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Bread and Circuses

First, let’s copy what wikipedia says about it:

Bread and Circuses” is a metaphor for a superficial means of appeasement. In the case of politics, the phrase is used to describe the creation of public approval, not through exemplary or excellent public service or public policy, but through diversion, distraction, and/or the mere satisfaction of the immediate, shallow requirements of a populace, as an offered “palliative.” Juvenal decried it as a simplistic motivation of common people. The phrase also implies the erosion or ignorance of civic duty amongst the concerns of the common man.

In modern usage, the phrase is taken to describe a populace that no longer values civic virtues and the public life. To many across the political spectrum, left and right, it connotes a supposed triviality and frivolity that characterized the Roman Republic prior to its decline into the autocratic monarchy characteristic of the later Roman Empire‘s transformation about 44 B.C.

This phrase originates from Rome in Satire X of the Roman satirist and poet Juvenal (circa 100 C.E.). In context, the Latin metaphor panem et circenses (bread and circuses) identifies the only remaining cares of a new Roman populace which cares not for its historical birthright of political involvement. Here Juvenal displays his contempt for the declining heroism of his contemporary Romans. Roman politicians devised a plan in 140 B.C.E. to win the votes of these new citizens: giving out cheap food and entertainment, “bread and circuses”, would be the most effective way to rise to power.

… Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses[6]

Juvenal here makes reference to the Roman practice of providing free wheat to Roman citizens as well as costly circus games and other forms of entertainment as a means of gaining political power. The Annona (grain dole) was begun under the instigation of the popularis politician Gaius Sempronius Gracchus in 123 B.C.E.; it remained an object of political contention until it was taken under the control of the autocratic Roman emperors.

Thank you, Wikipedia. Now those circuses were not like the present Disney-like cutesy circuses with clowns and such. Nope, in those circuses people killed each other, animals ate people alive, and the circus owner was constantly looking for new ways to make grisly, bloody, deaths more fun to watch.

Yes, they were football games, taken to their logical conclusion. The announcers love prattling on about the subtleties and intricacies of the game, with charts, arrows, replays, and incomprehensible jargon. But we all know that nobody cares about that stuff. What fans really want is blood and death, or as close as they can come to it.

How telling is this little snippet from ESPN, which though meant as a “joke”, is really telling it like it is:

Kansas City Chiefs players ripped their own fans for cheering when Matt Cassel — the Chiefs quarterback — went down with a concussion in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Ravens. Chiefs fans apologized, saying they mistakenly thought Cassel was dead.

Now I know I’m not saying anything new here. The point I’m trying to make is this. Last Sunday, for the first time, fans openly cheered when someone was seriously injured. The NFL has come one step closer to openly being a Roman Circus. Does this correspond to the USA coming one step closer to being Rome in other ways? Is our economy closer to collapse? Our moral fiber? Our humanity in general? Are we all going to become serfs more openly, as the Roman citizens finally became? Are the Barbarians [= Mexican Drug Cartels] about to invade us?

Sadly, I think so. The circuses were there for diversion. As the real life problems became bigger, the diversion had to be more extreme. As the morals of the people declined, they more openly howled for deaths at the circus. As the Barbarians smelled the country’s weakness, they became more bold.

Enjoy the game.







  1. JustJokes says:

    “Say the Govt taxed rich people at 50%, and poor people at zero, and then gave the tax money to the poor. The rich had no intention of spending that money. The poor go out and spend it all, buying all the wine and cocaine the rich had stashed away for future use. Total Spending went up. Total Income went up. But that did not improve the economy at all.”

    Say the tax was spent employing people to build roads, bridges, air and seaports, and water infrastructure. And let’s say those newly employed used the income they received to buy food, clothes, shoes and books and also to buy a home where they could rent out a room to receive further income for a rainy day. Now excess money that was going to sit unused or for “wine and cocaine”, eg derivative bets and speculation, has improved or renovated the infrastructure businesses use to carry their goods and their customers and employees and demand has been created where none existed for clothes, shoes, books, etc…

    I guess you were joshing with your example, but I see your point that Productivity isn’t taken into account in the spending=income equation. But why does the graph for govt deficit to private surplus match up like a mirror reflation??
    ^^^^ ^^^ private surplus Etc…
    vvvv vvv Govt. deficits


  2. sdavesblog says:

    I hope to devote an article to your first paragraph, for there is a lot to say about it.

    I’m not sure what you mean by your question about the graph for govt deficit. Could you elaborate, please?


  3. […] intelligent person who uses the name Just Jokes commented on my article about Hurricane Sandy, but for some reason it got posted on the Bread and Circuses […]


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