During the decline of the Roman Empire sage writers coined a phrase for this deceptive subterfuge: Panem et Circenses. The literal translation from Latin is “Bread and Circuses,” but its allegorical meaning is the appeasement of a population of dissatisfied citizenry with ample food and entertainment so they would be diverted from acting out against a corrupt and self-serving government. The Latin phrase for the Super Bowl weekend should be Cervisia et Ludi, I suppose: “Beer and Sports.”
Super bole weekend
In the back pages of my FBI dossier there is surely an entry that states: “Subject does not watch the Super Bowl, or take part in Super Bowl weekend in any observable fashion.” Sooner or later that grievous flaw in my character and blot on my identity as a true American will lead to my deportation. Don’t know which foreign country they will send me to; someplace they play soccer, I suppose. And hopefully baseball.
The National Football League Super Bowl? I choose not to be caught up in that frenzy, so my February 4-5 attention was focused on another bowl – a bole, actually, as in “tree trunk.” Running low on firewood in the second half of this winter (in relative terms, about the 7:26 mark of the third quarter) we cut down a red elm that has been standing dead two years in the fence line in our north pasture.
We spent an afternoon cutting the bole into stove-length logs, hauling it to the house, and stacking it on the deck. The next day, our Super Bole Sunday, was a warm one, tending the home fires in the cast iron stove with the first splits from the new stock of wood. We read “the old fashioned way” from books, not computer monitors, because our rural internet service crashes when it is overloaded by traffic. And Super Bowl Sunday is an overload day for the North Country – the entire country.
I do not dislike football, and if you can look past the violence, the injuries, and the boredom of the committee meetings that are held between each play it can be a fascinating game – as well as a candid look into the social structure of the nation. My enjoyment of watching a game on television, however, was toppled by a friend who is an avid fan of murder mystery novels written by Louise Penny. After reading one of these novels and attempting to read a second, I commented that as works of literary fiction they are rather shallow, formulaic, and filled with characters that are stereotypical and two dimensional. Each one is more-or-less that same story. Yes, she said, just like every football game.
Not that I ever devoted a major portion of my time to watching televised football games, since most are played during the September-December hunting seasons when I have more important priorities. I did watch parts of the countless college bowl games in January (if there can be an Auto Nation Bowl, a PlayStation Bowl, and a Geico Insurance Bowl, I think the CLX Corporation is missing a huge advertising opportunity by its failure to sponsor a Clorox Toilet Cleaner Bowl). The National Football League playoff games begin in January, too, and in the North Country it is wise to know at least the final score of any Green Bay Packers game
But I just cannot get excited about the NFL Super Bowl, although as a public spectacle it is certainly a fascinating event. Tens of thousands of people each pay hundreds (or thousands) of dollars for a ticket to sit in the stadium and catch glimpses of the tiny figures running about on a distant field, then watch the replay of the action on huge screens mounted on the scoreboards and in the rafters. More than 100 million people cluster around television screens in homes or sports bars to watch the game from afar, according to CBS Sports.
The pre-game programs begin mid-morning but the game itself kicks off in the evening and lasts long into the night because commercials and a lengthy halftime show stretch the broadcast to more than four hours. I have heard reports that as much as a third of the Super Bowl television audience is more interested in watching the commercials than the game, but that may be urban legend.
The fans of the participating teams are, well, fanatic. The day after the Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl five or six years ago a local acquaintance was raving about the game.
“It’s just a football game,” I dared to say.
He drew himself up to his full imposing height and said, “Winning the Super Bowl is the greatest achievement in sports!”
“Ah,” I said. “Who won it last year?”
He could not remember off-hand but looked it up on his smartphone. All fame is fleeting.
Except for making enormous amounts of money for professional sports franchises and the tourism industry, the nation’s Super Bowl madness does not appear to provide much civic benefit, but it is a general diversion from witnessing and thinking about the calamities that beset our nation and our communities. During the decline of the Roman Empire sage writers coined a phrase for this deceptive subterfuge: Panem et Circenses. The literal translation from Latin is “Bread and Circuses,” but its allegorical meaning is the appeasement of a population of dissatisfied citizenry with ample food and entertainment so they would be diverted from acting out against a corrupt and self-serving government.
The Latin phrase for the Super Bowl weekend should be Cervisia et Ludi, I suppose: “Beer and Sports.” In its broadest context, it could apply to all the super-hyped sports championship tournament events in this country and around the world. We don’t have chariot races these days, unless you consider the NASCAR and the Indianapolis 500 racers charioteers, but we are doing well with the symbolic war game of football.
So this morning, for pregame warm-up, I got to work with a maul and sledge hammer and split the dozen widest-diameter logs of red elm into manageable size chunks and added those to the firewood pile. Several of the logs put up a tough defense, but I blasted into their center with hit after hit and drove through to the goal. It wasn’t a pretty win, but at least there were no injuries.
Then it was time to sit back, do some reading (David McCullough’s book The Wright Brothers, which I recommend) and take part in my own version of appeasement and diversion: Cervisia et Caldor. Beer and warmth. And… what is the Latin word for “nap”?
More stories about life in the North Country are published in my three collections of essays and two novels, all available through my Author Page on Amazon.com Jerry Johnson Author Page