Progressive Writers Bloc

We Have the Circus, Now Where's the Bread?

“Uncle Bill” Warner

Back in Roman times when the emperor Augustus was busy buying off the population with his bread and circuses act while grabbing more and more power, a satirist called “Juvenal” wrote about how the system worked. The term “panem et circenses” referred to free distribution of food and opulent, often brutal spectacles. According to Juvenal, the people lost the capacity to govern themselves due to this addiction.

Somehow, this concept of bread and circuses popped into my mind just after a part of a young celebrity’s anatomy popped out to public scrutiny at halftime at the Superbowl. Spectacle upon spectacle. Violence on the field, forbidden sights, beer ads, the Emperor Augustus would be really jealous today. But the Superbowl is only part of the pandering to the masses to keep them distracted.

Two days after the event, the TV repeats and repeats, discusses, analyses ad nauseum this publicity-stunt, people write letters to CBS and their local papers, call in to talk shows, discuss it with their barbers. Janet Jackson’s mammary display has put little things like the President’s charade of appointing the “independent” commission to investigate himself right off the front page. When the public should be taking a closer look at the HUGE budget deficit, they are watching the other Jackson, Michael. Funny, there always seems to be something happening about the time congress is sneaking through some questionable legislation.

Remember the Gary Condit affair, where one of his aides disappeared? The media beat that story to death, giving rise to the new term “conditization.” The public has become so used to infotainment, that few people who do not assiduously seek out the important news on the Internet really know what’s going on. And the government likes it that way.

How many people watch disgusting spectacles like people eating bugs, watching freak-show afternoon TV, and hearing elected officials scream “weapons of mass destruction” and “nuclear threat” conveniently diverting attention from huge scandals having to do with corporate influence buying and corruption going up to the highest places in Washington?

The media are not in the business of providing a service in the interest of the general welfare. They are in the circus business. They exist to deliver you, the consumer, to corporate sponsors, and will go to any lengths to do this. Now stop and consider this...who do you think owns these media? I’m sure you’ve heard of CBS and NBC? I remember back during the First Gulf War how they beat the drums for war with a passion. How many people even knew or cared that these networks were owned by GE and Westinghouse, two of our largest arms makers? We enjoyed watching our troops in action defeating those miserable Iraqis. The larger viewing audience they delivered to their sponsors, the more money they made, not to mention the spin off for their war manufacturing businesses. Infotainment PLUS special interest!

One of the biggest laughs I have had in a long time was seeing the bumper sticker. “I don’t believe the liberal media.” Give me a break! Think about it. Do you really believe that the rich corporate-owned “sponsored” media is going to be “Fair and Balanced” or “liberal/progressive”? Even National Public Radio and PBS are not free to tell it like it is. When corporate criminals like Archer Daniels Midland can “underwrite” the McNeill – Lehrer News Hour, you are not going to hear much about ADM being fined that 100 million dollars! Unabashedly right-wing outlets like Fox News pretend they are offering “both sides” of issues when they have a far-right view and a centrist view (calling that liberal). Real left wing spokesmen are either ignored, given almost no time, or shouted down. Is the function of the media in a democracy to give ALL points of view in the public interest?

There are, however some liberal/progressive media out there that are not in the business of delivering you to a sponsor, but are actually there to inform and not entertain. These media are open about their point of view, and believe that they are necessary to counter the pervasive misuse of the public airwaves which presently exists. The Pacifica network, via KPFA and KFCF (88.1 FM here in the Central Valley), Mother Jones Magazine, The Nation, The Progressive, Community Alliance Magazine (Fresno), World Link TV, and Internet sites like,, and such ARE liberal media, and are not in the circus business as are FOX, CNN, CBS, etc. Are you willing to spend a little time checking out what alternative voices are saying?

About 60% of the American public get most of their news from right wing TV and radio. Assuming they vote on the basis of their “knowledge”, this is a serious matter. After all the exposure (pun intended) Ms. Jackson has gotten from her stunt on TV, she could probably run for public office and win.

Circuses can only go so far in diverting the public’s attention, however. A hungry feeling in the stomach is not easily ignored. The corporate media can only entertain you so much. When the bread starts to be in short supply, people may start getting interested in the way things really work. If you are one of the 40 million people in the U.S. without health care, no amount of media tomfoolery is going to distract you when one of your kids gets sick. No football game is going to divert your attention from the fact you have just lost your life’s savings in a corporate rip-off, or your job has been exported to slave labor in some foreign country where they pay their workers 27 cents an hour. As Lincoln said, “ can’t fool all of the people all the time.”

An administration that takes office with a huge surplus in the Treasury and runs the country into record-setting debt and is cutting programs that feed people is soon going to have the “bread” issue on its hands. Circuses and slanted news threaten the health of the Republic. Kick the addiction.

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