an MSNBC household. Grandma watches it in the back bedroom from morning to night. Wife watches it in the front television room whenever home (and when the Korean soaps aren’t playing). Day after day, week after week, I know stereophonic MSNBC: Schultz, Sharpton, Matthews, Maddow ad nauseum.

And I mean ad nauseum. My politics may lean decidedly left, but Chris Matthews’ rude interruptions of his guests leave me gritting my teeth every bit as much as Bill O’Reilly’s interruptions of his.

And I’d read Matthews’ book on John F. Kennedy no sooner than I would O’Reilly’s on the battle of Gettysburg thus, never.

Both networks are simply different rings in the same Big Top, all political entertainment and distraction for afternoon delight: “Will Romney be hurt by his comment that he likes to fire people?” ask the MSNBC folk, despite that not being what Romney said. “There’s credible doubt that Obama was born in Hawaii,” said the Fox crew for months when there was no cred ever.

So it has gone and will continue to go throughout the campaign year that stretches before us. Lost in these 24/7 circuses, will be the crimes of Wall Street, crimes of plutocrats run amok.

The ringmaster of every hour of political television will continue to direct our attention to campaign strategies, fund-raising capabilities and out-of-contextbut-shocking statements by the candidates: anything to entertain and distract.

Meanwhile, the nation’s plutocrats will rub their hands in glee. It just takes “bread and circuses.”

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