The first use of this phrase is reportedly from a 1989 New York Magazine article titled “Grins, Gore, and Videotape – The Trouble with Local TV News” by journalist Eric Pooley. It reflects the primal desires and fears of human nature. Similar criticisms are made of NASCAR where people relish the crashes. I remember the hockey matches at RPI where it seemed everyone was looking for the fights that were sure to break out.
I guess if people didn’t buy the newspapers or watch the TV when we are being fed this garbage it would stop. It seems to be simply the law of supply and demand at work once more, but it is certainly a sign of less than the best in all of us that this seems true.
What is so alarming about Pooley’s phrase is that Pooley himself is already attributing it to something larger than any one person. Pooley is using the phrase as a quote that would reflect the opinions and stances of most major global media corporations. He finds himself exposed like the great Wizard of Oz and much like the Wizard’s last desperate attempt to cling to the illusion of Majesty when he utters the words “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” Pooley attempts to give the credit, or rather fault, of the quote to news in general. But why would Pooley be unable to cite the person that first coined the term? Because the phrase itself isn’t synonymous with any one person. It’s synonymous with human nature.
The Roman satirist and poet Juvenal coined the term “bread and circuses” when describing the easiest way to rise to power with the common man. Juvenal was remarking that the keys to power were held by those who were willing to appear righteous and favorable by distributing food and entertainment among the people, yet without giving the people anything of true substance. Stories like in-depth coverage of politician’s personal lives, celebrity’s workouts, and stories that allude to possible future stories without actually covering anything are the media’s bread and circuses. This is what the majority of the content of our journalistic sources have become: colorful filler to hold our attention and keep us entertained.
I don’t know about you, but I have cut off this influence in my life … as best I can.