The Politics of Distraction

In Rome, the tactic was “Bread and Circuses.” Food was distributed and big spectacles were staged with Christians and lions or gladiators, all to distract and preoccupy the masses.

Our current overlords seem to have forgotten the bread part of the equation, but the Romans would be absolutely green with envy if they could see how adept our politicians and their fellow-travelers have become at mounting “Circuses.”

What race was Santa? (Ignore the fact that Santa is imaginary.) Get out there and fight the (equally imaginary) War on Christmas! OMG–the President ACTUALLY SHOOK HANDS with Raul Castro–cue up the Impeachment Brigade! And there’s Sarah Palin (a walking, semi-literate Circus all by herself), warning good, “real” Americans about the growing Atheist Threat.

And on and on.

Our pitifully inadequate media (I won’t dignify most of them by calling them journalists) dutifully spend their time reporting this drivel, and ignoring subjects that should matter to citizens in a rational universe. State and local corruption flourishes as coverage evaporates; nationally, bought-and-paid-for Congressmen and Senators pass legislation benefitting their donors and patrons at the expense of other Americans.

But we don’t care, because–look over there at the shiny object!–Obama is a Muslim! ┬áThe Gays are coming for your children! Somewhere, some slutty woman is using birth control, and White Jesus wouldn’t like that!

Rome fell. Maybe we deserve the same fate.


  1. Our news (is it really news?) stations, newspapers and what not are an embarrassment to this country. I think part of the problem is that everyone and I mean everyone that I know, turns on that tv first thing in the morning and never shuts it off. All day long, that drivel spews from the airwaves and people can’t seem to shut it off. We watch about 90 minutes of tv a day in this house. National and local news and Jon Stewart and we set up a computer to our tv to do that. We can’t seem to spend any more time in front of that box that is spewing entertainment. We can skip the commercials too or at least mute them. I listen to music instead. It keeps the negativity at bay. I think this tv watching ‘habit’ is killing our society.

  2. This piece and its commenters–sublime! Perfect! And the description of Sarah Palin is spot-on! (Gosh! That was great!) To add to the silly nature of it, I just heard a newly-minted pro basketball player being lauded for socking away some hideous sum of money for three years so when he blows a knee, he will still have the loot. Noble, you say? Well, yes, but in the interview with him, he must have used ‘You know’ over a hundred times! The physical prowess is there, the skilled advisers are there, the skills with the English language…not so much!

    The politics of distraction? I was distracted from the athlete’s noble efforts to save himself from himself by his continued use of ‘You know’. At least he spared me the excessive use of ‘like’ and ‘I’m like’. Now, where were we?

  3. Dear Ms. Kennedy;

    Even as an self described “moderate southern conservative”, I very much enjoy each and every one of your articles that cover such a wide range of topics and intelectual interests.

    Question: Your column carries the tag ” a jaundiced look at the world we live in”.

    According to Webster the verb “jaundiced” is defined as ” to distort or prejudice as by envy or resentment”.

    Is that really your weekly purpose, or are you closer to Sarah Palin than you thought?

    Thanks again for an enjoyable read.

  4. When our kids were young we camped with a small trailer at Mammoth Cave park that had lots of raccoons which are not afraid of people. We had purchased marshmallows and chocolate for “some mores” and went for a brief walk, leaving the marshmallows on a picnic bench. On returning, the racoons were enjoying our marshmallows, but our major resources were in the trailer which they would have liked even more. I grabbed the bag of marshmallows, told the family to get in the trailer, and as the raccoons were threatening to surround me, I grabbed some marshmallows, held them in the air so the raccoons could see them, and threw them in the bushes. Instead of invading the trailer, they chased after the marshmallows, leaving me to join the family. We were with the resources while the racoons chased after a little vanilla-flavored sugar. The hard right is doing the same thing, staying with the resources while their constituents run after the “marshmallows”. Virtually starving, unemployed, without insurance or education, those folks run after abortion, birth control (??), homosexuals and a white Santa. Once they wise up, Katie bar the door!

  5. jaundiced – showing or affected by prejudice or envy or distaste; “looked with a jaundiced eye on the growth of regimentation”; “takes a jaundiced view of societies and clubs”

    I think “distaste” probably fits.

  6. Don’t forget the annual social issue circus at the Indiana Statehouse, which I’m convinced is designed to lure media attention away from the real agenda of lawmakers in power. While the media is covering fights over gay marriage, abortion or labor rights, legislators are quietly drawing up laws to make their friends and donors richer and the public less protected.

  7. I hate to say it, but it seems that we — that’s we writ large — get precisely the news that “we” want. For most Americans news is something that they don’t want to be bothered with. Many issues are far too complex and thus easily ignored. They only want entertainment. Thus our news has become a packaged form of entertainment rather then the sort of hard fact and information distribution that we — that’s the “we” who read blogs like this — expect.

  8. Michael, good point. The news tends to be focused on pronouncements, rather than attempts to help people understand what is happening . I have a book entitled “How the News Makes us Dumber”. Lots of good points, but how many radio/TV stations have flexible news–3 minutes when there isn’t much, and 20 when there is. The news program is a Procrustean bed–make it up to fill the time, or edit out what you can’t fit in. The public loses every time. (The only station that I know that does the flexible reporting is WFMT––in Chicago which gets all their news from Reuters.) Then, as Sheila has pointed out, the “content” that gets reported often consists of distractions–essentially outrageous expressions–that are irrelevant to what we need to hear.

  9. In the current Will Farrell movie, Anchorman II, the news moguls are strategizing the new global news network, and one says, “Why tell people what they need to hear? Let’s tell people what they want to hear”. This is more serious than you might think.

  10. The most recent display of distraction came when the guy from Duck Dynasty crossed the entertainment industry boundary and blurted out his personal thoughts about religion and politics. In my thinking, when a person is a “star” in a reality show, one does not risk alienating one’s non-Louisiana viewers by spreading his opinions about religion and politics, but this is a Louisiana redneck who thinks he is entitled to do that, yet who hasn’t considered the consequences. In that position, you don’t necessarily want to make Fox News or become the conversation piece in churches. Just keep on making that money until nobody wants to watch anymore. But then along comes Gov. Jindal, and weighs in on his constituent’s blunder, successfully distracting the public from any errors in governance, giving him the opportunity to assert himself as a self-righteous demagogue. Boundaries? What boundaries?

  11. Duck Dynasty stays? (well…maybe it does) Paula goes? Sacco goes? As Stuart says, “Boundaries? What boundaries?”

    “We don’t need no stinkin’ boundaries,” to paraphrase an edgy film called “Blazing Saddles”. Apparently, we’re fresh out of boundaries.

    Somebody’s got some ‘splainin’ to do here.

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