Bread and circuses – without the bread

BBC Bieber

The venerable BBC, doyen of all that is good and great in the News Media, had this as its screaming headline on a Wednesday night.

Yes, ne’er-do-well and click-bait Justin Bieber was charged with assault in Canada. This “breaking news” (or “latest” in the more clipped tones of Broadcasting House) trumped the Ukrainian instability, the Syria talks, or the State of the Union.

I remember, as a young lad, using my brother’s short wave radio to tune in to the BBC World Service. (This was long before we could listen to it on our computers or smart phones.) It opened up a world which I knew existed beyond the environs of Washington Heights, and in which I wanted to swim.

To a great extent, the BBC still holds that place in my astronomy of news media. I go to great lengths to have access to BBC World, and much of its reporting is relevant and informative. But the fact that it felt it needed to highlight this non-entity’s travails on its website speaks to a great cancer in our media, one which doesn’t spare blue chip organizations like the BBC.

When the Bieber arrest in Miami dominated our US cable networks, I posted this piece. A fictional character on Twitter took CNN to task for its obsession with the Bieber story. Every minute which CNN devoted to Bieber was a minute not devoted to the Ukraine, or Turkey, or the plight of those without unemployment insurance in the US. All because a pop star was on a downward spiral of self-indulgence and ignorance, abetted by his credulous and scarily devoted fans, who trended hashtags on Twitter such as #WeWillAlwaysLoveYouJustinEvenIfYouMurderPuppiesOnTour. (No, of course, that wasn’t an actual hashtag. Just because no one had the balls to post it.)

But our modern media isn’t concerned with serving the “public interest”. It’s instead decided to serve the “public’s interests”: anything in which the public is interested, no matter how unimportant, becomes important. There is no longer a sense of a common good. There is instead a devotion to a common denominator. Whatever draws in the ratings or the clicks, whatever greases the rails of advertising, that’s what will lead. What is as true on the national level is as true on a local level. Blood leads. Sexy trumps nuance. Stations are chasing a smaller slice of a smaller pie, as people tune out from mass media and seek news elsewhere, so attention must be maximized.

In a civilized world, the pratfalls of a fool like Justin Bieber would be noted briefly with amusement, and then passed on to matters of real importance. But we have slid into a world of bread and circuses, as with the Roman Empire. Except with this one caveat: we have not much bread. It is a world of spectacle and distraction, where ever more surreal conceptions of “reality” are foisted upon a jaundiced public, seeking to sate its appetite for diversion. Plato, in his ideal Republic, would have banished poetry as a distraction from what was important. What would he have made of a cultural landscape in which the majority of it was made up of reality shows, gossip, the most ephemeral of news?

What we have today is a system of control which the apparatchiks of Soviet Russia could only dream. Not only are people distracted from considering those things which have the most impact on their lives, but they actively choose to focus on the transient, thinking it of utter importance to their being. It is a form of social control which would have made George Orwell spin. This isn’t Chomsky’s “manufacturing consent”; consent isn’t sought. What’s sought is uncaring. What’s sought is a dismissal of things which actually matter for things which don’t, but are marketed in such a way as to make them seem of existential necessity. Don’t consider your lot in life; distract yourself with Bieber’s latest pratfalls, or Katy Perry’s new dress. Focus on the circus, to forget you have no bread.

The only solace is that the wurlitzer is grinding to a diminishing audience. Ratings at all the networks are down, as people realize they’re being bamboozled and anesthetized to what is real. The coming generation is the most discerning in terms of media consumption, with a fine nose for shit. They own no televisions, and their most used bookmark is thepiratebay.org. The mass media is in its dying autumn. Eventually, it will run out of people to whom to sell Viagra and cheap catheters. And it won’t be a moment too soon.

102 Responses to “Bread and circuses – without the bread”

  1. 1 Nena20409
    January 30, 2014 at 1:51 pm

    Good Afternoon TOD.

    Over and Later Community.

  2. 3 MightyPamela
    January 30, 2014 at 1:51 pm

    Gtg. Bbl.

  3. 7 Nena20409
    January 30, 2014 at 1:52 pm

    Okay then…..Me 😯 Gold ❓

    I will be back to read your post LL. Thanks

  4. 8 MightyPamela
    January 30, 2014 at 1:56 pm

    LL, simply could not tear myself away from yet another brilliant piece. Thank you so very much. Have FB’d. Standing Ovation for you, Sir LL!

  5. 10 jacquelineoboomer
    January 30, 2014 at 1:57 pm

  6. 11 desertflower
    January 30, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    This. ” What’s sought is uncaring. What’s sought is a dismissal of things which actually matter for things which don’t, but are marketed in such a way as to make them seem of existential necessity.”

    Which is why so many of us DON’T watch the “news” and get our info from so many other sources….it really does make my head hurt though. Instantaneous, snippet world…reality TV and news that doesn’t inform or get to the questions of the issues at hand. Dumbed down America. Sad to say, but all these old fart geezers need to finally die off and the reins taken from them so that we can get back to talking, with substance, about important issues that effect our lives and the lives of our children and their children’s children.

  7. 12 jacquelineoboomer
    January 30, 2014 at 2:02 pm

  8. January 30, 2014 at 2:03 pm

    Thank yoooooooooou LL, you are the Juan Mata of opinion pieces!

  9. January 30, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    Isn’t Meacham also the one who tanked Newsweek?

    • 22 donna dem 4 obama
      January 30, 2014 at 2:14 pm

      One and the same…

      Meacham joined Newsweek as a writer in January 1995, became national affairs editor in June of that year, and was named managing editor in November 1998. In September 2006, he was promoted to editor-in-chief. In August 2010 Meacham announced that he would depart Newsweek upon completion of the sale of the magazine by the Washington Post Company.


  10. 24 carolyn
    January 30, 2014 at 2:11 pm

    Your title illustrated a lesson I endeavored to teach to my Composition I class this morning: allusions. To understand this title, one would need to know your reference…..the ancient Romans.

    We read a short, funny essay this morning by Dave Barry: Punch and Judy. By its title, those who know would guess it was about male/female differences and relationships….which it was. They loved the essay, got the hyperbolic satire, and the whole thing. But I asked them if they knew what the title was referring to, no one did. So, I had fun explaining it to them.

    Then I got to do my little schtick on the use of allusions in so many writers. Pointed out that Rachel Carson had used one in the essay we read for the previous day, which was “shadow of death” from Psalms. Then I talked about others…..for instance, “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts” got to talk about the Iliad.
    Reading and understanding are so enhanced if one gets the allusions, thank you for your title.
    (I have a great group in my Comp I class…..eighteen year olds, in their first semester of college, some in their second semester, a student fro Cameroon, and two dads aged 30 & 40…….I feel so fortunate.)

  11. January 30, 2014 at 2:15 pm

    Feds are going to seek the death penalty in the Boston Marathon case.

  12. January 30, 2014 at 2:22 pm

  13. 33 Linda
    January 30, 2014 at 2:23 pm

    This is just wrong !

    Up to 40 students at a Utah elementary school watched as their lunches were taken and thrown away on Tuesday because their parents owed money to the school, the Salt Lake Tribune reported


    • 34 Vicki
      January 30, 2014 at 2:35 pm

      This is unspeakable. hard to believe

    • 35 Nerdy Wonka
      January 30, 2014 at 2:42 pm

      This is despicable and appalling. What did they gain? They wasted food and allowed innocent children to go hungry. For what? To teach them a lesson? Maybe if Utah did a better job providing a more profitable economy for the parents, then the parents could have funds to pay the lunch debt.

      You do not punish and humiliate children in so callous a manner. You do not use them as laughingstocks for poverty. People are going hungry everyday and a school district wastes funds and food in so abhorrent a manner?

      Sometimes, the lack of empathy man displays to his fellow man is nausea inducing.

    • January 30, 2014 at 2:53 pm

      To waste food in the faces of young hungry children is a despicable crime against humanity. SHAME.

    • 37 Anna
      January 30, 2014 at 3:13 pm

      Hungry children need food to learn. In a country so rich we starve our children so they can not learn?

    • 38 MightyPamela
      January 30, 2014 at 3:36 pm

      Exactly how does this even the score? This is child abuse, pure and simple. The school should be closed down.

    • 39 GGail
      January 30, 2014 at 3:59 pm

      I think that Social Services should visit this Mr. Olsen to see if child abuse has been committed.

      • 40 0388jojothecat
        January 30, 2014 at 4:06 pm

        Didn’t Utah give homeless apt.’s? We’ll put a roof over your head but we won’t feed your children when we can throw the food in the trash. That guy needs to be fired.

  14. 41 57andfemale
    January 30, 2014 at 2:26 pm

  15. 42 JER
    January 30, 2014 at 2:26 pm


  16. 44 Nerdy Wonka
    January 30, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    Interesting piece, LL. I would say, I don’t 100% fault the BBC for having Bieber as a “BREAKING NEWS” headline because compared with CNN and to some extent, MSNBC, the BBC devotes most of its time and resources to covering domestic, international, scientific, etc., news.

    I didn’t view CNN’s coverage of Bieber but from what I observed online, it was apparently covered ad nauseam. With CNN, I don’t expect any better. In an ideal world, I should – and still encourage everyone to push them for better and more nuanced news – but with CNN’s downward spiral over the past years, this was somewhat expected.

    A problem with the media that is widely available to the public is that they listen to the loudest – and sometimes wealthiest – voices demanding fluff news and unfortunately, we have a public that even when educated is more interested in fluff pieces because they’re either run off their feet, dealing with constant personal problems, lack access to more nuanced news, take everything reported as 100% truth without fact checking, or aren’t interested; which is appalling because even if one isn’t thinking of politics or the news, it’s thinking of you.

    We also have a media that plays to those vulnerabilities by advancing the “both sides do it” meme all in the name of the mighty dollar. Exhibit A (over the past few days): AL Jazeera America.

    If more voices woke up from their slumber as the case seems to be, and kept making their voices heard or found news organizations that don’t entice them with “BALANCED AND TRUTHFUL NEWS!” and then a few weeks later devolve to the same old, same old, then hopefully the tide will begin to turn.

    • January 30, 2014 at 2:37 pm

      “If more voices woke up from their slumber as the case seems to be, and kept making their voices heard or found news organizations that don’t entice them with “BALANCED AND TRUTHFUL NEWS!” and then a few weeks later devolve to the same old, same old then maybe the tide will begin to turn.”


      Oh, like I said in the piece, I still hold BBC as the gold standard. But even they slip into sensationalism at times, and their handling of Snowden has been, well, not good.

      It’s a feedback loop between the news orgs and viewers. News orgs feed viewers crap, viewers consume the crap, news orgs feed more crap.

  17. 46 JER
    January 30, 2014 at 2:41 pm

    • 47 Don
      January 30, 2014 at 2:51 pm

      Of course there is a shooting at a college campus, why would it not be a shooting at a college campus. And tomorrow there might be another shooting at a college campus. This is ‘merica goddamnit!

  18. 58 Allison
    January 30, 2014 at 2:45 pm

    May she R.I.P

  19. 59 JER
    January 30, 2014 at 2:46 pm

  20. 64 Nerdy Wonka
    January 30, 2014 at 2:54 pm

    Bahahahahahahahaha….this is fun.

    Which Sandwich Are You?

    I got ——> “You are the best f’ing sandwich in the whole entire universe. Way to go.”


  21. 70 Linda
    January 30, 2014 at 2:54 pm

    The weather conditions in Milwaukee make me nervous.

  22. January 30, 2014 at 2:54 pm

  23. January 30, 2014 at 3:02 pm

  24. January 30, 2014 at 3:08 pm

    I know many of you hate Jon Stewart, but NO ONE has handed the GOP their ASS quite like this before- You’ll CHEER! – worth watching:


  25. January 30, 2014 at 3:13 pm

  26. 78 57andfemale
    January 30, 2014 at 3:22 pm

  27. 79 57andfemale
    January 30, 2014 at 3:24 pm

  28. 80 donna dem 4 obama
    January 30, 2014 at 3:25 pm

    Candles for all of our TOD family in need and for a safe flight for our President


  29. 81 daisydem
    January 30, 2014 at 3:30 pm

    Is he safely in the air? Nashville’s weather is okay, D.C.’s is good … so as long as he can get out of Milwaukee, things should be ok. I worry for him so on so many levels; please let me know when he is safely in Nashville.

  30. 83 JER
    January 30, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    POTUS Flying to Nashville next. Snow continues to blow fairly strong at the airport.

  31. January 30, 2014 at 3:36 pm

    Totally agree with your sage editorial on the sad state of the msm which unfortunately I don’t see changing any time in the next several years. Just because he is used as the example here of the horrible “news” I wanted to say a couple of things about Bieber himself as I see there is this petition to deport him back to Canada. I happen to actually like Justin Bieber as a singer. I realize I might be alone in my age group or on this blog but I do happen to like his voice when I hear one of his songs. I think we all can see how young girls are attracted to him in the same way that David Cassidy and Rick Springfield other good looking young singers had their fan clubs in the past. Singers who had fan clubs based as much on their looks as their talents perhaps. And today’s fan club is Twitter and Facebook

    So the obvious point I’m making is that if Cassidy or Springfield had lived in the era of cell phones and social media they would be seen in the same bad light as Bieber with their lavish life style and not yet understanding how it is perceived by a mature public. Bieber as a young person n is going through the pretty normal stages of rebellion. To have it played out in public with every moment captured in video or photograph is largely unparalleled to any previous famous young kid. Good grief, when I was in my twenties I did hundreds of things that would have been seen as questionable at best, had there been a camera around. And if I had actually had money and access back then Lord help me.

  32. 87 57andfemale
    January 30, 2014 at 3:36 pm

    Be pissed at me if you choose but I don’t see anyone covering the ‘Bette from Spokane’ ACA horror story(lie) that Cathy McMorris Rodgers told in her response to the SOTU. GOP lies get a shrug, but Wolf Blitzer is counting the number of words PBO used on gun control.

    It’s at dKos. I’ll link if I’m allowed but completely understand if the link is not welcome. I just can’t find coverage of this anywhere else.

    • January 30, 2014 at 3:51 pm

      Hey, I read that story earlier – very well researched take down of that GOP “straw woman” story!

      • 89 57andfemale
        January 30, 2014 at 3:59 pm

        I’ve been following it since the SOTU and didn’t see it covered anywhere. Excellent ‘citizen journalism’.

        I hardly go there but like to check out liveblogs during events so I followed a little of their SOTU liveblogging. Some good, some bad but I came back to TOD for the rest of the speech. However, we cannot know everything that’s going on, and I thought this take-down of the RWNJ LIAR about ACA was worth a mention.

    • 90 99ts
      January 30, 2014 at 7:55 pm

      There is a positive 57 – No-one is covering her speech at all – everything I’ve seen shows the President and the looney who attacked the reporter. 4 responses lost by someone who lost his temper with a reporter. The GOP in action.

      • 91 57andfemale
        January 31, 2014 at 10:01 am

        Good point. However, the LA Times picked it up – finally. If the only coverage of CMR’s performance is that she lied about ACA, that’s just fine with me. I was afraid that because she didn’t fall off the sofa, MSM would be extolling her brilliant performance. So it’s a win-win.

  33. 92 JER
    January 30, 2014 at 3:38 pm

    Takeoff… and President Obama departs Milwaukee.

  34. 95 JER
    January 30, 2014 at 3:42 pm

  35. January 30, 2014 at 3:49 pm

    • 97 Linda
      January 30, 2014 at 3:58 pm

      Ari Melber just said the person was terminated……

      Maybe there needs to a ban on generic twitter accounts……

      I see there is one @whpresscorps. The person that is using it today keeps linking to the Washington Times

  36. 101 JER
    January 30, 2014 at 4:10 pm

  37. 102 0388jojothecat
    January 30, 2014 at 4:41 pm

    Didn’t Utah give homeless apt.’s? We’ll put a roof over your head but we won’t feed your children when we can throw the food in the trash. That guy needs to be fired.

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