About the Name of this blog

This blog's title refers to a Dani fable recounted by Robert Gardner. The Dani live in the highlands of New Guinea, and at the the time he studied them, they lived in one of the only remaining areas in the world un-colonized by Europeans.

The Dani, who Gardner identifies only as a "Mountain People," in the film "The Dead Birds," have a myth that states there was once a great race between a bird and a snake to determine the lives of human beings. The question that would be decided in this race was, "Should men shed their skins and live forever like snakes, or die like birds?" According to the mythology, the bird won the race, and therefore man must die.

In the spirit of ethnographic analysis, this blog will examine myth, society, culture and architecture, and hopefully examine issues that make us human. As with any ethnography, some of the analysis may be uncomfortable to read, some of it may challenge your preconceptions about the world, but hopefully, all of it will enlighten and inform.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

Bread and Circuses

It is once again time for our Great National Distraction to hit it's climax.  Today, in America, is our most holy day, Superbowl Sunday.  But unlike all of the other religious holidays in America, today churches will abbreviate their sermons.  This is so that everyone can go home and transubstantiate their pigs in a blanket and consecrate the beer.  The holy vestments of the football jerseys must be prepared, and the altar of the 72" plasma T.V. must be properly anointed.

I suppose that I shouldn't complain, this is the one holiday a year where people of all faiths assemble together in the Holy Temple of the Sports Bar, and worship the Divine Quarterback in unison.  And yet, I find the entire scenario distasteful.

I have many reasons to complain. 

First, my tax dollars in Denver go to subsidize a private sports stadium, that we were essentially blackmailed into approving (Because Bowlen promised to move the Broncos if we didn't build him one) and that we do not even have the right to name.  The stadium name was sold to a corporation, first Invesco, then when they tanked, now Sports Authority.  Our stadium used to be called Mile High Stadium, now it's just another corporate brand.  Denver isn't unique in this, it is pretty much the norm in all cities now.

Second, in the era of Tebow, the Broncos have been designated God's team.  Apparently, you have to be a Christian to support the Broncos, and further, by implication, if you are a Christian, you must support the Broncos, because everyone knows how persecuted the Christians are in America.  It is only a matter of time until we start throwing them to the lions again.  This is a more local complaint, but I am glad the Broncos didn't make it through the playoffs.  I don't think I could have handled the Smug Cloud that would have descended on Denver.

On a side note, apparently Tim Tebow is the single most sought after endorsement in the Republican presidential race.  Move over Elway, there's a new Republican sports star taking your place, no wonder he is looking at ways to dump Tebow.

Third, I really hate the violence and thuggery associated with sports today, both on and off the field.  We are holding rapists, dog killers, drug addicts, and otherwise vile people up as heroes to society.  They become role models for our children, and then we wonder why the kids behave badly.  I wonder how much ratings would go up if we routinely killed the quarterback of the losing team, in the way that the losing gladiator was killed in Rome.

But those are small complaints compared to the big one; these things are nothing more than bread and circuses, designed to keep us happy and complacent.

The gladiator games of the Roman Empire kept the masses content and distracted, and the spectacle helped preserve the horrifically corrupt and incompetent power structure.  The Colosseum was essentially Vespasian's apology to Rome for Nero.  I would like to note here, the acts that occurred in the during the games were worthy of anything in Caligula's or Nero's courts.  For example, it was considered great sport for men to masturbate during the games, and try to shoot their loads onto the heads of bald men.

Sports today, along with reality T.V., the exploits of talentless heiresses and child actresses, Fox "News," and on-line video gaming contribute to keeping people too distracted to pay attention to what is going on around them.  I'm not commenting on a coarsening of our culture, because culture has always been course.  (Read the example of the Colosseum.)  There will always be lowbrow entertainment, and there is nothing really wrong with that; I like poop jokes as much as anyone.

No, the problem comes from distraction.  Even if the distraction was art museums and religious obligations, it would still be a bad thing.  We would not be paying attention to the things we need to be paying attention to.  Humans are programmed to be distracted by bright shiny things.  When we in the Stone Age this probably served an important purpose, but now, it is being used as a weapon against us.

And all of these circuses keep us distracted from what is really important.  We are facing the very high probability of war Iran, a war that might be nuclear.  We are looking at unprecedented infringements on a free internet, even though SOPA was defeated, there is still ACTA and others out there.  The financial crisis in Europe is not looking good, and we are still losing massive amounts of those high paying, low education manufacturing jobs to China.

The politicians fiddle while the world burns.  And we dance in the streets to their tune.

And yes, I know, Nero didn't even play the fiddle, which wasn't even invented in his day, he played the lyre.  And further, he didn't even do that when Rome burnt, he tried to coordinate the defense against it.  Not that he was a good guy, just that he got some really bad press on that one.

And this bread and circus mentality even bleeds into the political realm.  Rather than discuss substantive issues, we focus on the personal drama and fighting between the candidates.  We love to hear how horrible a president Obama is, or how evil Gingrich is, or how rich Romney is, or how loony Paul is, but we could care less about what their views on ACTA are.

Everything has become a game, and the Superbowl is emblematic of it.  We choose our favorite team, and root for them, and hurl insults at the opposition.  If our team screws up, we make excuses for them.  If the opposing team does something great, we belittle it, no matter how brilliant the play.  We want to win at all costs, even if our opponents have to be carried off the field on a stretcher.  And if there is a little cheating involved, so what?  All that matters is to win.

The cost of that victory is no longer part of the calculation.

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