The phrase “bread and circuses” was coined by the Roman satirist Juvenal in reference to the way the ruling class pacified the commoners by diverting them from contemplating their subjugation. In ancient Rome, the “bread” was distributions of grain, and the “circuses” were public games and other mass spectacles. In interviews, Suzanne Collins has admitted she was directly inspired by this bit of history in creating the world of The Hunger Games. Juvenal’s original Latin phrase, some might recall, ispanem et circenses.
As a result, both bread and circuses factor into the dynamics of the Hunger Games themselves. Taking place in an outdoor “arena,” the Games bear a distinct resemblance to the gladiatorial games of ancient Rome, in which slaves and criminals engaged in bloody and sometimes-fatal combat before large crowds of riveted spectators. Those in the outlying districts of Panem watch the Games in a state of tense anticipation, since the home district of the eventual victor (i.e., the Games’ sole survivor) is rewarded with food and other gifts by the Capitol (“bread”). Those in the Capitol, with nothing at stake, watch purely for pleasure (“circuses”).
From the Brittanica Blog.
J.D. Salinger once said, “The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.”
This is essentially the difference between Mockingjay and the Gladiator, two of my favorite movies. Both feature a corrupted heart as the “capitol” of their empire. Panem was named after a political strategy in ancient Rome and the entire Hunger Games plot (see left) is derived from how emperors would earn popularity. Unlike a fictional “what if” where society has been demoted to a religionless, divisive body, however, Rome is the horrific non-fiction origins of our modern day society.
Without knowing much about what was happening in Rome at the time, I can say that I do know what is happening now. It reminds me of that moment in the theatrical version of Return of the King where Faramir goes to war while his father eats his lunch. The comfortable feast while the powerless starve.
But we don't like to think about the fact that we are the powerful ones. We are the comfortable, the over-eating, the emperors now. We only have to deal with it when we're travelling abroad and we become the foreigners who are mocked, avoided or even spat at. I love America, I love my home, but I don't love how we have given away responsibility for it in exchange for popcorn and instant streaming.
Over and over again I find myself talking about opiates with my kids. Distractions. The "bread and circuses" of Rome. For us, it's the Novocaine of Netflix, sports and social media – because let’s be honest, how many of us actually use Twitter for the sole purpose of news?
I chase a peaceful life. Where I won’t have to work so hard, where my pride won’t be injured, where kids obey and flatter, a day when my family simple does what I’ve always told them to do. A “peaceful” life where I am queen, and everyone bows down to me. The main character in an action movie. Superhero Anna, needed to save the day.
It feels gross even admitting it. But that’s the truth. According to dictionary.com, “panem et circenses” describes “the cynical formula of the Roman emperors for keeping the masses content with ample food and entertainment.” It’s all about popular entertainment, a political strategy which Suzanne Collins described as full bellies and entertainment in Mockingjay, the novel.
A government which provides pleasure, instant gratification, the alleviation of stress, and the people turn a blind eye to corruption and the governance of their own country for the ability to say, Do it for me. We can’t complain when we are taxed, or our rights are violated, when we have given the government our birthright for our own physical comfort. Our security.
This doesn’t have to do just with food or entertainment. But I feel it when I walk into a large stadium with my teens for them to be entertained as a mass, to the least common denominator. I feel it when I walk into a football stadium and join the bleachers to cheer and worship people I don’t know. Treated like cattle, because we have given away our humanity for the sake of not having to “deal with it.”
If J.D. Salinger is right, heroism is less like Katniss, and more like Maximus. Less like (dare I say) Harry Potter and more like Frodo. Less final act of heroism with an eternal accolade, and more like a long journey of hard work with an unmarked grave but a subtly different world. For your greatest act, would you rather have applause or would you rather see less people suffer? Truth is, there's usually a choice. You can't always have your trophy and make a difference, too. Which one have you been choosing?
When Frodo and Sam are on Mt. Doom in Return of the King, Sam dreams of peace. Not a couch, a bowl of ice cream and hours of video games where "no one gets hurt." He dreams of home: “Do you remember the Shire, Mr. Frodo? It'll be spring soon. And the orchards will be in blossom. And the birds will be nesting in the hazel thicket. And they'll be sowing the summer barley in the lower fields... and eating the first of the strawberries with cream. Do you remember the taste of strawberries?”
The opposite of Panem is a humility which is real, a life that is not always peachy, but has moments of strawberries and cream. Simple pleasure from hard work and trusting the process. I’m not here to preach organic products or a farmer’s market. I’m here to preach the fact of stewardship. The hard, and loving, Truth that we are in charge of this earth, this nation, this life, our families.
Why do bad things happen to good people? Because good people don’t think their decisions matter.
Today, God is pushing me with more hard, loving Truths:
Stop hiding. Get to work.
Your love makes a difference.
Lose yourself in service, and you will find a life with meaning.
“Very humble work, that is where you and I must be.
For there are many people who can do big things
But there are very few people who will do the small things.”
Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta