bread and circuses

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Juvenal (c. 60—130 ad)


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A term referring to the potential of spectator sports and mass spectacle to divert populations or factions of a population away from the weightier business of politics and society, and to entertain them with amusements and physical contests. It is a term used in, and widely mistranslated from, the writings of the Roman satirist Juvenal. The key idea of the phrase is that, to cite a more contemporary source, Neil Postman, following novelist Aldous Huxley's Brave New World: ‘people are controlled by inflicting pleasure’ (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, 1985). Television—in which ‘much of our public discourse has become dangerous nonsense’, Postman asserts—has become the new arena to which the ‘bread and circuses’ argument can be applied. See also magnificent trivia.

Subjects: Sport and Leisure.

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