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Guest Column

Fat on 'bread, circuses'

Published November 4, 2007


First century A.D. Roman poet and satirist Juvenal falls short of being a household name, but something he wrote still lingers. He chided his fellow Romans for seemingly giving up so many of their empire's past glories for "bread and circuses."

Some of us tend to believe that the past is always there to be learned from. World empires don't decline overnight, of course, but is there evidence that our American empire might be in the early stages of decline? What are our bread and circuses?

Our "bread" is in evidence everywhere if you translate the term as meaning food, in general, and unhealthful food, in particular. As the latest figures show, the percentage of our population suffering from obesity is distressingly high.

Is there a link between this and our "circuses?" Most of our circuses have nothing to do with tents and big tops but are the twin monsters of sports and entertainment. When the two monsters manage to combine, it gets even worse.

They have made us into people who sit and watch, who live less active lives than our ancestors did. In turn, our lifestyle creates corpulence. Our young folks stare at small screens while those slightly older trudge into huge amphitheaters to watch there.

Back in ancient Rome, people at least walked to the Coliseum to see the lions and the gladiators do their thing. Even in Shakespeare's time, most of the audience was obliged to stand as they watched his plays. Modern fans can watch the spectacles in the comfort of home easy chairs and, since the advent of the TV remote control, don't even have to rise from their chair to change channels.

Most of us can't find Seychelles on a world map, but we can tell you the batting or passing average of our favorite diamond or gridiron stars. As to naming our state senator or two or three of our City Council members - well, lots of luck.

There was a time when our colleges and universities were known for their academic or research prowess, and although a handful still are, most of us think first of their football standing when a school's name is mentioned.

My own alma mater is doing some worthwhile things in medical research, but its sports teams get more headlines. One has to wonder how university presidents must feel about their self-worth when the football coach outearns them by thousands or even millions of dollars.

Are we in a slow decline? I can't ask Juvenal, because he's not around anymore, but if I could, he'd probably point out that in 2,000 years, nothing has really changed.

James Pettican is a retired journalist who lives in Palm Harbor.

[Last modified November 3, 2007, 22:00:28]

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