The Need for Entertainment

Some of the books I have been reading reflect on the Industrial Revolution. I had never given it much thought myself seeing as I always lived in a world full of cars, heavy machinery and plastic high-performance yo-yos manufactured in China. It is easy to understand the Socialistic hope that existed while the Revolution was taking place. One book (Crime and Punishment I believe) explained how machines would be built that could harvest at the rate of 10 men. Imagine, 9 men all sitting around while 1 man does enough work to feed them all; a picture of Utopia. Of course we know it doesn't work that way. In actual fact, 1 man owns the machinery so he puts the other 9 out of work while he gets rich. Ideally he will produce the goods so cheaply that his 9 neighbors can't compete on their own land so he will buy them out and they will move to a tenement in the city.

I was talking to my dad about something completely different and he found it interesting that the birth of Psychology roughly coincided with the Industrial Revolution. As we pondered this connection we thought that perhaps men never had time for self-reflection or intimate conversation before the Revolution. They were all too busy working their tales off to consider how much they hated their father or to contemplate the damage done since they were never breast fed. Religion was sufficient to tell men why they failed and if they didn't want to think about it they secretly worked on Sundays.

There were several other breakthroughs around this time as well: radio, the moving picture show, and eventually TV. Even before this progression Vaudeville had taken off where performers would travel the country doing comedy and entertaining acts. Vaudeville produced famous Radio and Televsion teams like Abbott and Costello and the Three Stooges. In the Industrialized world entertainment boomed and became an industry unto itself.

I think entertainment answered and continues to answer the problems raised by industrialization. You have 9 guys out of work, and 1 guy who is bored because work is too easy. What can they do? Entertain him. He will gladly pay them to do amazing and yet meaningless things. The flaw in the pre-industrial attitude that I mentioned above (the idea that 9 guys can relax if 1 is producing enough for them all) is that men have to work to get paid. There is no way the 1 will support all 9 while they sit on their butts. In addition, the work has to have either value or skill. You can't say to the 9, "dig this hole and fill it back in all day and I will give you your share." This is what we do to prisoners, not free working men. In our day we might even consider that torture, I'm not sure. No real man can be happy producing nothing without skill. For work to be satisfying it must either produce something or require skill. Entertainment, while producing nothing, requires skill, a great deal in fact. Not everyone can tell a joke and make people laugh, not everyone can do 15 hoola hoops on roller skates and not everyone can make out with someone in a way that makes people want to keep watching. Skill. Everyone knows that sports accomplish nothing and yet we all sit in awe because of the skill that we don't have. 9 people without work will either beg or learn to do something no one else can do (or never thought of doing) in such a way that others will want to watch.

In a strange way entertainment also answers the problems that are supposed to be addressed by psychology. Instead of using our free time for self-reflection or conversation we can ignore our lives by indulging in mindless entertainment or by creating a life we can be proud of on the internet. Psychologists have responded by calling said entertainment an overindulgence and a form of psychosis. Can we blame them? How would you feel when your job was threatened by a low budget TV program with a single word title?

In this way entertainment has met our every need. It is one of the largest industries in this country generating tons of money that is spread through TV and Movie studios, through movie theaters and broadcasters, right down to the Targets and Walmarts. What would we buy with all the extra money produced through industrialization if we didn't have music for our ipods and if only educators had stereos, DVD players, TV's etc. I think the common person would still have a radio for the news. The "news" on TV is not informative, it is just entertainment that happens to accommodate certain facts about things going on in the world. We have diversified entertainment considerably since the "golden years" of Jack Benny and Burns and Allen. One person will like an unending supply of Romance novels, another Sports with all its excitement and statistics, another Soap Operas, and on and on it goes. We often define ourselves, by our work yes ("I am a writer", etc.), but also by the entertainment we enjoy. "I like country music, Seinfeld and long walks on the beach" might quickly sum up everything we need to tell any candidate for marital bliss.

Can we imagine a world devoid of entertainment for its own sake? I am sure there has always been time for at least some leisure, but today we have entertainment systems. I go back and forth on whether we live in the ideal world or whether we have lost something significant but we can't remember what because American Idol is about to come on.

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  • hmmm, how many marraiges would fail in a world with no time for entertainment? Would you be able to divorce when you are too busy trying to help each other survive…I have often thought of this.

  • You make a great point. I would have to add that the worst thing about our world is that all the technology tends to make us lazy in our work. So not only is there one guy working and getting rich, while the other nine can’t find jobs and have a hard time supporting their families, the rich guy doesn’t have to put much effort into his job. It strikes me odd that people often complain about having a hard day at work. I wonder, do we even know what that is anymore. I don’t think the worst part about technology is the leisure or entertainment, but rather the fact that we can be lazy even when we work.

  • If you feel lazy in your work that’s because you are lazy. Regardless of what technology affords us, if you’re a good worker, trust me, you’ll be tired at the end of the day and you will…work, in one way or another.

    The marriage thing reminds me of the arranged marriage phenomenon, it seems they don’t break up. Does this mean the marriage is good and/or happy, know one can tell, but that’s not the point. The point is, in cultures where arranged marriages are the norm divorce is not an option.

    Our culture, on the other hand, is an “entertain me” culture, as Adam has very well put, therefore, the ultimate sin one can commit is to be unhappy and bored. It seems in this we begin looking for things that bore us or make us unhappy rather than focusing on that which truly makes us happy or contented. We have better knowledge of what we don’t like than what we do and we’re more apt to expel something we might feel is threatening our happiness than attempting to work harder at our play or love or whatever it is our responsibilities dictate.

    Technology has not made us lazy, but it has made luxuries into needs and it has made us begin to believe that whatever is not fun is bad and it has compartmentalized work into an eight hour frame so that any work away from “work” (i.e. family perhaps) is an absurd thought and not worth the effort and leisure that must be sacrificed to it.

  • HEY –

    What!

    Oh yeah – what about our new stupidity found in tiny

    What!

    Um… hold on…. I’m doing somethin

    Yeah… attention spans that’s it.

    DUMB are we all dumb now?

    I hate entertainment – it takes the best from us.

    But your right – what to do if you’ve got it made? We have to do something.

    But we could focus our societal energies into something besides entertainment – we could focus on education – the pursuit of knowledge. We could focus on helping destitute countries. We could focus on personal development – not stupid fads, but real development… etc. NO NO NO NO we choose to watch the dancing monkey on a box and laugh only because the stupid pre-recorded people are laughing already.

    That’s how far an advance civilization has got us.