BY: DUSTIN BATTY
Though many different factors contributed to the fall of Rome, one main ingredient was the political complacency of the general population. As the Roman poet and satirist Juvenal pointed out a couple centuries before the empire fell, the population of the Roman Empire gave up its political power. According to him, the Roman “mob / That used to grant power, high office, the legions, everything, / Curtails its desires, and reveals its anxieties for two things only, / Bread and circuses.” In other words, the general population ignored politics and the antics of its leaders because it was being provided with two things: bread (food, or more generally, the necessities of life) and circuses (entertainment).
Since the actions of politicians and the elite had little if any obvious or direct consequences for the people, the mob was content to spend their time being entertained and leave the decisions to the “experts.” The more directly those in charge affected the mob’s quality of life, the more entertainment they would provide it, distracting it from the negative consequences. Though the mob was satisfied, the leaders’ tendency to provide free—or very cheap—food, housing, and entertainment ruined Rome’s economy, putting another nail in the empire’s coffin.
People have been comparing America to Rome for over a century, and the comparison is only becoming more apt with time. Admiral Ben Moreell’s article could have been written yesterday, rather than 61 years ago. Today, the general population of America—the mob—is being bombarded with distractions and entertainment. Smartphones provide constant access to the ever-growing internet. Television, which already provided 24/7 distractions that appealed to a wide range of personal tastes, has become even more effective with the ability to stream and binge-watch shows.
Perhaps the most telling aspect of modern America is our obsession with sports. Not only are they the most similar to Roman events like the gladiatorial games, they also demand much of our attention. With most sports now being televised and the easy availability of team and player stats online, many sports fans know more about their favourite teams than they know about their government’s policies. We are like the citizens of the Capitol in The Hunger Games, willing to ignore the wars and civil unrest in the rest of the world caused by our governments as we watch people pit themselves against each other and cheer for our favourites, our priorities skewed by the excitement of the games.
The Hunger Games portrays an exaggeratedly morbid sport wherein players are encouraged to kill each other until there is only one remaining; it is not meant to be an accurate representation of our times, but rather a warning against a hedonistic and decadent society. However, with the introduction of Game2: Winter in July 2017, it is entirely possible that the Hunger Games won’t be an exaggeration for much longer.
Hopefully we will be able to heed the warnings of Juvenal, Admiral Moreell, and Suzanne Collins and take a more active role in our nations rather than letting the distractions of entertainment leave us happily oblivious.