Super Bowl bread and circuses


Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

“Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.”
~Roman poet Juvenal, circa 100 A.D.

“For this year’s Super Bowl feast, Americans will serve hummus, snack cracker mixes, monkey pizza bread and craft beer.”
~Culinary expert Adina Salmansohn, Chicago Tribune, Jan. 31, 2016

It’s Super Bowl Sunday in America, a celebration of opulence, violence, marketing and food so rich it would actually kill you if you ate it every day. Or, for many non-sports fans, it’s just regular old Sund… NEVER MIND IT IS STILL SUPER BOWL SUNDAY FOR ALL.

America isn’t merely fascinated with the Super Bowl. America doesn’t even universally enjoy football. America loves spectacle.

The Super Bowl is a spectacle on the scale of the black geyser of a new oil well pouring out of the front yard of a trailer park. There is so much spectacle that it cannot be contained on a TV screen. Half the nation, including yours truly, will be indulging in acerbic Twitter commentary, shoving specialized food into our mouths, developing sudden opinions about the wardrobes of halftime backup singers.

Those who seek to avoid the extravaganza run the risk of pegging out industrial-grade smug detectors.

“Oh, you’re watching the game? I’m more concerned with food additives or homeschooling my gifted children. Have you heard my band? We have a Kickstarter.”

But even this is part of the spectacle. Most important, none of us need be concerned with the workings of the only democratic republic in the world capable of melting every grain of sand to glass.

It’s telling that our political system more closely resembles the Super Bowl these days. Political ads cost more, and yet are more somehow more abundant. Millions of young people sell out for grunt political work with irrational hopes of making the big leagues. Those who make it nationally get rich, but usually retire with brain damage. A generation later no one but the statistician remembers who won.

Someone jawing about a candidate’s platform being blatantly unworkable? Hey, dude. Look at the polls. Scoreboard, bro. Scoreboard. What’s popular is right. We don’t need objective reality to interfere.

I’m not saying this to complain, mind you. Oh, it’s appalling and all. Yet like the flunky baker’s assistant who threw out bad dough only to find that a yeasty monster has consumed the Dumpster by the end of his or her shift, what are you really going to do?

You’re probably going to watch the game.

Democracy, like all the hardships of our lives, will always be there for the reckoning. Just one more motzie stick, then we’ll deal with structural imbalances in our political and economic system. Or that thing on our neck. Or the relationship problem our spouse keeps talking about. Come to think of that, where did our spouse go? Oh, here’s a note. Staying at their mom’s house. I’m sure that will turn out fine.

Sure, we’ll be watching the game alright. More bread! More circuses! I think most of us know something is wrong at the core of our society. The way people talk to each other. The way we treat each other. How hard it is for so many people. Football. Football. Football. 

I wonder who will win the election this year? I suppose, like the Super Bowl, it only matters if it’s interesting.

But there will be snacks.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.



  1. Dave Butcher says

    I think you’re missing the social value of family and friends geting together for a celebration of sorts during which they can enjoy each others company (hopefully) and even let of a little steam or get excited about something. It would be nice if more of that same passion were directed toward ‘learning things’ and political engagement but as H.L Mencken once observed (paraphrasing) ‘If Americans had the same passion for (in this case) baseball, we’d be in a continual state of civil war.’

  2. I’m (we’re) opting out. Might turn on the game if I figure out which channel it will be on. We’ll eat enough in any case, since I am a good cook. I don’t begrudge anybody their passions, as long as the booze and other possible harmful delights are under control in the living room, in front of children. I just wish we’d bring similar passion and energy to so many other matters, life and death matters.

  3. What’s this “Super Bowl” your writing about? Never heard of it.

  4. Everything seems to relate to “The Righteous Mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion” by Jonathan Haidt. Anyone else read it?

  5. Has anyone else read “The Authoritarians” by Professor of Psychology Robert Altemeyer, University of Manitoba?

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