Saturday, August 09, 2008

We Need "Bread and Circuses"

I'll admit to being old and jaded, to having a "Been there, done that" approach to life. I seldom get excited about anything these days, especially celebrity antics and other "events" in popular culture. I must also admit, however, that once in a while something catches my attention and stirs my imagination. It's usually discovering a new book that seems to speak to me, or seeing some famous sight like the Parthenon or St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow or China's Great Wall for the first time (and it's been quite a while since those personal "Wow!" moments).

This morning I watched a rerun of yesterday's opening ceremonies from the Beijing Olympics. I was amazed, astounded, and fascinated. Yes, I know that China has a deplorable human rights record, and I can't defend the country's politics. But I'm still naive enough to believe in the idea of all nations getting together in peace for sporting events. My 2001 visit to China, when this year's Olympics was merely the subject of promotional billboards, proved to me that China has much to offer the world.

Still, the surprising thing was how affecting the opening spectacle was. And I find it positive that basketball star Yao Ming, who earned fame and fortune in the US, serves as a sort of bridge between our two countries. I won't be watching many Olympics events; I'm not enough of a sports fan for that, but I can understand the appeal of the games. It makes me think of "Bread and Circuses." We all need our national pride and identity, even though no country, including ours, is perfect (I've never found another that I'd prefer, however).

According to The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, 3rd edition. 2002, this is where the term "Bread and Circuses" came from and what it means:

"A phrase used by a Roman writer to deplore the declining heroism of Romans after the Roman Republic ceased to exist and the Roman Empire began: 'Two things only the people anxiously desire—bread and circuses.' The government kept the Roman populace happy by distributing free food and staging huge spectacles (See Colosseum).

“'Bread and circuses'” has become a convenient general term for government policies that seek short-term solutions to public unrest."

I suspect that no matter how jaded we become, we still need to have our hearts stirred by events like the Olympic games and elaborate inaugurations and festivities of all kinds. The costumes, the pyrotechnics, the spectacles: in a sense, that explains the continued popularity of the British monarchy and the various events that can still stir our hearts.

In a world inundated by serious problems, it's refreshing to know that a few things can stir our hardened hearts. For us elders, watching on TV may be the only option, but that's all right. We still need our Bread and Circuses, and I'm happy to discover that I can still appreciate them.


troutbirder said...

Your right. Last nights opening ceremony was stunning and the experts commentary on the historical and allegorical meaning of the permances was very well done. Not Bob Costas blabber during the parade of nations though. I also like your musings about writing. I write because I like to write. Yes.

seniorwriter said...

Thanks, troutbirder. I'm glad you like to write, and I'll visit your blog.

Linda Austin said...

I agree, Marlys, let the Chinese people feel pride in their country and let the rest of us appreciate how far China has come instead of constantly acusing and belittling it. ("It" being the government, not the people.) We can go back to that when the Olympics are over.