“The people who have conquered the world have only two interests – bread and circuses” - Decimus Junius Juvenalis
Feed ’em so they don’t starve, and keep ’em entertained...and you won’t have to worry about public unrest. It was true in Roman times, and it’s at least as valid today.
I was meditating on this issue as a result of having been in Los Angeles recently, a town thoroughgoingly devoted to the creation of big-E Entertainment. Movies. Television. Circuses of the first water.
As if that were not enough, we spent a day at the Universal Studios theme park. And that was an entertaining day. Plenty of people were there along with us, all being Entertained in Grand Style.
We had a great time at Universal, but for me, one day was plenty: I don’t have the desire to rush right out and do it again. My tolerance for Theme Parks is modest at best. Yes, they’re fun. They are the apotheosis of American Fun-Generating Technology, by Gawd! They’d better damn well be fun!
Walt Disney, of course, wrote the book on Theme Parks, and his influence was especially apparent this month as Disneyland celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. In my runny-nose days, I would have committed murder if it would have gotten me into Disneyland, not-so-subliminal advertising for which was hammered into our brains every day as we watched the Mickey Mouse Club on TV. In third grade, one of our classmates actually went to Disneyland, causing the rest of us to suffer paroxysms of Insane Jealous Rage. But after having seen both Disneyland and its newer, more gargantuan sister operation, Orlando’s Walt Disney World several times over the years (the most recent being almost two decades ago), I have little desire to go back and revisit the land of “a thousand catch-penny engines” (to use Cyril Kornbluth’s delightful phrase). As enjoyable as these places are, there’s something about their artificiality that sticks in my craw. She Who Must Be Obeyed may disagree with me on this point, but why go to EPCOT and see a fake version of Canada or Morocco when you can see the real thing?
And let’s not forget the Fine Dining Options available at these places. At the Disney Empire’s outposts, you can get everything from the most churlish, nondescript Fast Food to the finest international cuisine served on white tablecloths...and you’ll love it, provided you’ve never had any of the real cuisine from any of those countries to compare it to. At Universal, the food options are not complicated – not much different from what you would see at your local shopping mall’s Food Court. You gotta love the creative names, too. Frank ’n’ Stein! Hah!
Hell, even Las Vegas has reinvented itself as a sort of Theme Park. Think Excalibur, New York, New York, and all the other hotels built there in the last fifteen years. Think of Treasure Island and its goofy Aquatic Street Show. It’s almost like Las Vegas wants to Disnefy itself.
[Now, if Disney would only add gambling and whores to the mix at their parks, they’d really have something. Screw Tomorrowland - we’re going to Bordelloland!]
But if you really want to appreciate the place Bread and Circuses hold in American society, just look at Professional Sports.
In the last two weeks, I’ve been to baseball games on opposite sides of the country: at Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles, and at the Ted in Atlanta. Aside from the huge amounts of wealth tied up in building these Palaces o’ Sport, think of the humongous salaries the players are paid. And this is just baseball – we haven’t begun to scratch the surface. Football - the Super Bowl! Basketball! The Olympics!!!
Think also of the Vast Quantities of beer, soft drinks, hot dogs, pizza, and hamburgers consumed at a ball game. All to be converted into Body Mass, Frantic Screaming Energy, Carbon Dioxide, Piss, and Shit. Multiply it by, say, 44,000 people, and that’s a Whole Lotta Hot Dogs – and a Whole Lotta Shit.
None of this stuff is cheap at a modern ball park – hell, the peanuts cost six ducats at the Ted! – but it all feeds that Gigantic Engine that keeps the Bread and Circuses flowing.
And when the Bread and Circuses are flowing, we are a happy, complacent people. Aren’t we?