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Sharing the Hate, Spreading the Pain: On Extremes and Violence

by on Dec.20, 2007, under Articles, Sharing the Hate

Submitted for your approval a comparison: a comparison between ancient Rome around the time of the Mongolian invasion and today’s American crumbling society. What else do you expect from a nihilist with too much time on his hands but a lesson in history.

Entertain the masses, and the masses will demand more extreme sources of entertainment becoming subdued and bored with the old forms of entertainment. In the times of the ancient Romans there was the Flavian Amphitheatre aka the Colosseum built around 80 AD for you Gregorian calendar buffs out there. This massive structure in Rome could seat anywhere between 50,000 and 87,000 people where the sections were broken down by caste and class of the citizens. The harena (Latin for sand) later spelt arena is about 300 feet by 150 feet long with an intense underground structure called the hypogeum. The more prestigious classes had better seats, much like today since we use money to define our caste system.

The Colosseum started off with private naumachiae (simulated military strategy battles), then moved onto public muneras (plays and shows), later ventatios (animal hunts), then trained battles from the school of Ludus Magnus, and ended with the gladiatorial slave battles (death matches).

The muneras themselves started off as a religious sermon, and a way for individuals of the people (politicians) to preach their values of power and family prestige to the masses. The plays and stories were highly entertaining, but people lost interest over time.

This structure located conveniently in the heart of an empire is great place to entertain a lot of people, submit decrees to them, update them on politics, and draw them in once a week to keep them off the streets. Over time the practice of loading up the collesium with people became more and more difficult, and the forms of entertainment became more extreme. Art needs to imitate life and as life became more extreme so did art.

For instance, at first, the ventatios emulated nature and set up a realistic hunt for the competitors. Later they became just tiger on man action. The gladiator battles started at first with trained competitors in staged fights before moving to these same competitors in real fights. From here the fights moved to the gladiators mascaraing untrained slaves to the only illogical conclusion of group slave on slave action for a raw fight. Does this sound a bit like ADD for the ancient?

Enough with history since we all know the Roman Empire fell. How does this relate today?

Take for example Traditional Boxing and Older Style Wrestling. Traditional Boxing would be your trained fighters squaring off inside a set of strict rules, and Older Style Wrestling would be your completely staged fight. Over recent time people have backed away from these boring traditional styles and opted for a more intense and real experience.

Traditional Boxing is now replaced with structured Martial Arts, and Older Style Wrestling has taken a turn towards the Xtreme with Mixed Martial Arts. In both of these cases the older rules are tossed aside for the entertaining brutality of it all.

Another obvious form of entertainment that is now more violent is games. While a violent poker match shoot out is not as common now as it was one hundred and fifty years ago, the stakes are higher. People do not want to watch people play over a couple of hundred or thousand dollars. They want to watch people play over hundreds of thousands of dollars upping the ante to extremes. Another solid case of society wanting to see losers lose big as long as they themselves are safe. I could ramble on about how first person shooters, but that route is overdone in practice and discussion.

A more subtle example is the old game show on television. In the past game shows were based on intelligence, and now they are based on a combination of reckless regard for well being combined with greed and lust. Wheel of Fortune (Spelling and Logic) and Jeopardy (Random Facts) take a back burner to American Idol (Karaoke of the Damned) and Fear Factor (I’d swallow that for a dollar). Simple mindless greed comes in the form of Deal or No Deal (Great. Choose Two More Cases. (Repeat)).

While you could argue that technology allows these reality based shows to exist, what was considered risky forty years ago was Laugh-In (a show that had adults acting like kids). Society now would never allow something as sill as Laugh-In to exist since Mad TV and Saturday Night Live push the envelope of what is socially acceptable. Sadly, Vaudeville probably could not survive today since it primarily relied on the intelligent wit of the comedian with a pair of burlesque yet sexy dressed women to taunt the audience. Now we have full nude strip bars, and two drink minimum comedy bars to hear someone complain about their life/race/home. Again, the full, it is great as long as it is not me logic is still in effect

You could consider it stations fighting over ratings, but you have to push the envelopes of acceptable to draw people in week after week. Besides your reality TV shows, which portray a fake society, you have your situational dramas leading the top ten all revolving around someone dying or near death.

As other forms of entertainment disappear for their more violent counterparts what becomes of society as a whole? There is the school of thought that vicariously enacting out rage will lead it through a conduit subduing the end effect. However, there is another school of thought that vicariously enacting out rage through these means is nothing more than practice for future behaviour.

If the past is indicative of the future then our violent society is prone to a hostile takeover from an outside source. We will be too busy in fighting with ourselves and bogged down in policy to accurately react to anything substantial in a timely manner. Then when we do act, we will make the wrong decisions based on prior policies and personal biases.

Until then, music is a lot heavier than it was twenty years ago, so I am just going to sit back, binge drink, and take in the soothing sounds of death metal and brutal hardcore music while I wait for the apocalypse. It did not happen in 2000, but I have my money on 2012.

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