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Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

June 17, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 51




Pat Morrison America's new pastime: Dissing the poor

By Pat Morrison, NCR managing editor

As I view program trailers and zap my remote past the various evolutions of so-called "reality TV," I can't help but think about the Roman Empire. According to historians, Romans were so easily bored by their government-provided entertainment that they became more and more bloodthirsty.

When clowns and buffoons, comic/tragic stage productions and mock naval battles no longer provided enough "entertainment pleasure" for the crowds that flocked to Rome's Colosseum or Circus Maximus, they began to pit wild animals against other species in the arena. These were huge affairs. Bills of lading for wild animals delivered to the City of Rome for sport in just a month, for example, showed 700 lions, 400 tigers, and similar numbers of other large cats, bears, gazelles and even elephants. Some historians say that so many animals were slaughtered in the games that some species neared extinction after just a few years.

Soon, however, animal sport had the citizenry yawning. Next came gladiatorial contests, where frenzied "fans" could vote for or against their favorite fighter, easily urging the emperor to send an unpopular contestant (often a slave) to his death.

Later, a group of oddball religious zealots provided gory but titillating entertainment, particularly when they were herded, unarmed, into the arena with a few hungry lions, or were made into human torches to light the stadium. Most likely, many watchers of the "games" reasoned that those pesky Christians, that unpatriotic lot, had it coming: after all, they refused to worship the emperor or the gods. Besides, they attracted all kinds of riff-raff, offering their religion of equality to Roman nobles and slaves alike. It was good riddance.

True, Americans aren't yet a match for pagan Roman in our entertainment tastes. We may be subjecting eager contestants to a pit of creepy crawlers, but so far we're not into mauling our fellow citizens for sport. (Though some critics of professional wrestling and boxing might take exception to that notion.)

Still, while we may not be taking a Zippo to adherents of an unpopular religion, one has to wonder where the "reality" entertainment craze is taking us. Although CBS insists the show isn't even in development, Hollywood insiders insist that network is planning: "The Real Beverly Hillbillies." You can guess the premise.

But unlike its TV namesake of yesteryear, today's "Hillbillies" won't be actors. Network headhunters will scour America's target states -- Arkansas, West Virginia, Tennessee, the Carolinas -- for the dumbest, poorest, most gullible folk they can find, fly them to Hollywood, ensconce them for a few weeks in a luxurious, tony Beverly Hills mansion and see how they make fools of themselves. Eavesdropping as the "hillbillies" interview the maids or figure out a bidet would be a real hoot, one CBS exec reportedly quipped.

Wow, what a laugh for the rest of us. Hee Haw. Now ain't that the funniest. As if America's poor and rural people don't have enough to contend with. Now they're a spectacle for our "entertainment."

What's next? Let's watch urban single moms fight off the rats in the projects? Let's see how long it takes the old guy in the nursing home to go through a Depends? Let's find the humor in a drug-addicted teen overdosing?

Seems like there's another script the network whiz kids haven't read yet: "Whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, that you do unto me."

Pat Morrison is NCR managing editor. Her e-mail address is

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