The Amphitheatres of the 21st Century?

Gladiators, blood and guts, chariots, lions, screaming, clashing swords, Russell Crowe looking hot (OK, maybe that last one is just me) – these are a few things that come to mind when you think of Roman Amphitheatres and Gladiatorial battles.

In today’s society it shocks us when we think about what passed for entertainment a few hundred years ago.  We’ve all seen the images in epic films of terrified gladiators being mauled by lions or decapitated by their opponent as the crowd goes wild.

How barbaric, we say! Causing horrific suffering to another human being for your own pleasure! Why would you do that?

But have we really moved on as far as we would like to think?

I was recently discussing the incredibly popular TV show “I’m a Celebrity…Get me out of here!” with a  friend, and I realised that perhaps we haven’t moved on that much at all.

Granted, nobody is actually killed in these programs, but the audience takes great pleasure in watching minor celebrities being tortured – made to eat disgusting foods, deprived of rations, sleep, and made to carry out impossible tasks in humiliating and dirty conditions.

OK, so nowadays it’s desperate Z-list celebrities looking for publicity and making a last ditch attempt to re-animate their dying careers rather than enslaved gladiators fighting for their lives and freedom, and the amphitheatres have been replaced with television studios and sets.

Admittedly the circumstances are a little different, and we have better technology, but the motivation of these participants is still the same. Survival.

It all feels rather voyeuristic and somewhat sadistic – why would you want to watch somebody suffer? Are we really any better than the huge crowds that used to pack into the amphitheatres of ancient Rome?

Why is there still such a lust in our society to watch others being made to suffer for our entertainment?!

Another example is the notorious Big Brother which by the show’s own admission, becomes more evil & manipulative as the series go by; intentionally putting clashing personalities together in ever more challenging and claustrophobic conditions, and setting up awkward situations to watch the sparks fly.

I have heard that these shows are a favourite of psychology students, and I’m sure they are very interesting from a purely psychological point of view, but in reality the participants are little more than  gladiators or perhaps laboratory rats, being put in difficult and unkind situations to see how they cope and react, all for our amusement.

Nobody seems to stop and think why the public in general enjoys this so much – why does this kind of cruel show still draw such huge crowds in our supposedly highly-civilised society?

Why do so many people take such pleasure in watching others suffer?

I don’t have the answer to that, and I’m not a psychologist, but as a rational human being, it occurs to me that if people were truly happy in themselves, they wouldn’t need to watch others suffering in order to be “entertained.”

Why do so many of us need to distract ourselves from our everyday lives, and take out our frustrations on people in TV shows? Goading and cheering, voting by phone and text to decide who will be made to suffer next. Are we little more than a modern version of the angry, starving people of Rome towards the end of the fall of the empire, baying for blood to distract us from our unhappy lives instead of doing something about it?

Next time you feel inclined to watch one of these shows, I challenge you to stop and think for a moment – why do you really want to watch this?

Maybe it’s time to ditch the distractions, and take a long, hard look at ourselves instead. Maybe it’s time to see what changes we can make in our lives to be happier people, to be more at peace with ourselves, so that we no longer need to watch others suffer for our “entertainment.”

Who knows –  the world might even become a nicer place to live in…