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The Modern Romans (part 3)

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. 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."


History Ignored

Americans and Britons have a notoriously short-sighted view of history.

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.

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).


"Pleasure Explosion"

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 movies, plays, athletic events, and racetrack betting.

Another $35,000,000,000 will be spent on vacations and travel within 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.


Outdoor Boom

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."