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On America and Rome–and Dr. Pimple Popper

13 Sep

by Roger White

“The decline . . . was the natural and inevitable effect of immoderate greatness. Prosperity ripened the principle of decay; the causes of destruction multiplied with the extent of conquest; and, as soon as time or accident had removed the artificial supports, the stupendous fabric yielded to the pressure of its own weight. . . .”
—Historian Edward Gibbon on the decay and fall of Rome

“Dr. Pimple Popper Pops ‘Mushy Peas’ Cyst in New Instagram Video”
—Women’s Health Magazine, August 2019

At first blush it may appear that these two quotes have about as much to do with each other as atomic theory and bacon grease, but to the keen observer inhabiting the proper frame of mind and sipping the necessary amount of espresso, the connection is readily apparent. The former is an explanation of one of an interconnected tangle of reasons for the decline of a great civilization. The latter is a symptom of same.

Ancient Rome didn’t have the internet, but you can be sure that at the height of the empire’s power, with little to challenge Romans but their own idleness, the scuttlebutt among the average corpulent, indolent citizens lounging about their atriums had much to do with which senator’s wife had been seen with a certain centurion after hours near the Pantheon. Or perhaps who would be featured next weekend at the Colosseum in “Gladiating with the Stars.”

Throughout America’s rise to power, particularly after World War II and again with the fall of the Soviet Union, many casual historians likened the U.S. to ancient Rome, both as a comparative study and a cautionary tale. From many of these same armchair history buffs came the postulate-cum-warning that Rome fell from within. Both statements are greatly oversimplified—America is certainly not the Roman Empire; and the decline of Rome occurred for many complex reasons—however, the tantalizing prospect of a circumstantial connection between the two is too intriguing to ignore.

By the time the Huns and Vandals were threatening the very walls of Rome herself in the 5th century A.D., the empire had been degraded through years and years of decay, corruption, internal strife, and general malaise. The culture that had built the world’s mightiest civilization had stagnated. In other words, Rome had grown lazy and fat. Its armies were so far-flung across the known globe that the once invincible legions could not defend even the capital city.

I’m not holding forth that the descendants of Attila will come rampaging up Pennsylvania Avenue anytime soon, but you must admit that events and trends from within and without our great country give any thinking person pause. We, as a nation, are fat and lazy. And stupid. Most Americans don’t do much physical labor on a daily basis anymore. We are at our most overweight and short of breath that we’ve ever been. We don’t save anymore; the average American family carries about $5,000 in credit card debt—at a time when job security is at its worst in decades. We used to buy only when we had the money. Our national economy, anchored by financial institutions with questionable lending practices and regulated by insiders with personal interests at stake, teeters like a house of cards. Our arts—literature, music, journalism, film and television—are in a state of upheaval as publishers, producers, and purveyors of news and entertainment chart confused courses in their attempts to grasp new media, often leading to drastic actions such as bookstore and music outlet closings, the demise of longtime news and publishing houses, and frustration and despair for many artists and writers. With more channels to choose from than ever before, TV now offers arguably the worst product in its history. Ironically, the great many cable choices chopped up major advertising dollars, which has prompted producers to grind out lower- and lower-budget shows in a pathetic race to the bottom. And perhaps most telling, news isn’t news anymore. It’s gossip. Or thinly disguised opinion, acid rhetoric, and vitriol aimed solely at toeing the party line.

And with an unlimited number of outlets, through practically unlimited media technology, the goal is not to inform anymore—the bottom line is to attract the most viewers with the most lurid headlines, thus, to attract the precious advertising dollars. Hence, you have an intrepid reporter filling you in on the wonderfully graphic details of Dr. Pimple Popper’s latest triumph.

Last but obviously least, our self-seeking politicians have abandoned any semblance of civil discourse to rabidly defend their respective party planks to the complete detriment of any action toward the advance of our society. There is no middle ground anymore. Compromise—what should be the very bedrock of governing a nation—has become a dirty word. The men and women in Washington should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves, yet no one among them stands to say so. And nothing gets done.

There are those historians who argue that Rome never really fell. It simply degenerated into irrelevance. Sure sounds like a cautionary tale to me.

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a gas-powered dachshund, and a sleep-deprived cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

It Could Have Easily Been ‘The Old, Rugged Noose’

14 Dec

by Roger White

 

Leave it to the creative mind of Gene Roddenberry to send me into yet another mental wormhole. And I warn you from the outset, this particular “thought experiment” may be potentially upsetting to the less open-minded, strenuously dogmatic, sense-of-humor-challenged, and/or excessively pious of you. You’ve been warned.

Curled up on the comfy couch watching an episode of Roddenberry’s original “Star Trek” series recently, I was thrown quite unceremoniously into a fit of conceptual conniptions by a particular scene from the 1968 episode entitled “Bread and Circuses.” My TV-watching fare of Shiner, Fritos, and . . . er, certain aromatic herbal nourishment may have contributed significantly to the wormhole process, but I digress.

This Trek episode, in which Captain Kirk and crew are forced to fight in gladiatorial games on a planet where a modern-day Roman Empire rules the land, juxtaposes the culture, garb, and traditions of ancient Rome with Caesar Packing Heatcontemporary technology. Hence, you have emperors, senators, and proconsul types handing down edicts over loudspeakers and gladiator contests broadcast over network television.

However, the scene that shoved me down my own little space-time porthole of pontification was the one in which Kirk and company are captured by Roman guards wielding submachine guns. Woah. (And this episode came out in ’68, mind you—two years before Andrew Lloyd Webber armed his Romans with automatic weapons in Jesus Christ Superstar.)

Anyway. That’s when it hit me: What if the Romans—our ancient Romans—had possessed such technology? Of course, the mind reels with infinite possibilities (like what if Spartacus had had access to F-14 Tomcat air cover). But what I became fixated on was the impact on Christianity—not the religion as a whole, mind you, but merely the symbolism involved.

You see, the universally recognized metaphor for the Christian faith is, of course, the cross. Why? Because that’s how Jesus was put to death; the sign of the cross symbolizes His victory over death. But what if crucifixion hadn’t been the means of execution for the Roman Empire? What if, for example, electrocution had da chairbeen the execution method du jour? Think about it. Gold necklaces worn by faithful folks around the globe would have little electric chairs dangling at the end.

Or what if execution of criminals had been accomplished by hanging, for instance? Nuns far and wide, instead of making the symbol of the cross when they prayed, would arch their necks at severe angles and pull on imaginary nooses to display their piety.

Or consider lethal injection. Churches from Brownsville to Bozeman, instead of featuring outsized crosses on their steeples, would display great hypodermic needles to call the faithful to worship.

OK, wait! Hold it. Wait a minute. Put the pitchforks down. Douse the torches. I’m not demeaning Christianity by any means. I’m not poking fun. I was raised Southern Baptist, for crying out loud, by a God-fearing momma in the heart of the Lone Star State, here in the belt buckle of the Bible Belt. All I’m doing is saying “what if.” In an alternate universe somewhere just east of Andromeda, who’s to say one of these scenarios isn’t playing out this very microsecond?

Who’s to say that on an alternate Earth right this minute Alternate-Earth Christians aren’t gathered in their houses of worship singing their praises thusly: the noose“At the chair, at the chair, where I first saw the light…” Or maybe country-and-western singers on Ganymede are paying homage this very moment to “The Old, Rugged Noose.”

And consider traditional sayings and adages. “It’s not my cross to bear” on Europa might be more along the lines of “It’s not my chair to sit in”— or “It’s not my chamber to enter.” Whatev.

No! No, please, put the garden tools down! I’m just saying “what if,” that’s all! It’s just a thought bubble!

I gotta quit doing Shiner and Fritos with “Star Trek” so late at night.

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious offspring, a very obese but mannerful dachshund, and a cat with Epstein-Barr. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com. Or not.