Bread, circuses, and the Winnipeg Jets

The Winnipeg Jets, our Winnipeg Jets, have defeated the Philadelphia Flyers, 4 to 1, Buffalo Sabres, 4 to 1, the Florida Panthers, 7 to 2, Tampa Bay Lightning, 4 to 3, and Carolina Panthers, 4 to 3. But, sadly, they lost Saturday, 5 to 4, to the New York Islanders in a shootout. The home stretch is over and they’re five-game winning campaign has been tempered, slightly. The hope of a post-season is still stirring the fight in them, and the fans are loving the ride and, right now, loving their city.  But the civic pride may be more chimera than genuine.

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There is very little inside the True North Centre during a Jets game to remind fans that, when the endorphin-riddled, beer-addled coma is over, Winnipeg is where they will come to. Sam Katz’s Winnipeg. The Winnipeg with a controversial downtown. But that is on purpose. Games, gladiators in the coliseum to Winnipeg Jets at the True North Centre, are meant to entertain. And they are also meant to distract: bread and circuses. Fans fall for the distraction, some unwittingly, others knowing full well what is really going on.

The game, the music, the noise, the beer and the hotdog is the bread and the circuses.  And the fans are the distracted. It’s manipulation, albeit quality, welcome manipulation.


The Jets experience is slick. It’s helping you forget about daily life in the city, at work, etc. It’s doing you a favour, a favour Winnipeg has wanted back since the mid-’90s. Winnipeggers need a distraction, once in a while. The mumblings of City Hall ring as such when there is nothing to wrest our attention. Go Jets go!

The two centuries proceeding Jesus’s birth saw Rome come face to face with the complexities of a widening gulf between rich and poor. The Roman Empire had, at this time, reached its full geographic potential and had little to no exportable goods. War slaves were forced to build most of the empire’s infrastructure and occupied other manual labour sectors, taking jobs away from citizens. The Romans were bored, idle.

“A people that yawns is ripe for revolt,” wrote historian and author Jerome Carcopino in “Daily Life in Ancient Rome.”

Free bread and circus performances were offered to distract an unsettled Rome. It worked for them, as it is working for us; at least us hockey fans.

“As to just what this ineffable quality was . . . well, it obviously involved bravery. But it was not bravery in the simple sense of being willing to risk your life. The idea seemed to be that any fool could do that, if that was all that was required, just as any fool could throw away his life in the process. No, the idea here (in the all-enclosing fraternity) seemed to be that a man should have the ability to go up in a hurtling piece of machinery and put his hide on the line and then have the moxie, the reflexes, the experience, the coolness, to pull it back in the last yawning moment — and then to go up again the next day, and the next day, and every next day, even if the series should prove infinite — and, ultimately, in its best expression, do so in a cause that means something to thousands, to a people, a nation, to humanity, to God. “

Tom Wolfe was referring to fighter pilots in this quote from The Right Stuff, but if such words were uttered of the Jets in the few, climaxing minutes preceding the start of the game, we’d gladly suspend disbelief and welcome the distraction, the pride, the experience, because this is what we do every game.

For the hours starting with an fighter-jet montage on the scoreboard to the final second of the third period, Winnipeg is the True North Centre, a 15,000 person city that collectively and willingly forgot how cold it is outside, how work isn’t going so well, or how the city suffers from whatever urban malaise is currently en vogue.

It’s a time to turn off, forget, and hope Mayor Ladd and his councillors make the playoffs.

Toban Dyck is a writer/editor/farmer. Follow him @tobandyck.

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