Philosophy Cafe - Cafe Philosophique Message Board › Your Last Word on ENTERTAINMENT
Here are some questions prompted by our discussion that might inspire you to do some careful thinking. Feel free to write your own, however. A paragraph is a good length, like an elevator pitch.
• Our Top Ten list for this theme attempted to survey the territory by identifying what lay (only just) beyond entertainment. Our list of Kinds of Gatherings Besides Entertainment included meetups (like ours), town halls, people gawking (at a traffic accident, say), worship, sporting contests, meals, lectures (or education in general), flea markets (or commerce in general), weddings (or rituals in general), and juries. Thinking not so much of the list title, as of its contents, what might be a usable definition of entertainment? What light do these (counter)examples shed on entertainment? Do you think the examples of transportation and refugees should have been included?
• Is boredom the "opposite" of entertainment? What other opposites might entertainment have? What makes a "state" an opposite?
• Does boredom have a purpose, or is it merely a category of experience?
• What does it really mean to call something "mere entertainment"? Compare to "junk food." What is entertainment's "substance"?
• If entertainment is a sort of consumption, what is it that is consumed? What is "used up"? How "renewable" is an entertainment "resource"?
• Is entertainment a socially-constructed reality, or is it purely "in the eye of the beholder"? Don't limit yourself to the observation that people "follow the crowd" in their entertainment choices. One of the focal points we didn't use–gossip–seems especially relevant here.
• What makes one entertainment more "highbrow" than another? What, if anything, predicts what the consensus will be on, say, reality TV? Could it have been otherwise?
• Consider that what is consumed during entertainment is time. After any movie, we could say "there's two hours I'll never get back," though in fact we only say that after a bad movie; a good entertainment experience is one where "time flies." Discuss whether this metaphor is a case of objectification run amok.
• The explosion of entertainment options in today's world might be traced to our having more leisure time than in yesteryear. If that is the case, what makes it a necessary endeavor to fill up or consume that "freed" time with entertainment?
• Think of someone you know who is perpetually "bored." (Shouldn't be difficult if you know any teenagers.) Write an elegant, literary portrait of Boredom as a character that helps us understand what the world looks and feels like to such a person.
• The etymology of "entertainment" is "to hold between": perhaps it is the spectator who is suspended between two stable states, in a kind of indecision. If so, why would we want to be entertained?
• Good entertainment engrosses us, such that we forget about ourselves (without losing consciousness). Is it like meditation, or are we aware of something or somebody besides ourselves? Discuss the socializing aspects of entertainment.
• A very frequent "trajectory" of entertainment takes us to catharsis. Is this climax a loss of self-awareness? A change of emotional state? An increased awareness? How do we arrive at the denouement, that is, return to our original state?
• What can go wrong in an entertainment experience to lose our attention? Compare these possibilities with what can be "wrong" about a piece that puts it out of our favor, retrospectively.
• How do creators of entertainment prolong our interest? There is a lot of "long form" entertainment these days: are there constraints as well as possibilities? We discussed The Alexandria Quartet and Rashomon, but you are encouraged to select your own examples.
• How does entertainment "draw us in" to begin with? Is it sufficient that it depict a believable situation? Think about movies (for example) that succeed in altering your reality, that fail to do so, that are realistic, that are fantastical, even disturbingly so (Eraserhead).
• Consider disturbing situations (Sophie's Choice) and repellant characters (say, The Office) depicted by entertainment. Why do we (well, some people) watch these? In what way do we "enjoy" them? Do we feel bad about that?
• Typical examples of entertainment we enjoy but feel bad about are "camp classics" (say, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) and most horror flicks. Their corniness is an admission that they are not believable, so what draws us in? Are they as simple-minded as they seem? Even if they are, is their "ease of use" the basis of their appeal? Try identifying what cheesy entertainment has in common with the highbrow variety, rather than contrasting them.
• Consider whether entertainment is really "work" in disguise. Compare its forms and preferences of its audiences to the various ways people engage in a line of work that is familiar to you. (We briefly considered software product development, with some roles oriented toward intense episodes of "birthing" a new product, and other roles providing continuous support with less drama.)
• Can you invent an "entertainment scale" that has a philosophical foundation? How much sense can be made of a one-dimensional sort of entertainment experiences, or even of how entertained one is at a particular moment?
• It's said that existentialists like boredom, that we ought not be distracted from "reality." If so, does what causes boredom repel us somehow? Or does something draw us away from what we should be paying attention to? What IS it that diversions divert us from?
• Why are teenagers so prone to boredom? Could their imaginations be so feeble they cannot escape it?
• Have we leapt to a premature conclusion that diversion is bad? If boredom is adaptive, maybe we shouldn't fight it.
• What would it be like to live in a monastery or convent? Imagine what would really likely happen if you were deprived permanently of all mundane distractions. Is it possible you could never learn to meditate?
• Being caught up in a drama, or working in a "flow" state, seem to have a meditative aspect, but are not confused with meditation. What exactly is the difference between the three?
• Consider more closely the nature of boredom. Is there really "nothing happening"? Maybe everything is happening, or could happen. What would be the effect of such chaos on the psyche? Find examples in your own experience of occasions in which you could not make sense of the world around you.
• Expound upon the effects personal electronics have had on keeping us entertained, or contributing to our boredom. Does technology, as Heidegger claimed, keep us from relating to ourselves?
• As Elaine Scarry wrote about pain, boredom has no "object." Scarry thought "work" was the process by which we transformed pain into purposeful ("intentional") objects that would be ready to use again and shareable with others. Apply a similar reasoning to boredom: for example, is entertainment "purposeful boredom"?
• Has Progress killed boredom, or made it a luxury experience?
• How might an understanding of entertainment help people cope with boredom in "mindless" factory jobs? Consider people who choose occupations that are "mindless," or seem boring to others. (We discussed the Japanese tea ceremony's ritual repetition.) How is this different from factory work?
• Articulate a precise contrast between diversion and "meaningful" activity. Don't watching a movie and meditation, for example, both involve fixing one's attention, entering an altered reality? Is the difference a matter of effort, and, if so, would reading a book be more meaningful than watching a movie–because it is "more work"? Or is the difference due to the object of attention, and, if so, does that explain why watching Sophie's Choice is more meaningful than watching Indiana Jones?
• Do you find that there is a threshold of invested effort beyond which you will finish watching a movie or reading book, even if it is no longer enjoyable? What does your pattern say, either about you, or the nature of entertainment?
• The naturalistic approach to literature and films would seem to accentuate the co-creative aspect of entertainment, as it doesn't draw conclusions for the reader. We discussed Gosford Park, a whodunit with camera work designed to scatter the audience's attention in the manner of theater, or you may be familiar with a better example. How far in this direction can entertainment go before it just doesn't work? As a comparison, how naturalistic is reality TV?
• "That's entertainment!" carries a positive connotation. Perhaps it is sufficient to understand entertainment as that which improves our mood? If so, explain how negative emotions are possible in entertainment, at least for some people.
• Walt Disney said that he preferred to entertain and perhaps educate, versus to educate and hopefully entertain. What are the tradeoffs?
• Is there such a thing as "the music business"? Or is the medium unimportant to "the entertainment business"?
• One might say that entertainment has become so important to our economy that it has become this country's main product. How does the "experience economy" essentially differ from one in which we exchange actual goods?
• Is gossip "the original entertainment"? How might it have evolved into the manifold forms we have today?
• Connect the ideas we explored around Entertainment with any of the other themes we've covered in Philosophy Cafe.
Camus has the stranger pushing a stone up the mountain, only to roll down again and again, and proclaims this is happiness. An old Japanese art film has a woman spending most of her day procuring water, with the message that "she was content". To which I say: "Give me a break!". Making a virtue out of necessary drudgery is a magic trick - and not a very entertaining one at that.