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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.

My Plea: A Moratorium on Facebook ‘Thoughts & Prayers’

9 Oct

by Roger White 

 

Those of you who’ve quasi-followed my mental droolings over the years understand that sometimes I’ll touch on a subject that’s a tad touchy. And because you know I’m not one to shy away from touching on a tad touchy subject now and again even though the touching of such can make for some uneasy touchy-feely feelings, you tolerate the touchings for the sake of a chortle or two. Maybe even a guffaw, if we’re lucky.

 

This, as you can surmise by now, is one of those touchy times.

 

It’s about thoughts and prayers. I’m sick to death of them. Not actual thoughts and prayers, if anyone truly engages in them. No, I’m referring to social media “Thoughts & Prayers.” And yes, they usually involve capital letters and an ampersand. Jee-iminy Bob Christmas, every time a disaster/mass shooting/hurricane/Trump twitter war/Harvey Weinstein allegation happens (and these have become a daily occurrence here in good ol’ ’Murka), people race to Facebook or their social media avenue of choice to be the first to gush forth: “Thoughts & Prayers” blah, blah, etc., etc.

 

Now, don’t get me wrong. If in one’s heart of hearts, a terrible event such as the Las Vegas shooting causes deep reflection and pause—and one truly takes the time to put these victims and their families foremost in their mind for a time, including offering a heartfelt mental telegram to their deity of choice—then that is wonderful.

 

But come on, simply banging out “Thoughts & Prayers” on the keyboard, and maybe even including a warm, fuzzy emoji or two, is doing nothing more than attempting to show everyone what a great and compassionate person you are. “Look at me! See how much I care! And I keyed it in faster than you did!” If you really believe you are helping a situation by calling upon higher powers to ease someone’s suffering, then just do it. And feel good that you did it. Why broadcast it? I’d much rather read about your endless spaghetti dinner at Olive Garden or watch your cat playing the piano than suffer through another maudlin, sickly sweet “Thought & Prayers.”

 

To quote the Big Guy himself, I do believe Jesus touched on the pompous show of piety in the Book of Matthew, did he not? “Take care not to practice your righteousness in front of men to be noticed by them, otherwise you will have no reward with your Father who is in the heavens. So when you make gifts of mercy, do not blow a trumpet ahead of you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be glorified by men.”

 

Then again, we are living in the New Age of Narcissism. One of today’s greatest narcissists spends much of his day tweeting out his personal views on everything from pro football to “Puerto Rican whiners”—and we have come to see this as normal behavior.

 

It could simply be that I’ve OD’d on social media. Other than the pious proliferation of “Thoughts & Prayers,” about the only thing more frustrating to me about sites such as Facebook is political rants. A completely non-scientific poll of FB shows approximately 32 billion 678 million political rants per day. And you know how many minds these rants have changed? To quote Dean Vernon Wormer of illustrious Faber College: “Zero point zero.”

 

I suppose we can’t turn the clock back to the good ol’ days, when Facebook was used primarily to share uplifting things such as videos of dogs eating peanut butter or guys getting socked in the crotch by various means.

 

Here’s offering my “Thoughts & Prayers” that we can return to simpler times. Simpler Times for Simpler Minds. That’s my new slogan. And “T&P,” of course. Did I touch a nerve?

 

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