Panem et circenses or “bread and circuses” was the lament of the Roman poet Juvenal as he watched the citizens lose their moral depth to trivial sideshows, including the gruesome spectacle of the Circus and the Arena. This pathetic failure of the people foreshadowed the decline of the Roman Empire.
Sadly, the accusation of panem et circenses applies with little qualification to the populace of the United States today. The multitudes feast on lowbrow theater, including crime drama of the most horrific sort. Stories about serial killers, complete with very graphic scenes, are constant. You can find at least a few on television every night.
Last night, for instance, on a show called NCIS Los Angeles, the mission of the federal agents was to stop someone who was burying 14-year-old girls alive. The episode included mock video clips of these girls bound and gagged in their makeshift caskets. It looked very real.
Alfred Hitchcock’s’ 1960’s classic Psycho is incredibly scary, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the sadistic and demonic gore of the typical serial killer seen every night on the airwaves. These monsters routinely bondage and butcher sexy women, many of them underage teens. The viewer gets a lewd prolonged view, not just a hint.
Hitchcock’s genius was to use suspense to maximize impact. Today, there is no genius in the dark tale, only an attempt to shock and arouse through disturbing leaps in sexual perversion.
Even worse are the blood flicks, such as the Saw movies, which basically present a couple hours of eroticized torture, crafted to be as absorbing and “spine-tingling” as possible. In one Saw sequel, a young woman is chained naked with her hands above her head as she slowly freezes to death.
This is presented for minutes. We don’t get merely a hint of her fate, or watch a few seconds of the aftermath. Her whole body is shown freezing up close. The camera lingers a long while so the audience can ‘enjoy’.
Teenagers and children, once taboo in the entertainment industry as the focus of rape and sadomasochism, are now constantly defiled. Shows like Law and Order: Special Victims Unit specialize in kiddie atrocity. Graphic shots of the infernal despoilment of children are common.
Another show that specializes in serial killers, including close-ups and raw sadism is Criminal Minds. Every episode has another Satan-worthy fiend.
To deviate for a moment from this parade of evil, there is another genre that is utterly inane: the reality TV romance. In this puerile kind of drama, horny youths are exposed in ‘real life’ acting in psychologically pathetic ways. The point is to titillate the viewer with the obsessions of immature and selfish people, whose main goal, it seems, is to jump someone's pants by whatever vulgar means possible. The result is a spectacle of buffoonish behavior worthy of drunken dogs.
Even musical shows with positive elements, like Glee, contain a vast dose of escapism. Take the sexiest teenagers, combine them with the most perfect voices, the best possible choreography, and put them in a lip-sync world which is more like Broadway stage than the complexity of life, and you get Glee.
Watching Glee, or serial killers, or reality romance will get you a good dose of libidinous rush, pandering mostly to the dark side (though in the case of Glee you get some great art and positive messages about equality, merged in with the underage rut).
There's emphasis on how selfish and competitive people are; how much evil is ‘out there’ to harm you; and how you are secondary, because beautiful young people are the most desirable and important of us all, not for their intelligence but rather because the have youthful appeal and physical flexibility, which apparently are prerequisites for the ability to stimulate.
What you won’t get is any way out of this Matrix. The shallow mentality of the US citizen is sick with mirrors and locked doors. Until the people wake up--realize that their Empire has done horrible things, and that their myopic greed is the fuel of their downfall and degeneration--they will cling to their escapist dramas, which prophetically are full of sights worthy of the pits of hell.
Their politicians will continue to pander to the lowest elements in the human spirit, stoking racism and the specter of evil; denigrating the importance of books and education in favor of the fear-inducing violence of war.
Indeed, our politicians, the Republicans mostly, don’t really want people to become educated. Education is the enemy of their idiotic appeals, their attempts to leash their followers to terror and insecurity. The more intelligent you sound, the more Un-American you are.
Like Juvenal, I am forced to cry out:
BREAD AND CIRCUSES!