I guess I’ve had Ancient Romans on the brain lately. The previous comic referenced Juvenal’s famous passage regarding bread and circuses, and now with this comic I’ve been thinking back again on lines from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:

Let me have men about me that are fat;
Sleek-headed men and such as sleep o’ nights

This is part of a speech from Julius to Marc Antony expressing his (rather justified, it turns out) concerns regarding one Senator Cassius, who has “a lean and hungry look”; in other words, a sense of ambition and purpose that makes Caesar nervous.

If only Caesar had had television on his side, perhaps his toga wouldn’t have ended up with all those unsightly dagger holes.

Which is not to say I believe television kills ambition. For one thing, these days the kids seem to be weaning themselves away from it. Well, sort of. Now they just stream the same content to their handhelds, leaving them more mobile but still occupying their attentions (a dangerous combination, if the new driving laws banning cellphones are to be believed). They go outside, but remain wired.

And by kids I of course mean “us”, it’s just that the kids are the ones who, as always, are the native sons and daughters of the new wave, their thumbs dancing on tiny key and touchpads with blinding speeds while someone like me is stuck doing the equivalent of the one finger typing I used to mock my own elders for.

Anyhow, I digress. It comes down to a simple matter of boredom, or at least perceived boredom. I’ve maintained for years that Boredom, not Money, is the true Root of All Evil. So assuming a person isn’t starving or taking care of other immediate survival needs, then their thoughts are going to wander to the question of “How do I occupy my time?”.

In a society that hopes to last, the Powers That Be had better seriously consider the answer to that question and how to guide it in a way that’s safe for their continued existence — a true irony considering that providing for their basic needs and securities is what even brought you to this point. That’s why it’s not just bread that rules the equation, it’s bread and circuses. Entertainment.

People are certainly capable of coming up with ways to entertain themselves, but O King, blame me not if you don’t like the result. It could involve setting fires and turning over cars, and I know this well from living in a city where people riot not just because corrupt cops get set free, but because our basketball team wins.

Juvenal was contemptuous of the idea of bread and circuses since it distracted the people from real matters of civics and government. It was appealing to the lowest common denominator of satisfaction. But at least in the short run, it works. And is it all bad? People have always desired escapism, especially in times where they felt most confined. We want to experience fantastic tales, perhaps safely quenching that desire for adventure in our own hearts with a minimum of disruption in our routines. Those that can best deliver such adventures to us, we reward with our loyalty and what wealth we can spare.

And they, perhaps, are content in turn that we are fat, and sleep o’ nights.