I’ve been reading a book called THE TWELVE CEASARS and it’s not only a reminder of how impressive the ancient Roman empire was, but also how messed up it was. Rome has often served as an extended commentary on our own current “empire.” We dwell on interesting parallels.
For quite a stretch of time, the immorality of Rome would have made even Hollywood blush—or at least smirk. The progressive decadence of our own times is eerily similar.
To a certain extent the U.S. is the most powerful empire in existence, just as Rome was during its time. Regardless of the declining dollar and relative ignorance that many Americans pride themselves on, this nation is indeed powerful, much like the majestic Roman Empire.
But what often comes to mind is our Roman taste for violence. Movies and video games are the usual suspects, but that’s more of a knee-jerk accusation. Boys will always pretend to “kill” whether it be with an XBOX 360 or a stick. (However, the recent trend of torture-horror films might be worth exploring some other time.) Football and other sports are often held up with some derision as the modern gladiators. But I think we should look somewhere else.
The Roman coliseum was a place of entertainment. Those doing the “performing” we’re often fighting for their lives, whether they were gladiators pitted against each other or victims of Roman “justice” condemned to face wild animals or other horrible means of death.
In video games and movies, no one is really hurt. In football and other sports, no one is really hurt (not intentionally, for the most part). The true arena where America nurtures a lack of empathy is the slew of reality shows and talk shows. Real people go on the air and are figuratively “destroyed” in front of our eyes. With weapons such as jealousy, arrogance and deception, the contestants and guests are methodically undone. We don’t watch gladiators tear each other apart. On Jerry Springer, we watch families tear each other apart. In the early sessions of each season of American Idol we watch people crash and burn trying to aspire with minimal talent. And we laugh at them.
There’s no blood. There’s no death. But there’s also no compassion.
One could argue that no one has forced these people to go into the arena. They are willingly feeding themselves to the lions. But I’m wary. Television is our coliseum—and we are learning to be amused by everything we see, regardless of its true context in the real world.It’s unnerving to remember that the Roman Empire decayed from the inside out. It’s even more disturbing to realize that they were laughing while it happened.