“Duas tantum rex anxius optat, panem et circensus.”
( “The people long eagerly for two things – bread and circuses.”) Juvénal
If you’re online for more than five minutes a day, or have caught mainstream news anytime over the last week, you probably already recognize the reference to Noah Ritter . Young Master Ritter is the precocious four year old who’s gotten more than his 15 Minutes as an “Internet Sensation” recently, appearing on ABC News and Good Morning America where gushing reporters and adoringly tweeting fans have been understandably taken by his earnestness and mature vocabulary, which is liberally sprinkled with the adverb “apparently.”
I’m not going to rain on sweet Noah’s fame parade. The kid’s really adorable, and it’s easy to understand why everyone is so captivated by him. Noah is a simple, gentle, and convenient distraction from more complicated news about Ebola and airstrikes in Iraq, persecuted religious minorities, stories of devastating natural disasters, and economic turmoil. Noah is someone we can get our minds and hearts around, and whom reporters can obviously work for comic relief.
The risk, of course, is that when we latch on to innocent lifelines like Noah with such social fervor, news and other information media are reaffirmed in their commitment to supply us with an endless buffet of simple, gentle and convenient distractions from real news, from stories that really matter, stories that challenge us to think, and move us to act in socially productive ways.
While Noah is fun and entertaining, he’s a piece of local interest news at best. The 5 – 10 minutes devoted to him on news stations around the country and on major news outlets nationally is 5-10 minutes of more important news overshadowed or unreported.
There are also other precocious children we might do better to hear about, like Emily James, a three year old who uses her own considerable vocabulary to talk about kindness and compassion. The media powers that be will serve up whatever we consume, and if bread and circuses is all we want, that’s all we’ll get.
Noah and Emily and all our children deserve better. They deserve a world of critical thinkers, of curious and interested readers and viewers of news and information, an informed citizenry that wants to know the facts of the matter, and understands what really matters.