The Spectacles of the Contemporary Coliseum: What Do They Say About Our Culture?

February 21, 2007

The Spectacles of the Contemporary Coliseum: What do They Say about Our Culture?

Monte Kuligowski

Most people are horrified over the mention of the brutal depravity that took place in the Coliseum in the name of entertainment. But my question to my generation is how much more depraved were the ancient Romans than contemporary Americans? I think there are only a few steps that separate the two cultures.

The spectacles of the Coliseum and the spectacles of the Jerry Springer-type-shows involve the same human tragedy, debasement, humiliation, emotional pain and suffering – all for the sake of “entertainment.” With the exception of blood (most often) and physical death (though a man was shot to death three days after a Jenny Jones Show humiliation) what really separates the ancient games from the contemporary games? Both forms of entertainment have the component of a seemingly insatiable desire to take pleasure in human tragedy.

On the contemporary stage, most often, someone is left in excruciating agony. The contestants may not die physically, but the audience pleasure seems to be in the death of humanity. The lion’s tearing of the flesh is no less painful than the tearing of the heart to the person who discovers that her spouse has been sleeping with her mother and sister (or brother). The twelfth negative DNA paternity testing result, leaving a promiscuous mother in tears and a poor little girl backstage having her hope of a father slashed again may just produce no less pain than the twelfth thrust of the dagger.

True enough, the Roman pagans forced the gladiators to fight and the Christians to deny Christ or face the beasts. At least, you may say, the contemporary human spectacles appear on the stage voluntarily for their own varied purposes. But that is nothing to take comfort in.

Any culture that can take pleasure in human suffering, whether the pagans of old or the pagans of new is arguably incurably sick, but to voluntarily appear to parade your personal depravity or to learn of something that will severely hurt you evinces a double perversity.

The Romans were sick enough in that they took pleasure in the suffering and death of man. An element of our own culture, however, is doubly sick. It is entertained by the death of man’s soul and yet does not have to force its victims to participate in its pleasures. Apparently, its participants also take pleasure in the same – either by their personal behaviors, TV appearances or both.

What kind of culture permits, participates and takes pleasure in the debasement of man, calling it entertainment?

We need to be as horrified over sundry elements of contemporary amusements as we are over remembering the horrors of the Coliseum. A door that never should have been opened has been opened in our culture. Across its threshold lies an interminably descending stairway that spirals to darker and darker regions.

As the descent continues only two options are available. Either continue descending or reverse course and return from the cesspool to the surface. There is no neutral ground for gravity pulls effortlessly downward. Only a concentrated effort will produce an upward climb.

©2007 Monte Kuligowski – Nonprofit distribution permitted. ### Monte is an attorney who writes on topics of cultural, religious and legal interest

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