This is the age of "The Great Escape." Millions jam giant stadiums every weekend — and they like their sports rough. Violence and escapism fill the television screen. Nudity and perversion get top billing in the theater. Millions are spent on all forms of recreation. What's behind the mad craze for pleasure?
AMERICA and Britain are in the grips of the greatest national pleasure binge ever. The fastest growing business in the United States today is, believe it or not, leisure, in all its forms. It's a strange paradox. Never have international and domestic problems been greater — Vietnam, crime, racial tensions, pollution, inflation, the crises in our overcrowded cities. And overhanging the entire picture is the arms race, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and — perhaps the biggest impending threat of all — overpopulation and worldwide famine.
The five reasons for Rome's fall deduced from the writings of noted historians of the Roman world: (1) The breakdown of the family and the rapid increase of divorce. (2) The spiraling rise of taxes and extravagant spending. (3) The mounting craze for pleasure and the brutalization of sports. (4) The expanding production of armaments to fight ever-increasing threats of enemy attacks — when the real enemy was the decay of the society from within. (5) The decay of religion into myriad and confusing forms, leaving the people without a uniform guide.
Yet never have the opportunities for "forgetting it all" been greater, especially in our technologically advanced Western societies. It is, indeed, the age of the Great Escape. Or as someone once called it, the "age with a split personality."
Americans and Britons have a notoriously short-sighted view of history. Says noted sociologist Howard Whitman: "When any nation has become overly pleasure-seeking, history has already begun its epitaph." The mounting craze for pleasure of all forms — the love of brutality in sports — the craving for sensuality in entertainment — all have proliferated in our society in the past ten to twenty years. This was also one of the five major causes for the collapse of the mighty Roman Empire. Yet few Roman citizens living in the fourth or fifth century A.D. realized their pleasure-sated society was on the way down — and out. They were too busy having fun. "The 'Pax Romana' brought many blessings; it made possible the greatest luxury, the most active commercial life the world ever saw... "The Roman Empire and the Roman order of things were considered indestructible, eternal... And so in this dream of the absolute fixity of the Roman system, men went on getting, studying, enjoying, dissipating — doing everything except to prepare for fighting... "And so the barbarians at length destroyed a society that was more slowly destroying itself... Their fall was great... while the lesson of their fall lies patent to the twentieth century" (The Influence of Wealth in Imperial Rome, William Stearns Davis, p. 314, 317, 330, 335).
Latest statistics show that total expenditures on leisure activities in affluent America each year come to $83 billion (£34.6 thousand million). This enormous sum is: 1) Higher than the annual defense budget. 2) Roughly one tenth of the U.S. gross national product (GNP). 3) Approximately two thirds of the entire GNP of either West Germany or Japan. Americans are literally in the midst of a "pleasure explosion." Of the $83,000,000,000, it is estimated that over $38,000,000,000 will be spent this year on recreational equipment and leisure-time pursuits other than travel. The equipment ranges from boats, private planes, motor bikes, snowmobiles, camping equipment and athletic paraphernalia to in-home items such as color TV's, "home entertainment" consoles, records and musical instruments. The sum also includes the mushrooming hobby business ($800,000,000 a year!) purchases of books, magazines and newspapers, club and fraternal organization memberships, admissions to
"... the happiness of Rome appeared to hang on the event of a race."
movies, plays, athletic events, and racetrack betting. Another $35,000,000,000 will be spent on vacations and travel within
"... the free workmen's short demand for hours and high wages had grown... great."
the U.S. Foreign travel chalks up an additional $5,000,000,000. Romans, we are told by Dr. Robert Strausz-Hupb, were "inveterate sightseers and tourists." But it is doubtful they topped contemporary Americans.
Lengthening vacations, the institution of more three-day weekends, and the steady drop in the number of hours in the workweek have all contributed to an explosive boom in outdoor recreation. Add to these factors the driving desire on the part of Americans — now 70% urbanized — to escape to the country and leave the frustrations and tensions of maddening city life behind. It is difficult for sporting goods manufacturers to keep abreast of the equipment needs of the legions of golfers (12 million), tennis players (9 million), snow skiers (4 million), fishermen (23 million), hunters, archers — and even mountain climbers. The construction industry may be having its ups and downs. But in the field of second homes in the country, in the mountains, or on the lakefront — it's strictly up. There are about two million recreational vehicles — road going yachts — on the highways and streets of the United States. Many American families have apparently come around to the belief that the ultimate in the affluent "good life" is not just a second car in the garage but a "second house" in the driveway, equipped and stocked for that weekend getaway. It's in the field of water sports, however, where the impact of the "recreation explosion" is really being felt. Last year in the U.S., some 40 million people participated in recreational boating, according to the Outboard Boating Club of America. They spent about $3,000,000,000 in retail purchases of equipment and they own more than 8 million boats. Seven million of these are outboards. Boats used to be luxury items — playthings of the rich. No longer. In fact, boats are increasing at such a rate that just finding a place to keep them is now a problem. Boating Industry Magazine, May, 1966, says, "statistics show that nearly every marina slip in the nation is now rented on a yearly basis. Some Marinas have waiting lists longer than their total number of slips." Skimming and banking behind millions of motor boats are about 8 million water skiers. Of these, 750,000 are newcomers to the sport within the last year. They have banded together in over 500 ski clubs. Dipping below surface are over 3 million skin divers. This particular industry is enjoying a tremendous sales boom in medium-to-high-priced underwater equipment. Women comprise 30% of all new students. Skin diving resorts are booked up months in advance. It's no wonder a leading magazine said the statistics added up to "an astonishing picture of America at play."
Spectator Sports — Big Business
Additional millions — although including, no doubt, many of the above
"Almost from the beginning the Roman stage was gross and immoral."
— like to take their sports sitting down. Spectator sports today are big business, especially the field of professional athletics. Being "Major League" is a civic status symbol. Cities scramble for prestigious new franchises in professional football, baseball, basketball and ice hockey. The rugged, fiercely played, sometimes deadly, game of American football, especially, has witnessed tremendous growth. Giant stadiums, financed largely by public funds, seat fifty to seventy-five thousand spectators in comfort unknown in the past. Championship contests, especially football, attract television audiences in the tens of millions nationwide in the United States — at times nearly half the adult population. A minute's worth of advertising time during last year's "Super Bowl" professional championship football clash cost $135,000. Professional athletes are demanding — and receiving — whopping salaries. Some football and basketball "superstars" have negotiated multi-year contracts for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Highly touted but unproved "rookies" straight out of college are virtually set up for life, financially. Some of them are paid four or five times the salary of the professors (with doctor's degrees) they had just studied under. Rome too endowed its professional sports heroes with great glory. "The charioteers knew glory too — and more. Though they were of lowborn origin, mainly slaves emancipated only after recurrent success, they were lifted out of their humble estates by the fame they acquired and the fortunes they rapidly amassed from the gifts of magistrates and emperor, and the exorbitant salaries they extracted... as the price of remaining with the colors" (Daily Life in Ancient Rome, by Carcopino, p. 219). Today, one of the quickest pathways to success for youngsters from America's ghetto areas is via professional sports. Because professional contests cost vast sums of money to stage, there is the constant lengthening of schedules to where one sport overlaps two or three others. Also, to meet heavy salaries, an increasing number of preseason "exhibitions" are scheduled. And then there is the seemingly endless whirl of playoff after playoff at the conclusion of regular season competition. Network television presents pro-football double-headers — occasionally triple-headers — on autumn Sundays. There has even been talk of a best-two-out-of-three "Super Bowl" series. Yet the pleasure-oriented public seemingly soaks up all that is offered — as did Rome. "As the size of the circus had been increased and its equipment perfected, the series of contests had become extended... games lasting one day gave place to those of seven or nine or fifteen days... But the Romans could never have too much" (Daily Life in Ancient Rome, Jerome Carcopino, pages 215-216). The noted Roman historian Edward Gibbon also commented on this trait of the Roman character in his famous treatise, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. In Vol. II, p. 148, he wrote: "The most lively and splendid amusement of the idle multitude depended on the frequent exhibition of public games and spectacles. The piety of Christian princes had suppressed the inhuman combats of gladiators; but the Roman people still considered the Circus as their home, their temple, and the seat of the republic. The impatient crowd rushed at the dawn of the day to secure their places, and there were many who passed a sleepless and anxious night in the adjacent porticos." Sounds like the crowds who sleep overnight in front of the ticket offices waiting to buy World Series or Super Bowl tickets, doesn't it? Continues Gibbon: "From the morning to the evening, careless of the sun or of the rain, the spectators, who sometimes amounted to the number of four hundred thousand [the giant Circus Maximus in Rome seated this many], remained in eager attention; their eyes fixed on the horses and charioteers, their minds agitated with hope and fear for the success of the colors which they espoused; and the happiness of Rome appeared to hang on the event of a race." Gibbon goes on to show the tremendous rivalry in Rome between the supporters of the "Reds," "Blues," "Greens," and "Whites." Frequently this blind devotion led to bloodshed and civic disruptions. Recently, newspapers carried the tragic-comedy story of how enraged sports "fans" (short for "fanatics" — in this case, very appropriate) can get in our day when their team — their "color" — loses. In Caserta, Italy, soccer fans, incensed because their local championship team lost its title over a bribery charge, went on a rampage in early September, looting stores and burning buildings. They were, strangely, burning and looting their own city — not the city of the opposing team. The mob put the torch to school and municipal offices. They ran through the post office and tax collection headquarters heaving chairs, files and typewriters out of windows. The rioting began on September 8 after the Italian Soccer Federation ruled a Caserta player guilty of trying to bribe a player on a rival team and canceled the team's elevation from the "C" league to the "B." "The soccer team is the only thing they live for," the town's mayor said. "What happened here is like sitting down for a big dinner and being served, and suddenly they whip away your plate. We were robbed of a just place in the "B" league." Emotions may run a little higher in Italy and Latin America, where similar incidents have occurred. But the fact remains the same — people are taking their fun very seriously. And professional "sports" really is a misnomer. It should be spelled "Big Business."
Gambling on sporting activities is also Big Business — both in ancient Rome and modern-day Britain and America. "But the passionate devotion which they [the charioteers] inspired in a whole people was fed 'also from more tainted sources. It was related to the passion for gambling... The victory of one chariot enriched some, impoverished others; the hope of winning unearned money held the Roman crowd all the more tyrannically in its grip in that the larger proportion was unemployed. The rich would stake a fortune, the poor the last penny" (Daily Life in Ancient Rome, pp. 220-221). Gambling is a major and traditional ingredient of modern Britain's way of life. No one knows for certain, but it may even be Britain's number one industry. Surely it is her number one pastime. Ever since Parliament passed the Betting and Gaming Act in 1960, establishing betting shops and permitting gaming for charity and other purposes, the gambling industry has taken off like a rocket. Last year in Britain the turnover of the gambling industry was £2,200,000,000 ($5,280,000,000). Every week in the winter, football pools pay out small fortunes that may range from £50,000 to £500,000 or more. Although the pools themselves are taxed, these winnings are not. In almost every town in Britain today at least one of the major cinemas has been turned into a bingo hall. In some towns all the cinemas have become bingo halls. Everywhere, one sees storefront signs reading "Turf Accountant" — euphemistically referring to a bookmaker's shop.
The Deadly Parallel
But why this great thirst for all forms of sports and entertainment — beyond all reasonable bounds? Entertainment, recreation, athletics, in themselves, are NOT WRONG! Far from it! They are necessary parts of a well-balanced, healthy life. But when an entire nation seems to have nothing but the pursuit of pleasure and escape as its national goal — that nation is in serious trouble! There are logical reasons for today's pleasure binge. History gives the answer. Few people realize just how closely contemporary American and British life parallels that of Imperial Rome before its collapse. Here, from the gripping book, Those About to Die, by Daniel P. Mannix (pages 6-7, 139-140), are some startling revelations about Roman life. "In a sense, the people were trapped. Rome had over-extended herself. She had become, as much by accident as design, the dominant nation of the world. [Exactly the position the U.S. found herself in at the conclusion of World War II] "The cost of maintaining the 'Pax Romana' — the Peace of Rome — over most of the known world was proving too great even for the enormous resources of the mighty empire. [Just as today, the U.S. is asking its allies to help foot the military and foreign aid bill]... "The cost of its gigantic military program was only one of Rome's head-aches.
"The cost of its gigantic military program was only one of Rome's headaches."
To encourage industry in her various satellite nations, Rome attempted a policy of unrestricted trade, but the Roman workingman was unable to compete with the cheap foreign labor and demanded high tariffs... The government was finally forced to subsidize the Roman working class to make up the difference between their 'real wages' [the actual value of what they were producing] and the wages required to keep up their relatively high standard of living. "As a result, thousands of workmen lived on this subsidy and did nothing whatever, sacrificing their standard of living for a life of ease. "Attempts were made to abolish slave labor in the factories but the free workmen's demand for short hours and high wages had grown so great that only slaves could be used economically." What effect did all this have on the average Roman citizen? Continues Mannix: "With the economic and military position of the empire too hopelessly complicated for the crowd to comprehend, they turned more and more toward the only thing that they could understand — the arena. The name of a great general or of a brilliant statesman meant no more to the Roman mob than the name of a great scientist does to us today. But the average Roman could tell you every detail of the last games, just as today the average man can tell you all about a movie star's marriages [or the latest football or baseball standings] but has only the foggiest idea what NATO is doing or what steps are being taken to fight inflation." Life simply became too complex for the average Roman. But the continuous staging of games and spectacles — cleverly promoted by the Caesars to keep the people's minds occupied — this was something he could relate to. The Caesars, said one historian, "exhausted their ingenuity to provide the public with more festivals than any people, in any country, at any time, has ever seen." Until our time, that is.
TV Fills "Need"
For vast segments of the American and British public, television fills the need for vicarious thrills and violence. For frankness — indeed, sheer openness — it is hard to top some of the shows on the "telly" in Britain. Almost unbelievable references to lewdness, perverted sex and depravity are as open and unabashed as an ordinary news report. In the U.S., network executives assure us this "fall season" will see less violence portrayed on the television screen. But violence sells goods, so any drop will be a small one. Staff members of a large American newspaper recently tabulated the violence in the prime evening hours for seven consecutive nights. Their result? — 81 murders and killings and 210 incidents or threats of violence. One congressman recently quoted a study which found that the average American child, between the ages of 5 and 15, watches the violent destruction of 13,400 persons on television! Just like the Romans, watching the gory spectacles in the arenas, our young people are "learning nothing but contempt for human life and dignity" (Daily Life in Ancient Rome, p. 243).
Stage and Screen
Have you seen a movie lately? Or better yet, have you seen the latest newspaper ads for movies and "off Broadway" type stage plays? Have you noticed what's for sale at the corner newsstand? Undoubtedly many of you who live in rural areas have little conception of what's really going on in the big cities! In our calloused, "shockproof" societies, entertainment has taken on new and sinister meanings. An almost unbelievable avalanche of sex, perversion, pornography, "blue" films, sadism, masochism, bestiality, murder, rape and brutality has flooded into the public view through motion pictures, stage productions and lurid magazines and pulp novels. It was much the same way in Rome before that great empire was swept into oblivion. "Almost from the beginning the Roman stage was gross and immoral. It was one of the main agencies to which must be attributed the under-mining of the originally sound moral life of Roman society. "So absorbed did the people become in the indecent representations of the stage that they lost all thought and care of the affairs of real life" (Rome, Its Rise and Fall, Myers, pages 515, 516). Did you hear about the throngs of people who lined the streets for blocks outside a New York City theater to see an import film so raw that it was said to "permanently shatter many of our last remaining movie conventions"? Scraping the bottom of the barrel of utter depravity, recent stage productions have gone far past mere nudity to include on-stage simulation of intercourse and, in at least one case, bestiality. Unless you've been completely sheltered from society, you've heard of the nude scenes in "Hair" and other plays. Pornography alone, in the United States, is Big Business! Enough pornographic books are sold each year to more than fill the Empire State Building five times over — and most of these books find their way into the hands of youths. Self-indulgence today has reached new lows! Multiple billions of dollars are spent by the lust-driven public each year to satisfy the senses!
And the Cheering Stopped
Samuel Dill, writing in Roman Society in the Last Century of the Western Empire, page 58, said this: "Salvianus... assures us that Christians were indulging in the madness of the circus and the wantonness of the theatre, when the arms of the Vandals were ringing round the walls of Carthage and Cirta; and that the applause of the spectators was mingled with the groans of the dying and the battle-cries of the besiegers." Now, that's the ultimate in escapism! And did he say Christians — Christians reveling in debauchery? That should be no surprise. After all, aren't our nations still Christian-professing societies? Like some of the Romans, will our people, too, be living it up — right until the day the enemies storm our gates? It makes you wonder.
Exact Conditions Foretold
Incredible though it may seem to many, the Bible — "the book that nobody knows" according to Bruce Barton — actually predicted the paradoxical escapism of today. God said mankind simply would not face the plain truth about world conditions. He prophesied men would turn to PHYSICAL PLEASURES in the face of imminent national DESTRUCTION! He said men would become licentious, lewd, lascivious, filled with SELF-love as never before — and during the exact time of the greatest collection of urgent problems this world had ever seen! Paul told Timothy, "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures MORE than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away"! (II Tim. 3:1-5) And you have witnessed, with your own eyes, this very prophesied social revolution in the past two decades! You have seen, and you know you've seen, more degeneration, more public blasphemy, more truce-breaking, more self-love, more disobedience to parents (juvenile delinquency), and more love of pleasure than at any other time in all history! The Bible means what it says! No one will ever escape the certainty of the coming calamities by kidding himself they don't exist. No one will really find protection, real escape, by refusing to face the awesome facts of this day in which we live. But there is a way to really escape! And we're not talking of some type of "sanctimonious," "self-improvement" or "positive thinking" course! We mean literal escape. Escape from the horrors of war. Escape from race riots, from drought, famine, disease epidemics. Escape from the ravages of weather and other "natural" calamities that will soon strike this earth in increasing fury! Witness the terrible destruction and loss of life caused by Hurricane Camille. Our article "If World War III Comes — There Is a Way of Escape," shows how you can find security and safety in the tumultuous days yet ahead of us. Write for it. It's free, of course. It's about time you faced reality squarely — and found out how you may escape.