Saturday, December 14, 2019

Bread and Circuses?

Are things like reality television and professional sports just another example of the "bread and circuses" used by the powers-that-be to keep the populace amused and distracted?   Interesting thought!

I made the mistake of clicking on "rational wiki" while searching on Wikipedia for some information.  Now granted, Wikipedia can be an unreliable source of information, as any page can be spoofed, groomed, edited, or vandalized on a moment's notice.   Those editing Wikipedia pages (which could be anyone, even you) often have to rationalize their decisions and provide links and citations to articles to support edits.

But I noticed that one Wikipedia page dealing with Bernie Madoff (more on that in another posting) was being edited by one person who seemed to have a vested interest in making sure the "neutral point of view" (NPOV) was slanted a little in one direction.   Not a major slanting of the facts, but a subtle one.   Like anything else, you have to take things with a grain of salt.

What was funny is that I stumbled upon a "rational wiki" page which is an ersatz Wikipedia which doesn't claim to have a "neutral point of view" (NPOV) but a "Snarky Point of View" (SPOV).   And yes, rational wiki has their own Wikipedia page.

The authors of rational wiki argue that the neutrality of Wikipedia doesn't sufficiently cry "bullshit!" when talking about bullshit.  And to some extent, they are correct. Wikipedia will have an entry about MLM schemes, for example, or timeshares, and instead of screaming "this is a FRAUD!" in the first sentence, will instead say things like "MLMs are controversial" or something so bland and innocuous that anyone considering "investing" in one, would fail to heed the warning signs.

It is akin to these "news" channels who "present both sides and let you, the viewer, decide!"   Imagine how that would have played out in Nazi Germany in 1939.  "We have in our studios Heinrich Himmler and Elie Wiesel, who have opposing views about the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany.  Now, Mr. Wiesel, can you back up your wild accusations about so-called abuse of Jews in Germany and Poland?"   It would go something like that, and no doubt more than half the viewers would come away thinking that this Himmler guy "won the debate."

So I get where the rational wiki guy is coming from, even if his "Snarky" point of view is sometimes too snarky. But one thing he railed against, along with other conspiracy theories and far-right thinking, was the concept of "Bread and Circuses" as used by the far-right to describe a paranoid conspiracy theory that the Illuminati (or whoever) are using to distract us from "what is really going on!"

And Mr. Rational Wiki is right to ridicule such conspiracy theories.   But then again, as with anything else, there is a nugget of truth involved.   I don't think the Rothchilds or the Trilateral Commission sat down and created the National Football League or NASCAR as a means of anesthetizing the population.  Rather, these things grew organically on their own, as the population desperately wants to be distracted and anesthetized from the rigors of daily life.

If it is a conspiracy, it is a conspiracy of 330 million people - the entire population of the United States, who trade real success in life for being a "fan" of a rock star, a major league player, or a reality television show.  No one put a gun to their head and said to follow sports or Dancing with America's Funniest Home Makeover Chefs or whatever.  It is like this 1%'er argument - no one "took away our money" - we handed it to the 1%'ers with our blubbering thanks, one cell phone and cable bill at a time.

So, yes, it is true, the distractors can distract you from what is really important in life. You can squander most of your energy on things like four hours of television a day.  And yet, I meet people who are aghast that we don't have cable TV, as if it were oxygen itself.   No one forced them to think this way, they willingly adopted this attitude themselves.

But of course, the entire "Bread and Circuses" theory falls apart under its own weight.   You see, believing in conspiracy theories is itself the ultimate form of "Bread and Circuses" as it causes depression in the individual and saps their time and energy away, as does obsessing about politics and whatnot.

There is no grand scheme or conspiracy - it is all pretty much organic things that occurred voluntarily.  Sure, the cell phone companies and app makers design their products to be addictive, just as the television networks know how to "hook" you into a show and get you to keep watching through hours of commercials. But you still have the choice not to consume.  You still have the choice of turning off the television, disconnecting from cable, or even the Internet.

And in that regard, it is funny, but we find ourselves watching less and less "streaming" content anymore. What is on Netflix is sort of boring and poorly made. Even "good" shows like The Crown seem more like hour-long advertisements for the monarchy. And on Youtube, well, the advertisements, once nonexistent or limited to 3-5 seconds before every other video, are becoming more and more intrusive (and often crash our television).

More and more we find ourselves turning it off - or never turning it on in the first place.  It just seems like a time-waster, a distractor, a bread-and-circus. We're better off reading a book or working on some project around the house, balancing the checkbook, or just plain talking to one another while taking a long walk.

We still have choices!