Bread and Circuses: Stabilizing Leadership or Seductive Distraction

Martin Rowson 4.6.2012

The Diamond Jubilee as Great Distraction

Those of us who talk about leadership as charisma donʻt mean the kind of propoganda festivals that distract followers/citizens from the gaps in leadership. But these “Bread and Circus” events, designed to entertain and appease the masses and make a good impression, are part of a leaderʻs cultural charisma. Martin Rowsonʻs cartoon, pointing a finger at the Queenʻs Diamond Jubilee River Pageant this June, could apply to any government pageantry in a time of economic crisis.

(Look at the pageant here on YouTube.  ITN News  also has a bland, but nice summary of the event, which flotillaed 1000 boats down the Thames. Its quite a water parade. And the Queen jauntily sports yet another remarkable hat, as youʻll see. The celebration included the parade, a star-studded concert, a flyby, parties and many other spectacles. For full coverage, look on the BBC.)

Why the cynicism? After all, this kind of ritual is central to Britainʻs identity, a celebration of the monarchy and its history. Doesnʻt nationalist spectacle always represent “Hegemonic Event Management?” (see t-shirts in the cartoon…)  Do we have to think about it?  Canʻt we just sit back and enjoy the moment?

On the surface, the celebration praised Queen Elizabethʻs 60 years of leadership, her steadfast, if largely symbolic, presence as a governing force. But thereʻs a more unsettling method to the expensive celebratory madness, according to Laurie Penny, from the New Statesman:

” A full calendar of bread and circuses has been scheduled to keep the British public happy and obedient while the government puts its economic shock doctrine into effect. [In 2011], it’s the Wedding of Mass Distraction; [2012 has] the Diamond Jubilee and after that the Olympics. The timing is a gift for any government attempting to push through punitive and unpopular reforms – the chance to smother dissent with a dampened commemorative tea towel of pomp and circumstance. This is the highest function of what Guy Debord called the society of the spectacle: not just to distract popular attention from the machinations of government, but artificially to invoke the imagery of a national consensus that doesn’t exist. In David Cameron’s Britain, respect for the popular mandate is in no way important. All that matters is the iconography of public ritual, just enough to make everybody shut up and shout hurrah.”

Thatʻs not leadership — thatʻs the sedating seduction of entertainment!

One comment

  1. […] hype of the Sochi Olympics, intentionally staged and advertised as propogandistic leadership, bread and circuses to make Russia look stable, powerful and controlled. But activists like Pussy Riot, and other less […]


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