In Suzanne Collins’s wildly popular Hunger Games books, children are chosen by lottery to serve as gladiators who fight to the death. The Games are televised for the entertainment of the general population. Collins models her games on ancient Rome, where gladiators fought to the death and slaves were fed to the lions. She even names her dystopian world Panem, after the Latin word for bread, as in bread and circuses, panem et circenses. Bread and circuses refers to the cheap trick of persuading the masses to cheer for a lion or a slave, for one gladiator or another, rather than participating in or observing or acting to change the political arena. Keep the general population fed with the most basic of food and keep their minds off of rebellion with the distractions of entertainment.
As I read through Lenore Skenazy’s blog and watched her appearances on various chat shows, I kept thinking, “Bread and circuses.” There is so much air time to fill, so television producers and headline writers make news of the Mommy Wars. Free Range Parenting vs. Helicopter Parenting. Stay-at-home Mothers vs. Working Mothers. Breast vs. Bottle. Sleep Training vs. Attachment Parenting. Blah, blah, blah. In one blogger’s take on the issue, she asks, “Free range parenting versus helicopter parenting: which team are YOU on?” Really? We have to pick teams? These issues are so much more complex than x vs. y, but so much easier to digest if packaged in a familiar us vs. them format.
In one clip, Skenazy and another parent appear on Anderson Cooper to replay how Skenazy was able to help this woman who is so much of the helicopter persuasion that in public washrooms she feels it necessary to go right into the bathroom stall with her daughter. “Doesn’t everybody?” this mother quips, when the audience gasps. They feed this woman to the lions, then they rescue her, undo her public shame with a public reformation of her extreme and errant ways.
Unless it’s extreme, it’s not entertainment, so we have thown up on the screen all kind of wild and wacky folk on reality shows who hoard or dumpster dive for coupons for hundreds of free sticks of deodorant, saving up against Armageddon.
What good does any of this do? Silly distractions from the reality lived in the murky middle ground.
I respect Skenazy and her husband’s decision to let their son ride the subway alone. I respect her desire to move away from a culture where kids are kept bubble wrapped. I respect her initiative to create a television show that capitalizes on the buzz that her son’s subway ride generated. But I resent the circus atmosphere of telling the stories of bubble wrapped or free range kids.
Why do mothers keep feeding each other to the lion of artificially polarized public opinion?