Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 22, No. 2, 2023
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Jason McDonald
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Nayan Chanda
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
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Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

let's get ready to rumble



My whole thing is to entertain, make people laugh
and to forget about the real world for awhile.
Dan Aykroyd

Without exception, and no matter where in the world, human beings love their entertainment. So much so that an imprudent percentage of the world's disposable income is set aside, and much of it on credit for it. Casinos, sporting events, the arts and computer games generate billions of dollars in revenues because we crave being entertained. Never before in the history of the planet has so much entertainment been available, much of it accessible with a simple mouse click or verbal command.

"No man is a hypocrite in his pleasures," observes Samuel Johnson. He also acerbically notes that "Almost every man wastes part of his life attempting to display qualities which he does not possess." In our public life, we profess to admire the great achievements in the arts -- classical music, ballet, Renaissance art and architecture, theatre, literature -- but if you want to know what we really love follow the money trail, or, as it has been said, you don't know a person until you know what he wants. La Scala, one of the world's most famous opera houses, has a seating capacity of 3,000; Barcelona's Camp Nou soccer stadium holds 99,000.

We note with relish, marinated in revenge, that when it comes to shaping our entertainment preferences, even the most sophisticated marketing strategy will fall on deaf ears. To wit: no quantity or quality of persuasion will convince me to abandon the 'beautiful game' (soccer) for hockey, football or baseball: in the latter, in a typical three and half hour contest, the ball is in play (strikes and balls, grounders and fly balls) for no more than 2-minutes and 40-seconds.

Theodore Dalrymple, in the New English Review, writes: "sport is thus more important than any other field of human activity, at least in the West, where such minor matters as the membership of university faculties, entry to professions such as law and medicine, and directorships of public companies are now to be allocated by demographic weight. The conclusion is clear: Sport is the most important, or (what amounts to the same thing) considered the most important, pursuit of human existence."

Despite its continuously mutating form and content, is it possible to identify a common thread or common denominator that accounts for our seemingly insatiable fascination and appetite for entertainment, bearing in mind that whatever our preference (hockey game, Drake concert, Minefield), the highlight of our day will be the hours allocated to it. What does entertainment supply that our quotidian cannot?

The short answer is distraction, diversion: from our worries, boredom, and the non-stop mental activity over which we have very little control. Taking liberties with Cormac McCarthy: There are indeed strange affinities between entertainment and meditation.

Entertainment, universally prized for its pharmaceutical properties, is the means by which we access alternative worlds and their very particularized, and cherished, time and space grids. It is a world that is explicitly founded on the deliberate obliteration of past and future. The more intense the diversion (Pinball, heavyweight championship boxing) the more effective the obliteration.

As a universal balm the mind can't refuse, all entertainment is an homage to “now” time. It is the non-denominational temple where the world goes to worship. Unlike many of the major religions, there is no crisis of dwindling membership. The average consumer in 2019 spent 4.5 hours/day on digital entertainment.

No surprise, the entertainment coffers of the world are awash in cash and clientele, and the very best of the entertainers (Woods, Beyonce, Seinfeld, Ronaldo) are near billionaires.

The promise of entertainment (and it always lives up to its billing) is that it magically focuses the mind on whatever it is that is unfolding in the pure present. The first effects of this are the temporary staying of self-consciousness and putting the animal brain in the driver’s seat. Entertainment appeals to raw instinct, to human nature, to the simple binaries of life: someone wins, someone loses; the slot machine spits out money or it doesn't. Entertainment temporarily washes out the multitudinous messy gray areas of life.

The sheer delight and excitement offered by entertainment throw into stark relief the mundane aspects of life that we all negotiate: the daily commute, raising small children, preparing the family meal, housecleaning, food shopping, car maintenance, washing and ironing. And while the seriously moneyed are exempt from all that constitutes the daily grind, they crave the escape of entertainment no less than anybody when they rudely discover that meaning and purpose in life cannot be purchased.

There was a time when early man, for whom getting from one day to the next was the only game that mattered, didn't require entertainment. But over time, coeval with the discovery of agriculture, he learned how to secure surpluses beyond his daily needs and, for the first time in history, finding himself with an excess of time, began to create primitive forms of entertainment as a firewall against boredom and prolonged inactivity. He began decorating his tools and utensils and living quarters with cave art. He discovered that certain surfaces, like shells, gourds, lent themselves to percussion sounds, and that the human body could be used as a canvas for art or channelled into dance. In an attempt to make sense of all the unknowns of his world, the cause of thunder and lightening, natural disasters, disease, man turned to story-telling in the form of myths. As the religious impulse developed, ritual and ceremony took on greater importance. These developments represent man's growing need of entertainment, whose appreciation was often facilitated by the consumption of alcohol which in turn facilitated the shrinking of time to the present.

As man's hunger for entertainment increased, the need was supplied by a growing number of full-time entertainment specialists: musicians, artists, actors and dancers who would bring their product to neighbouring villages and towns. Closer to the present, in order to accommodate mega-events for a rising middle class, architects were enlisted to design specialized venues like colosseums, opera houses and sports stadiums.

The difference between traditional and modern entertainment is the role of the user. There was a time when if we wanted to listen to music we had to produce it. That is no longer the case. As a consequence, there are fewer musicians per capita today than in the past, and significantly more passive users. Since most people, lacking either the will or skill, are unable to provide their own entertainment, they have to pay for it, which they do to the tune of 99 billion dollars annually, globally. We now live in a world wired to entertainment, which, in the current century, has become a defining feature of global culture.

As one of the most satisfying forms of entertainment, team sports allows us to express much of what is now regarded as politically incorrect: patriotism, intolerance and xenophobia. The thrill of team sports is not so much the game in and of itself, but the feeling of being let out o jail -- of extricating ourselves from the straight jacket of civilization, its suffocating protocols and rules of conduct. In the sports arena, we can yell at, boo, insult an opposing player or team with impunity. At a boxing event, we cheer the drawing of blood, the near death of the fighter; and in the bullrings of Spain and Mexico, the death of the bull.

For those rare persons who are content with their intellectual and leisure life, for whom vocation and avocation are one and the same, entertainment's pre-packeaged, ready-made forms may hold little interest. That we don't single out, much less admire these exceptional beings for their accomplishments and self-sufficiency speaks to our disposition to confuse entertainment with purpose in life, a development frowned on by philosophy but embraced by those for whom turning a profit is a life-long form of entertainment.

As we critically examine the mind-set of Homo sapiens at this juncture of his evolution (thankfully a work in progress), we must not only acknowledge his triumphs in the sciences and humanities, but the fact that on our watch the phenomenon of entertainment has become the dominant form of global culture, a development that should give us pause as we look to the future.

Our world-wide obsession with sports and gambling is the species confession that, when it comes to choosing between high and low entertainment, between the edifying (Bach) and the primordial (Ali versus Fraser), the latter -- proxy for human nature -- will aways win the day.


Very insightful piece - has made me reflect on the the entertainment society that we have built and become prisoners of.




also by Robert J. Lewis:


Descent into Language Barbarism
Who Owns the Moon?

Why Do We Daydream

Argument & Disagreement

Smashing the God Particle

The Decline of Reading

In Praise of Useless Activities

When Sex Became Dirty
Blood Meridian: (McCarthy): An Appreciation

Trump & Authencity

Language, Aim & Fire

One Hand Clapping: The Zen Koan Hoax

Human Nature: King of the Hill

The Trouble with Darwin
The Life & Death of Anthony Bourdain
Denying Identity and Natural Law
The Cares versus the Care-nots
Elon Musk: Brilliant but Wrong
As the Corporation Feasts, the Earth Festers
Flirting & Consequences
Breaking Bonds
Oscar Wilde and the Birth of Cool
The Big
Deconstructing Skin Colour
To Party - Parting Ways with Consciousness
Comedy - Constant Craving
Choosing Gender
Becoming Our Opposites
Broken Feather's Last Stand

Abstract Art or Artifice II
Old People
Beware the Cherry-Picker
Once Were Animal
Islam is Smarter Than the West
Islam Divided by Two
Pedophiling Innocence
Grappling with Revenge
Hit Me With That Music
The Sinking of the Friendship
Om: The Great Escape
Actor on a Hot Tin Roof
Being & Self-Consciousness
Giacometti: A Line in the Wilderness
The Jazz Solo
Chat Rooms & Infidels
Music Fatigue
Understanding Rape
Have Idea Will Travel
Bikini Jihad
The Reader Feedback Manifesto
Caste the First Stone
Let's Get Cultured
Being & Baggage
Robert Mapplethorpe
The Eclectic Switch

Philosophical Time
What is Beauty?
In Defense of Heidegger

Hijackers, Hookers and Paradise Now
Death Wish 7 Billion
My Gypsy Wife Tonight
On the Origins of Love & Hate
Divine Right and the Unrevolted Masses
Cycle Hype or Genotype
The Genocide Gene










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