A modest proposal

A novel idea about how to balance the state budget

Jaime O'Neill is a regular contributor to SN&R.

Recently, I noticed an advertisement for a cage-fighting match at one of the local casinos. Cage fighting is a bloodier and less rulesy variant on traditional boxing, kinda like pro wrestling, but without the fakery. It attracts the sort of audience you might see auditioning for a remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Fans of cage fighting can sometimes be found watching the “reality” shows that now proliferate on TV, spectacles that offer us a dim vision of our species.

So, putting two and two together, it occurred to me that one way to dig California out of the deep financial hole it’s in might be to exploit our collective obsession with violence and human oddity. California is the home of the world’s entertainment hub, and we’ve also got one of the biggest incarceration industries within our state borders. Under lock and key in our prisons is a pool of reality-show talent just waiting to be tapped, a large number of violent men (and women) who could be transformed overnight from liabilities to assets by pitting them against one another in cage-fighting matches modeled on the gladiatorial spectacles of ancient Rome. Fights to the death would surely command big pay-per-view bucks that could swell the state coffers and, if we used some entrepreneurial imagination, we could set up wagering, with the state taking a cut of the betting pool. Add to that the marketing of T-shirts and other souvenirs, and we’re talking serious balance-the-budget bucks.

There are sure to be bleeding-heart liberals who will raise an outcry against this idea, wimps who find the idea of state-sponsored death fights to be cruel, or coarse. They’ll say it’s barbaric, or they’ll say we shouldn’t aspire to the glory that was Rome because, hey, look what happened to that empire, or they’ll say that a racial and class component will hit the poor or people of color harder than others.

They’ll say lots of stuff, but just think of the marketing possibilities.

Things have gotten ugly as the economy has soured, and the natural human reaction to hard times is to try to find someone to blame. As a result, we have all this ethnic and class tension. Why not bring all that subterranean rage to the surface and convert it to cash? A world-class marketing campaign that pitted a corporate white-collar Anglo crook against a bottom-rung Mexican-American convenience-store burglar would draw millions of paying viewers.

Political campaigns could use such a fight as a fundraising tool and, just as they do for the Super Bowl and other prestigious athletic contests, the sky boxes would attract some of the fattest of the fat cats as corporations provided business clients an opportunity to cheer for the representative of the “productive” class against those they see as parasites. The money is just waiting to be picked up. And since violence and degradation are already components of our penal system, why would anyone object? Even the inmates are likely to support the idea.

Especially the murderers.