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A group of my friends have been having a more or less ongoing debate between ‘Decliners’ and ‘Optimists.”

The ‘Decliners’ take one look at, for instance, the governor of Illinois and say, You see, look, one more proof virtue is kaput. The country’s headed downhill and there’s no turning back – the American Republic has more or less reached the state of the Roman, Spanish, British and French Empires in their twilight and the question is how long we stagger on until we become, say, the modern day equivalent of Sweden.

The ‘Optimists’ take the exact same view of our current state but steadfastly see a light at the end of the tunnel: To them the nation’s virtue, while in retreat, is still intact and rebirth is imminent.

Of course, since this is essentially a debate among Republican males no one is inclined to see Obama as representing any sort of source of hope;—we see our own, Republican, politicians as little better than snake oil salesmen so you can imagine how we see Obama.

Now I’ve been favoring the Optimists but trying to keep an open mind to the proposition the world is ending and the other night I saw something on TV that said loud and clear the ‘Decliners’ may be right: A promo for a new reality show.

To entertain the American masses Hollywood is putting three hunky bachelors (who look like they may have been ballroom dancing instructors on Dancing with the Stars) and thirty-six babes (who look like they may have been playboy pinups) in a chateau – it’s a seraglio with thirty-six geishas and three caliphs and as the cameras roll they’re going to let nature take its course – the promo ended with a guy and doll in a steamy hot tub blissfully clinking Champaign glasses.

But that’s not what’s shocking.

What’s shocking is the very last scene of the promo – these entertainment wizards have put the girls’ mothers (the hunks’ prospective mothers-in-law) in the castle with them and the last scene shows a prospective mother-in-law who looks like she may be related to Dick Butkins marching grim-faced toward the hot tub, dropping her towel as her daughter is luxuriating with the hunk of the day.

Think of it: A harem of nubile females, a trio of lusting males and a battalion of harridans (mothers-in-law) locked up in a castle to entertain three hundred million Americans – which, I guess, is our modern day equivalent of Nero’s feeding people to the lions to entertain the Roman masses.

We’ve come a long way since All in the Family, just thirty years ago. And, oh, yes, the next promo I saw was for a program called Wife Swap.

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