by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
July 16, 2010
BREAD AND CIRCUSES
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- The Romans figured that if they provided bread and gladiator matches, people wouldn't notice that their leadership was inept and corrupt.
Today we have many circuses but little bread.
Neil Postman, in his 1985 book, "Amusing Ourselves to Death," took up the topic when he contrasted George Orwell's view of mankind with Aldous Huxley's.
"Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression," Postman wrote. "But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required... people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.
As Huxley said in "Brave New World Revisited," we "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions".
"In short," Postman wrote, "Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us."
Recently, I've been fascinated by three different kinds of "circuses." And at the end they've left me less ruined than desolate - because they're over.
The first was the World Cup, which at its happiest filled almost all my spare time - and quite a bit of my working time as well.
In the beginning, I could wake up in the morning, make a cup of tea and watch a soccer game. Then, a few hours later, watch another. It was, to paraphrase the song, soccer in the morning, soccer in the evening, and soccer at suppertime.
There was a lot to love. I fell hard for the Ghanians. The Uruguayan team reminded me of "Chariots of Fire." I loved watching goals happen - to me, soccer was full of magic, creativity and joy.
My illusions were shattered by World Cup Final on Sunday, which was brutal. No magic, no creativity, no joy. Just a bunch of thugs throwing punches and kicks at each other. The score may have been Spain 1, Netherlands 0, but the real score was 28 fouls for the Dutch, 19 for Spain.
At the same time the World Cup was going on, I was reading the Millennium trilogy by the Swedish author and journalist Stieg Larsson.
Larsson died of a massive heart attack in 2004 at the age of 50, leaving behind three books that have gripped the world in a frenzy unknown since J. K. Rowland started writing about a kid named Harry Potter. The books have already sold 22 million copies in 44 languages, and the last one isn't even in paperback yet.
"The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" - published in Sweden under the name, "Men Who Hate Women," "The Girl Who Played With Fire" and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest" are riveting.
Once I started the first book, I couldn't put it down. Once I finished the last - in an epic all-nighter that made me useless the next day - I was so bereft of its main characters, investigative journalist Mikael Blomlvist and tattooed master hacker and Amazon warrior Lisbeth Salander, that I read most of it again. Then I read the Nora Ephron parody in The New Yorker a few times. Now I'm floundering because Larsson is dead and there will never be another book.
Larsson, bless his heart, was a feminist to the core.
According to his life partner of 32 years, architect Eva Gabrielsson, he was a teenager when he witnessed "a gang-rape committed by his so-called friends. This is the key thing. For him, the fight against violence against women was personal."
Gabrielsson believes that experience explains the books' popularity.
"The sales say something about the world," she said. "People must find something in what is being said: the fight against corruption; the barbarism and discrimination and violence against women; the cowardice of the media; the blindness and corruption of politicians. This must be universal. I interpret it almost as a way of voting. They are voting for Stieg's ideals."
I've also been obsessed with a British television detective series called "A Touch of Frost," police procedurals based on books by R. D. Wingfield and centered on a crusty old copper named William Edward "Jack" Frost and the invented town of Denton, in Yorkshire. The series started in 1992 and went until the beginning of this year. Most of the series is available on DVD. I have watched it all. "Going to Denton" became my favorite evening activity.
I like police procedurals because, unlike life, at the end the evildoers are caught and the world is made right again.
Sports. Books. Television. Three circuses. Yet I don't feel duped. Instead, I feel fortunate to have found such interesting things to entertain me.
We live in a dark and dangerous world that appears to be going to hell in a handbasket. Sometimes "technologies that undo [our] capacities to think" actually teach us more about the world and our fellow man than we would otherwise get to learn.
Joyce Marcel (joycemarcel.com) is a journalist and columnist. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.