Here we are now, entertain us!
– Nirvana, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
Just look at Bob and Judy, they’re happy as can be
inventing situations, putting them on TV
– Talking Heads, “Found A Job”
About six weeks ago, the world was introduced to its newest superstars. 33 Chilean miners, who would otherwise have passed their entire lives unknown to anyone other than their neighbors and family members (and really, is that so bad?), became trapped in a precious metals mine in the northern part of the country, and instantly became world news. With horror, we learned that the miners were stranded 3 miles below the surface of the earth, and would remain so for anywhere from three to six months. The story, that the world’s media purveyors rushed to report on, had it all: heroes – the miners themselves; villains – the heads of the mine company, Empressa Minera San Esteban, which has a shoddy safety record that has resulted in earlier tragedies; suspense, drama, and a setting right out of our scariest nightmares. The world’s attention has since moved on, of course, as is its way, although the story of the miners and their ongoing ordeal continues to make headlines in Chile and throughout Latin America. But when their story first made its way onto the airwaves as the-thing-you’re-supposed-to-be-fascinated-by-today, and millions of people fixed their attention on it, received updates from breathless reporters and anchormen and women, and contemplated the unimaginable hardship being endured by the new TV stars, I cannot help but muse, ironically, that the thought occurred to many of them, “six months without television? How will they survive?”
In the midst of the real life drama of the miners, the media had an even more compelling subject to consider – itself. Yes, the 62nd Annual Emmy Awards Ceremony was held with much fanfare, as television, for a brief, but yearly, sliver of time had nothing better to entertain us with than its own greatness. Again, audiences had their heroes and villains, along with suspense that reached a crescendo as millions quivered in their chairs awaiting the news that their favorite celebrities, such as Alec Baldwin of 30 Rock, and programs such as Mad Men, had prevailed against worthy, or unworthy, adversaries. With the unearned pride that only a fan can understand, they watched their beaming heroes head for the stage to grab that slender little gold plated angel holding the world, or an atom, or whatever that thing is she’s holding, and hoist her proudly into the air. The case of Mad Men, and 30 Rock, are particularly revealing. These are shows about mass media. When one chooses to spend a night of one’s life being entertained by rooting for an entertainment program about entertainment,then one is being meta-entertained. And no, I do not think this is a good thing.
As a continually evolving species, perhaps we should now be referred to as “Homo Entertainus“. Entertainment, for many, has quite literally become the most important thing in life. I doubt many readers would argue this. I bet we all know at least someone, an elderly aunt or parent perhaps, who turns on the tube first thing in the morning and basically leaves it on until it’s time to sleep, to finally give their brains a brief respite from its spell. Their daily schedule revolves around what time shows come on. The only things they seem to enjoy talking about are the programs they watched recently. In all of the long march of human evolution, people like them would have been unthinkable, even unimaginable, up until a very recent period in our history. This is not to put them down, necessarily. I fully understand that for those who are elderly and alone, perhaps unable to get around much, the television and its offerings are nothing less than a savior. I’m just pointing out that, for well over 99% of our existence as a species, such a lifestyle was neither possible nor desirable.
We are vastly, grotesquely over-entertained, no less so than we are overfed, as a nation. Our Ipods are filled with thousands of songs, our computer’s memory is filled with movies, TV shows and sports events, our conversations have become flabby with limitless commenting on films, sitcoms, albums, games, etc. It has become such a large part of our lives that we have ceased to ask, if indeed we ever did, what is the point of all this entertainment? How could it possibly have come to play such a large role in our lives? What does it give us that we can’t get in some other way? From our own lives, not fantasies?
It’s been a long road getting here. Perhaps the modern age of entertainment has as its beginning a date in late 1902, when Enrico Caruso’s angelic voice was recorded and made available for distribution. For the first time in history, the world’s greatest opera singer could be listened to and appraised without traveling to the theater to see him perform. In that instance, every local singer and musician, from opera diva to Mississippi bluesman, was put on notice. The competition just got stiffer, pal. From now on, you’re competing against the best the world has to offer.
Plato, surely one of the greatest thinkers who ever lived, put a lot of thought into the value of art and entertainment. One shudders to think what he would make of the world we live in today. It is like his Republic turned upside down, particularly in terms of entertainment. In his ideal society, plays, musical performances, poetry and pictorial arts were to be strictly censored. They were to show “only the good”. Those who created them were to be placed in special colonies outside the metropolis, as their very presence among regular folk was potentially corrupting. Why? First of all, because the very nature of art, as a representation of something, whether an event or a flower, was a further diminishment of the real, the ideal world beyond from which this one arises. A painting of a flower was thus a further removal from reality than the flower itself. Looking at the world around us now, is it not possible to see some wisdom in his apprehension? When people spend as much time talking about their favorite shows with their colleagues at work as they do actually working, when characters in dramas seem as, or more, real to us than the people we share our lives with, have we not perhaps crossed a line the great Athenian warned us about?
Furthermore, according to Plato, art is intrinsically manipulative. Because of the way it entraps our senses, it wields a power, that can be used for good or evil, to influence us. In his age, when poetry and plays were the chief form of entertainment, retellings and enactments of battles could easily have the effect of stirring up uncontrollable, violent passions, such as emotions of rage and desire for revenge. We take this for granted now; in fact much of our entertainment is built upon generating precisely those emotions, even in the entertainment we create for our children. This would have outraged Plato. He was particularly censorious in his attitude as to how children should be introduced and exposed to the arts. Though many would like to reduce Plato to a caricature, an old fuddy duddy who wanted to control people like some small town city council member in the Bible Belt, the reality was that Plato felt threatened by art in the same way that a great Native American hunter would have felt threatened by a grizzly bear. He himself was a poet, and a great lover of music and all arts. Writing as an artist, and a great one at that, he understood its power as well as anyone in The Age of Pericles, and he felt that the place of art and entertainment in one’s life should be limited, and its content controlled by discerning folk.
“The Circus is coming to town!” In our hyper-entertained world of today, it is hard for us to imagine the excitement that exclamation generated among young and old in the small towns of Europe and North America, for centuries. For only a few times in one’s life, one could be dazzled by the extraordinary skill and strength and bravery of the performers, awestruck at the sight of exotic animals, particularly elephants and giraffes (the “stars” of the animal world during the heyday of the circus industry), and swept up in the spectacle and grandness of the atmosphere. Mothers could be shocked at the costumes the lithe lady acrobats donned, while fathers and sons hid their enthusiasm under pamphlets or boxes of popcorn. When one’s life was for the most part a monotonous repetition of the same necessary acts, day in, day out, imagine what an otherworldly diversion these shows must have provided the masses. And today? The circus has been relegated to the furthest fringes of the vast, multi trillion dollar worldwide entertainment industry. Once its sole titan, it now barely registers as a sliver on the Entertainment Market Share pie chart. And to survive at all, it has found it necessary to modernize. The most successful “new circus” in the world today, The Cirque de Soleil of Quebec, has incorporated a story line into its shows, and done away with animals. Where is the shock and awe of seeing an elephant or a giraffe these days, even for children, who can look at them any time they want on their giant TV screens, and can see even more fantastical creatures in movies like Star Wars, Avatar, and the Harry Potter series? And they talk! Though adult viewers were appalled by the Jar Jar Binks character in the 4th Star Wars movie, he (or it) had the kids at hello.
So, what about the 360-odd days of a year that those country bumpkins had to endure when the circus wasn’t in town? Were they deprived? Were they like the Chilean miners, trapped in a world of darkness, without stimulation, without color and spectacle? Of course not. They just had to make their own fun. If they wanted to reenact the circus scenes that had so enchanted them, but were without all the “merchandising” of toys, games, dolls, pajamas, costumes, etc. that modern day entertainment events leave in their wake, they had to make their own toys, out of corncobs, buttons, animal hairs, peach pits, whatever their searching hands could come upon, and their fertile minds could synthesize. The adults were okay as well. When work was done and they felt like treating themselves to entertainment, they had music to listen to – their own, in many cases played on instruments fashioned by their own hands. Sure, the singers didn’t sing quite as well as Caruso, and the fiddler was no Paganini, but what did that matter? Likely as not, they had never even heard of Paganini, such was the benighted nature of their plight. But in such a case, ignorance is bliss, because without the multi-billion dollar recording industry pointing out to us just how far short of greatness we mere mortals fall, without it serving up Maria Callas and the Beatles to our hungry ears, what difference does it make if the music is awkward and unprofessional? Making friends and neighbors happy is what it’s about, right? Or shouldn’t it be? The same with sports. Without the entertainment industry turning folks like Joe Montana, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods into demigods, would folks still have the same incentive to achieve their own, personal best? If anything, even more so, I imagine. Insidiously woven into the world of hyper-entertainment we inhabit today is the message that we, the vast majority of us, are entertainees. Our job is to sit back, absorb, adulate and even worship the output of the well-paid pros who we give large swaths of our lives to.
I readily concede that in a world as fraught with problems as this one is, railing against the entertainment industry, not for its content but for its pervasiveness, must seem to some like a waste of effort. Why go after our diversion, our culture, our escape? Well, in answer all I can say is that I don’t feel comfortable about an industry of diversion and escape becoming such a large part of peoples’ lives. It robs us of reality, I feel. It violates my personal belief in the adage, “all things in moderation”. It dements our perception to the point that all phenomena is on its way to becoming fused, such that politics is entertainment and war is entertainment and sports is war and the circus has reinvented and reasserted itself resulting in our world now being run by clowns who do and say the most outrageous things to get our attention, and daredevils who take tremendous risks with our money. Many people will tell you with pride that they have unplugged their TVs, that they “hardly ever watch television”. But if they are still listening to music for hours each day and catching a movie a week, is that really all that different? As I see it, when one is bored, one has three options. One can just accept being bored. This is not so bad. Being bored can be a good thing. It is not an evil to be clobbered by a gigantic octopus of an industry that has a diversion to offer for each moment of our lives. The second is to be an entertainee. Watch something. Listen to something. Read something. I would say that both of these options have their place, and are roughly equal in my estimation in terms of value. I would hope that would be reflected in the amount of time one spends with either choice. The third choice is to me far more interesting and important and valuable. Create something. By yourself or with somebody else. Write a poem to a lover or sing a song to nature. Deposit something into the Bank of Human Creativity; don’t just consume that which others have produced. It doesn’t have to be great, what you create; in fact, a disservice has been done to you if you have that expectation. A silly little ditty that you take the time to write and sing can be more valuable to your soul by far than listening to Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony for the umpteenth time. I don’t think Beethoven would mind, either. He wasn’t making music because he wanted to be worshipped long after his death. He made music because it was in him. Just like something is in you, longing to be expressed.
Thank-you wts for a most excellent post. I thoroughly enjoyed it and learned much from all!
Why, dear Maggie, the pleasure has been mine! I have also enjoyed the wide range of views expressed here.
I wasn’t “threatening” to move the discussion! I was just pointing out that I, and I think Q as well, prefer it to be open and welcoming to all.
In this essay and in my points of commentary, I am not distinguishing between good/bad/mind nourishing/mind deadening entertainment. As long as it is passive, I’m against it all.
KIDDING! I’m not against it as such, I am against its pervasiveness. There is too much of it. For example, ONLY reading books about gardening would allow no time for gardening, clearly. So everyone has to find a balance between how much time to spend being entertained, and how much time to do something constructive on ones OWN with what we’ve learned. In my view, our current society has gone WAAAAY beyond that balance point. We are entertained out of our mindfulness and so in that respect, I’m not making distinctions. Personally, of course, all things being equal, I’d rather that someone spend ten hours each day listening to Beethoven than watching slasher movies, but only in terms of degree would I prefer that.
I think bito brings up a valid point. But I think wts’ essay has more to do with entertainment that has no value other than to transiently divert us. It is fast food to your delectable simmering stew.
Hi Q, moving this discussion to the top of the thread because it feels so much roomier. I think it’s pretty clear from what Plato wrote that he would be against ANY such performance to deliver a message. He would point to Albert Speer and Leni Riefenstahl, and how they were instrumental in bringing Hitler to power, and admonish us, “sorry, folks, you don’t get to choose here. Either you admit performance to enhance ANY message, no matter how odious, or you admit none”. His concern was with how a society best functions, so to him individual concerns were subservient to that.
Of course, he didn’t have the awareness of Jung’s shadow and Freud’s id, so he may not have seen how repressing art to the extent he wanted to would result in it exploding from the subconscious. So, as brilliant as he was, he clearly didn’t have all the answers either. Nobody does, do they?
That being the case, I guess it is purely subjective. If we look at some of today’s celebrities who are obviously “persona”, we have a pretty mixed bag. Glenn Beck, Marilyn Manson, Lady Gaga, Stephen Colbert, Quentin Tarantino (who seems to have developed his personality entirely from movies), Ann Coulter, Bono, etc. All sorts of messages are being put out by these people, and ALL of them are managing to reach as wide an audience as possible BECAUSE they are performing so much of the time. My personal feeling is that it’s not very healthy for society to have gone this far in terms of how it wants its core ideas to be presented to itself. I like your idea about it being up to the audience to determine whether or not they’d been had. I imagine many members of Congress felt that way. But my concern is that, as the lines become more and more blurred, how well will the audience even be able to discern that anymore? That’s where I think we’re headed, and that concerns me.
What a fabulous response wts! You bring up via Jung and Freud exactly what Plato did not have the luxury of knowing and why people such as Gaga, Beck, Manson,Tarantino, Bono, Coulter etc… have import in our culture.
When do we cease to be merely mortal and connect with the sublime, with the marvelous? When we are artists! Omnipotence is a hankering everyone has, ever since death was invented. So how can we resist the temptation when there are so many venues in which we can experience that power?
What would Plato have to say about Lady Gaga in a meat dress? 😆 Would he be upset that she was using her persona to promote gay rights more than Leni Riefenstahl used her camera to promote Nazism? I suppose the final verdict comes with the audience. But regardless of the message, the question is whether promoting a message is better for the society or merely filling a need for the individual. I guess it could be both. Colbert felt he was doing “good” by society while at the same time filling a need to be an artist, for himself. It would be difficult to partialize this. As Marx said “I am nothing and should be everything”. It is that all or nothing property of man’s ego and it’s bid for omnipotence that may be hard to tether. A greedy ego?! Perhaps. Once again I think it will be up to the audience to discern what is appropriate and best for itself given society’s reservoir of artists. It can promote and emphasize some and decide to render others meaningless.
May we not also see these Personae and their creativities as manifestations of our collective unconsciousness from which to quarry important information for humanity’s use?
And a fabulous response from you as well, Q/Maggie!
I like the question you pose at the end. On the one hand, I want to say “yes”, we can see personae as “manifestations of our collective unconsciousness” and find important information there.
But, on the other hand, I want to say “no” because it returns to my central thesis in this essay, that we are over-entertained. That entertainment has now become more master than servant and more dinner than dessert. I, and this is purely a personal position, DON’T see society getting better as people become more and more hooked on performance and entertainment. I see quite the opposite. I see our current condition as a mutation. Only because we’ve constructed a world where people CAN spend hours in front of the tube each day is it even possible that we are still here. Fifty thousand years ago, a tribe of “entertainees” would have been the first to disappear. Forget about opposing thumbs, give me alertness as an evolutionary trait! Like the “Poltergeist” girl in my picture, we are lost now (or perhaps I should write, “Lost” now). We’re freaks, in essence. We shouldn’t, scientifically, even be able to do what we’re doing in our current age (spending so much time passively being entertained). But because we’ve eliminated the threat of rival species and developed agriculture, we manage. We have “extra people” using up their “extra time” watching and listening to stuff. Darwinian, it ain’t.
“Fifty thousand years ago, a tribe of
Pardon my intrusion into your discussion, but exactly when did the division of labor giving us “entertainers and the entertained?
Apologies, but, bito, please let me know if you are being purely facetious or not. If you are, I think it’s humorous what you’ve written, and if not, I would like to respond. It’s just not all that clear at this point, at least to me.
And, intrude all you like! All are welcome here. Q and I are capable of having this discussion via email otherwise.
No, WTS, I am not being facetious. I am trying to make clear in my own mind whether it is too much entertainment or the type of it that is objectionable. Is reading a nonfiction book more acceptable than reading a novel? Attending a lecture on gardening of roses more or less than tending to the roses?
Please, do not move your discussion to email, how will that enlighten me. I am enjoying, appreciating, the discussion. I was just trying to clarify it.
I think you bring up an interesting point bito. However, it is possible that the painters were woman. In fact by looking at the hand prints of many of the cave dwellers made by spit and blown pigment, I believe many of the artists were determined to be women. Women wouldn’t have hunted. It’s murder on the hands.
I’d say women can make pretty good entertainers 😉
Well, I think you are just more naturally inclined to see the glass half full than I, and thus more capable of turning lemons into lemonade.
Perhaps I can meet you there, partially, but I am afraid my lemonade will taste quite a bit more astringent than yours, in any case. But thanks for giving me such a unique, and ultimately positive, perspective on a matter that I personally see little that I find encouraging about.
Maybe. But my view may not be the sober one.
Both views though, will necessarily come into play. One HAS to have both the astringent and sweet. Otherwise one could end up with chocolate syrup on top of chocolate ice cream.
Isn’t that how dynamics are set up?
At any rate. Thank you for this discussion!
I will watch it.
But, the “performance” was scripted by Colbert. The punch lines were by Colbert. “Appropriateness” may be something of an issue, although I don’t know how much it is. Did he say anything substantively that he wouldn’t have said as the “real” Colbert? I doubt he was co-opted by a corporate message. I thought this post had to do with entertainment that is fantasy; something that had little to do with what actually is occurring. Colbert may have been playing a role but it is a role that is consonant with who he really is. Appropriateness for the Congress is simply decorum anyway. I’d say the decorum displayed in Congress is just as much of a put-on as what Colbert did. Colbert was just playing on a stage that doesn’t usually belong to him.
Maggie is running around in excitement. Being “inappropriate” 😉
Q, or Maggie, brings up the question
“Some real part of us always decides what to wear, what to say, where to go. The issue is, it is decided by the person (italics) . In fact, it is a creation of the person. If we can create music, painting, sculpture, why can
I love Colbert. I think he’s absolutely brilliant. But there’s a part of him that also scares me a little bit — maybe because I also envy it — and that’s his utter fearlessness. He will almost literally say anything; there don’t seem to be any brakes.
I think he needed to appear before that committee to say what needed to be said. But I also don’t think there was any other way he could have chosen to present himself than the way he did. There’s a part of him that finds it almost impossible to be serious. Like almost all great comedians, he’s somewhat crazy, I believe.
His father was killed in a plane crash when he was ten years old. When he’s asked how that impacted his life, he shrugs it off. “When you’re ten everything that happens to you feels ‘normal’ because you don’t know the difference. I just thought it was normal; this is what happens to people.”
I don’t think I buy that. I think there’s something that has been repressed, swept under the rug, denied — or whatever you want to call it. A tremendous fury that expresses itself in this scintillating way. It’s almost a cliche to say that many great humorists had horrible childhoods, but they did.
For Colbert, I wonder if the decision on whether to speak in fora such as this boils down to: go in character or don’t go at all. It might be too painful to go there as himself.
Okay. I’m stepping off the amateur analyst’s soapbox now! 🙂
Great comment, K! I will respond to it, but need to head off now. Hopefully, pouty and petulant Maggie will have added her two cents’ by the time I return. She’s a professional in this area, as you know! 🙂
HA! You mean “run off”, don’t you? 🙂
actually, yes, as in going off for a run. But in the figurative way you mean it…..don’t flatter yourself.
Could he have gotten away poking fun at the R’s if he had gone as the married man from North Carolina that worked one day as a migrant worker?
(Maggie loves kes)
…And vice versa!
If that’s the case, and it makes sense to me that it would be, then it goes back to something I wrote to Q earlier. I agree with you that he may be “somewhat crazy”. I still think he’s brilliant and funny, but a need to turn something like that into a performance in order to be able to do it at all is not what I would call “healthy”. I’m not saying that’s bad, just that it is perhaps something he could heal. Because, all things being equal, it seems to me that it is a more desirable thing to be able to appear before Congress as oneself than to only be able to do so by pretending, and turning it into a comedy shtick. It would be nice to have the option of doing either, in other words.
The difference between the examples you give are that they are illustrations and therefore apples to the verbal oranges of discourse in Congress.
Cartoons may be OK so long as the Congressmen drew cartoons in response.
Please define “original person”.
I will be waiting whatsie.
(Maggie sits on her tuffet, arms crossed with a faint smile on her face)
Maggie, you raise different points (you seem very keen on arguing with me…) so I will take them one by one.
First of all, the idea that Plato wanted to “stifle the competition”; actually, no. He writes in the Republic (I’d have to do some looking to find the exact passage) that artists should be perfectly free to pontificate all they want on weighty manners – so long as they do it as themselves, not characters. Why? Because he felt that the nature of poetry and performance was such that people give “added” weight to it, and take it more seriously because of how it is presented. So in this case I imagine that he could have done a far better job than I in arguing against Colbert’s decision to testify in characer.
Second, hardly apples and oranges. More like Macintonshes and Fujis. Toles doing a cartoon as an answer would be basically the same as Colbert doing a routine, which is what he did ( I hope you’ve had a chance to watch it by now ). In other words, he was doing his professional shtick – he was “gigging”.
Imagine it this way. You have friends that you really want me to meet. You tell them all about me, say that they will really enjoy meeting me. So I show up, and I decide not to be me, but to behave like some character I’ve created. At first, you laugh about it. So do the people you want me to meet. Then, you start to realize that I’m not going to change. I’m going to pretend to be this new person the WHOLE time I’m with the people you want me to meet. By the end, nobody is laughing anymore, and your friends feel like they’ve wasted their time. You are furious and humiliated. You will spend all the next day apologizing to them. In such a case, I was rude, as I am sure you will agree. Colbert was rude to Congress. He didn’t speak as the person they wanted to hear from. He turned it into a routine.
Third, who is the “original person” I’m referring to? Well, in your case, that would be the person who decides that you want to challenge me on the ideas I’m laying out here. The person who then formulates your own arguments and puts them into words. The person who then looks over the words and edits them if you feel that’s necessary. The person who can go all the way back to your childhood and think about how you have changed and what sort of decisions you have made, and how those decisions have changed you etc. You keep changing, but you keep on identifying as an “I”. That’s what I’m referring to. That was not who Stephen Colbert was when appearing before Congress. He blurred the line between reality and fantasy, and that’s not something I can agree with in this day and age when that’s happening way too much already.
Finally, as to your point that “appropriateness” before Congress is no more real/fake than appearing in character, as Colbert did: if that’s your feeling on the matter, then I won’t argue with you. I see that POV and respect it. I don’t agree with it, but I see the logic of it.
I watched the clips. I agree that Colbert’s performance before Congress was at times cringe-worthy and inappropriate. Many jokes lacked sophistication, were vulgar and didn’t merit a true laugh. He transposed his persona and format nearly verbatim into this venue. It usually didn’t work but he did seem to make a few good points at the end. I also wonder if he didn’t do more harm than good for the issue. So, in this particular instance , I would agree with you. I found Colbert did not seem to be able to modify himself and his craft to the setting as well as he could have. His TV shtick was too apparent. He should have been more “himself” as a citizen concerned about immigration issues.
I don’t agree with your analogy about meeting my friends, however. Since my friends didn’t know you they would therefore only have my word as to how you are. With Colbert, everybody knows how he is and it would be actually more cognitively dissonant for him, I think, to show up being utterly straight. Maybe that’s how you meant the analogy to go. I don’t know.
“Original person” is something I picked out, not to argue (as I am not “keen” on arguing), but simply to have you define what you mean. Quite often very broad terms are brought up in discourse and they can mean very different things to different people. Consequently, as the discourse continues it can go off track and bona fide arguments can ensue precisely because terms have not been defined and communicated as thoroughly as they could have been. To me, what may seem like arguing here is only my trying to clarify terms and positions. For instance, I have a better understand what you meant by Plato now and I agree with the essence of it. I got the better understanding through questioning and “challenging”. I figure the way blogs are set up, it is a more interesting way to get to the bottom of things.
Q, I think I’m sorting out the gist of where we are not seeing things the same way; sorry if I’ve appeared dense.
What you are saying is that, as I conclude my essay with the exhortation to be creative, isn’t it a bit of a “foul” of my own to then criticize Colbert for essentially doing exactly that, creatively giving testimony for Congress? If that’s it, that’s an interesting position I would like to explore.
My personal feeling is that the creativity he used was not appropriate in this case. But at other times, “random acts of creativity” pulled as surprises on people, like street theater, can be very effective. I think there are certain lines better not crossed, but admit I’m hard pressed to say exactly what they are. I’d be happy to hear more from your perspective about this.
You are hardly dense! But very generous in trying to decipher what I was attempting to say.
It is a fine line. Determining where performance begins and where it ends is probably impossible. I suppose the final arbiters would be the observers and whether they felt they were being “had” or whether the performance lacked genuineness. I doubt that Plato could have anticipated venues like youtube giving virtually anybody the opportunity to act in their own theater for show.
In the case of Colbert, my sense is that he was treading a sort of meniscus between two phases of his personality or his “self”. I think it would be safe to say that Colbert might have successfully merged his real self and his “created self” so completely that he doesn’t even know where one begins and the other one ends. If Colbert felt like this issue needed attention he may have thought the only way for it to receive its due was for him to maintain “character”. But I am with you on this one. I think his performance before Congress was mediocre. I suppose Plato’s artists didn’t have as many opportunities to be seen as artists as today. Today, being in the public eye can be constant and therefore one’s operative performing self is likewise constant. I wonder what Plato would have to say about that? What do you think?
I’m not quite sure what Selling Gingerbread means. Hansel and Gretel come to mind. Is it that the witch lures them with yum yums?
I think Hansel and Gretel should have done to the witch what Adam and Eve should have done with the snake: Kill it, grill it and serve it with a delectable apple chutney.
Yes, “Selling Gingerbread” refers to the gingerbread house in Hansel and Gretel. All fluff and pizzazz. Delectable, inviting, addictive, and ultimately unwholesome, like the artificial edifice that is the entertainment industry. It sells (hooks us) us that which we could be providing ourselves, and would be better nourished if we did so.
yep. And this brings up your earlier point as well, which I very much agree with, that entertainment has replaced religion as the focal point of peoples’ lives, and need for stories.
They’ve merged. Entertainment, religion, and politics have merged.
Jesus sings, dances, and runs for office.
Here’s the latest on the “meta-entertainment” front: Stephen Colbert gives testimony before members of Congress on immigration reform- in character! I am, frankly, not sure what to make of this. On the one hand, I continue to be awed by the courage and outlandish quirkiness of Colbert, but on the other hand, based upon the ideas I’ve put forth in this essay, I’m appalled. I mean, how much further do we have to go before anybody can be ANYBODY in any situation, just to get one’s point across in the most impactful way? What’s next? A Reagan impersonator running for president? Seriously, some people are so nostalgic for St. Ronnie that we may not be that far away from something like that happening.
So, Mr. Colbert, even as I laughed and felt admiration, I call foul.
The character is the message. Had he been anybody else other than the Colbert on the screen, what sort of impact do you suppose he would have? Congress and government are Grand Guignol as far as I’m concerned and in order to render a punch, Colbert had better be wearing his professional boxing shorts.
Who is the real Colbert anyway? Perhaps what you saw is what he is.
Perhaps we should stop beating around the Bush and accept the fact that media-entertainment meta-entertainment is here to stay. Superheroes are the ones who got things done, not the pencil-pushers. Jesus Christ Superstar.
Now… slap me five stars; give me a trailer, PA, and my sparkling!
Nope, nope, entirely disagree. But I like your new avatar. You’re looking pretty cute there, Infanta Margarita!
If Congress and government are “Grand Guignol”, I would say that argues my point quite well. Why is it that way? Superheroes only get things done because that’s the way we’re trained to see the world, BY entertainment. This is actually exactly what Plato was concerned about, that characters, and the words they used, would become real and weighty even though no “real” person ever said them. There is most definitely a real Stephen Colbert, Q, and that was not who we saw. Your question surprises me.
Never disagree with a cute Infanta! BTW, you, as my creator, may call me Maggie. NOT MARGE!
I didn’t see Colbert before Congress and I don’t know what he’s like off stage, but his persona may be very well a part of who he really is. As Shakespeare said “All the world’s a stage”.
When people routinely say weighty things, eventually they don’t stay “real” they become iconic. Hey, Plato may have wanted to stifle the competition because look who’s talking. Mr weighty Plato. When did he stay “real”? He must have become a player in the play at some point. Does that mean after he became one, we shouldn’t take him seriously? Your point is well taken, but today characters are not in plays of Plato’s day. They are not characters as much as personas and personas are creations (yes creations!) of the person, not characters scripted by a playwright.
Well, Maggie, I am quite convinced we see this point very differently. You seem to be suggesting that personae are as real as the people who invent them. The Glenn Becks and Marilyn Mansons and Stephen Colberts behind the curtain are the same, or perhaps equal, as their creations. If that were true in any of those cases, I feel sorry for that person, because they would have then become lost in the character. There is “somebody” who we think as, the philosopher (we are all philosophers in this sense) that decides what to say, what words to use, what clothes to wear, what parties to go to, etc. If that “original person” gets lost in the playing of a role, then the personality has become demented. And THAT person, that “original person” was not the Stephen Colbert that gave testimony.
How would they become “lost” in the character? How do you know? (Maggie stomping around). Isn’t that for Steven Colbert to decide?
Some real part of us always decides what to wear, what to say, where to go. The issue is, it is decided by the person (italics) . In fact, it is a creation of the person. If we can create music, painting, sculpture, why can’t we create selves that may be just as real. Did Colbert say anything that he wouldn’t have said as the “real” Colbert? Or was it simply his style you take issue with (italics)?
(Maggie stops stomping and looks at her creator)
You have to watch it before we can really discuss this, or at least before you can stomp, because he is OBVIOUSLY in character. It’s like he’s doing one of his routines on Comedy Central, with punchlines and the whole bit. NOT appropriate for a Congressional testimony and certainly something he worked over and scripted.
It’s on Huffpo, please take a look and then you can stomp.
italics < i >xxx< / i >
bito: 😆 😆
I see that two very clever ladies have taken over this thread and turned it into a metaphorical cherry tree under which to compose tanka! Well, I say, fantastic!
More about this idea that Adlib, Kesmarn and Questinia are discussing about manufactured entertainment, its effect on our lives. Just throwing out thoughts here, but…
“No music, no life”. Oh how I dislike that slogan of Tower Records! First of all, I wonder how it must make deaf people feel, as if they are less alive than the rest of us? I think it’s cruel in that way. Also, who are they kidding? They just want people to buy music. I’d rather change that to, “No GENUINE music, no life”. Meaning the music of a person’s soul, because each of us is, in a way, a song. And that is the music we need to be tuning into. Too much time plugged into Ipods (I agree with Kesmarn, what’s wrong with NOT knowing what’s coming on next?) just leads us away from the sounds inside us, where life IS! The music industry wants us to think that we are not “alive” without our entertainment, fed to us by profit minded companies. Rather, I wonder if the opposite is more true….
Gomen nasai! 😳
Thank you, WTS, for your blessings upon my preference for musical surprises on the radio. Just today I discovered tenor Fritz Wunderlich, whom I’d never heard of before. He would have been 80 years old this week had he lived. As it was — he died at age 36 of a freak accident a month before he was supposed to debut in NYC at the Met. Lovely voice, he had. Thank you NPR for allowing me to get to know him posthumously! And a round of applause for surprises.
For surprises, indeed! Cheers!
Danke, danke, Questinia! Doesn’t/didn’t he have a lovely voice? Flexible, expressive, great range. Maybe a little more emotional than is trendy today, but delightful nonetheless.
Very lovely! Thanks to both K and Q!
k’es, Did you hear that on the 50 greatest voices series that they are doing? that is a wonderful series, I have been surprised, amazed and have just plain enjoyed it.
As silly as this sounds, b’ito, I’m not entirely sure because the program was at maybe its midpoint when I tuned in and I arrived at my destination before it ended. I had the sense, though, that it was the local guy here who just happened to have taken a liking to Wunderlich and wanted to share it with his audience. The only reason I say that is that the next piece was an instrumental one — no vocal at all — so he apparently moved on after the Wunderlich song I heard. I got hooked because I was trying to figure out the German as he was singing when I turned the radio on. I recognized the words for apple, window, silver, night and moon…so I knew it must have been a poem, but the announcer had to translate it for me (I couldn’t figure it out). “I place a wreath of apple blossoms on the window sill, and my music is like the silver moon in the night…” was the gist of it. One lover waiting for the arrival of the other…
Top that, Justin Timberlake!
My goodness – they don’t have Jussi Bjoerling on the list!! Hear this and weep (as I do every time I listen to this man)
Now you’ve gone and made me cry before work, Mw!! That was gorgeous. He made it sound easy, and we know it’s not. Well that’s two new tenors I’ve fallen in love with in the last 24 hours.
Here’s a newcomer to the scene, whom I find really impressive. What do you think?
WTS, to pick up where I left off with my initial post, this is a very incisive and substantial piece.
I also see a parallel track between the prevalence of entertainment and the rise of the corporation. In the old days, an actor or baseball player or musician could be famous and wealthy if they were at the top of their field but most just made a living doing what they wanted to do.
Similarly, before television, the public went to movie theaters on the weekends to see movies or might see a play or a musical performance. Entertainment was a leisure activity that one did most often on the weekend. Reading and the radio were about all one might do in the evening…when not spending time with one’s family, before, during and after family dinner at the dining room table. Back then, families would catch up with each other on the day’s events, how work went, how school went, what to do on the weekend, plans, hopes and ideas. Now, many families eat dinner not staring into each other’s eyes but into the cold blueish glow of their tv.
As big money and corporations realized how much discretionary income could be voluntarily handed over for more and more entertainment, there grew a mainstream meme impressed on society that the everyday pursuit of entertaining oneself as American as apple pie, a great, guilt-free indulgence. With society’s giving of permission to people to inundate themselves with entertainment every day of their lives, everywhere they are, people gladly embraced entertainment as a daily routine and the corporate interests became mega-corps.
The amount of time, energy, money and focus on market research in the entertainment industry is mind blowing. Meanwhile, the originality and creativity of entertainment has necessarily declined in frequency.
It’s very simple, when it comes to marketing, you give the people what they want and as a whole, the masses want to re-experience what they’ve enjoyed previously. So studios make films that are just like other films that were successful, the music business promotes songs and singers that are just like others that were successful, etc. And now, thanks to technology, the appearance is all that matters, terrible movies with great special effects make huge profits, singers with poor voices that are electronically “fixed” are big stars.
That’s why McDonalds makes the most popular hamburgers in the world. They could hardly be called the tastiest or juiciest but each Big Mac tastes the same as the last one that was eaten.
In the same way, corporations have used their awesome marketing resources to nail down formulas for entertainment that they can verify through testing, are most likely to appeal to the target audience because it is just like what they’ve enjoyed before.
This is a symbiotic relationship…or maybe equivalent to a drug dealer and an addict. Knowing what will trigger the endorphin release of others, providing the material that is designed to stimulate that strongly and profiting from the addiction to it that grows. There is no regard by the dealer of how negatively this may impact the addict, it’s all about selling more and more.
In a big picture way, too much entertainment is destructive. Look at how our society has been harmed by news channels that now are reliant on entertaining the most people possible instead of simply reporting the news accurately. That wackjob pastor Terry Jones who had only 40 members of his church, dominated the media and was so elevated by the MSM that he could cause an international incident…all because the MSM found the story the most “entertaining”, the sexiest to attract viewers and blew it up obscenely big. And all the right wing entertainment of Beck and Rush, how corrosive has that been and continue to be to our society?
Meanwhile, how much time for reflection does one have when one has no quiet time? When one begins the day watching the Today show, drives to work listening to morning radio, plugs into their iPod music or computer games/entertainment during the day then comes home go watch tv before bed and starting the whole cycle over again the next morning?
Where is the time to simply think? To meditate on one’s life, one’s society and the world around them? Is it that hard to understand then how so many people can be so poorly informed and vote against their best interests in elections? Or have trouble building healthy relationships? Or feel helpless to change things?
Entertainment has narrowed down more and more, from being more communal to being more isolated, the iPod is a great symbol for this, seeing people silently immersed in their own entertainment and isolated from contact with others.
Or the Xbox games that are so immersive and narcotic that people can disappear into them for days, weeks or months.
I’m not saying that entertainment is “bad”, it’s not. However, it is dessert, not dinner. Many people are virtually having cake and ice cream for breakfast, lunch and dinner and that’s just not healthy. Instead of occupying themselves with substance, they are gorging themselves on empty calories.
Is it a wonder that people feel they have less control in their country? A majority of people may be upset about what’s going on in this nation but they are less likely than ever to get out from in front of the tv to protest. Which allows a wacko, racist minority that is willing to get up off their couches, exaggerated influence and power.
It does seem that the tables have turned. Entertainment used to serve the public, now it seems more and more that the public is dependent on their supply of entertainment. The reversal of this dynamic empowers the corporations who control the companies that provide entertainment and weakens those who are reliant upon it.
They are not all evil nor is entertainment created primarily to disenfranchise people but as an end result, in today’s America, those who spend a lot of money and time vesting themselves in their sports teams, movies, music, cable/satellite tv and shows, video games, etc, are doing so instead of vesting their time in things that really matter. And that gives a clearer field to those powerful interests that are happy to fill that vacuum.
Bravo, fearless leader! I am in complete and total agreement. I especially love your line about entertainment, “it’s dessert, not dinner”. That is my point exactly. Even in cultures such as Bali and ancient Japan, where culture and art were preeminent, their role was much different, as they were so PARTICIPATORY. People sitting under cherry trees and composing haiku and tanka is WAY better than sitting in front of a TV and just absorbing what giant corporations want you to be enthralled by.
I did an earlier piece, “Why the Revolution Will Not be Televised” that you also wrote insightfully about. Clearly, you and I have very similar ideas and concerns here. I’m going to read through your comments a bit more later and have more to say. But it is good to attune ones mind to a kindred spirit!
We should have “Tanka Nite” at POV, we can all write tankas beneath a pic of a cherry tree at the top of the page.
Either that or we could play charades! Or Twister!
Last year’s and at the moment just wishful thinking.
As chilly Autumn winds blow,
The yellowing leaf floats to the ground
Becoming one with my mortality.
Perfect!! And in the same vein:
Golden apples fall
From the orchard floor I see
A woman of clouds
Perching over the branching twists
Peeking through my mind’s eye’s pie.
I love it OG!
I’m eating my natto, be back soon.
Laughter alights in my ears
Sun brings fragrances that permeate our memories
Lost, I reach out my hand
I love it!
Kalima will eat
When natto pleads in her ear
Twirling strings of love
By the Tama riverbanks
Soy sirens of Shibuya.
“Soy sirens of Shibuya.” 😆 😆 😆 *snort*
Minus a single reply button
I plod on and triumph in ceaseless wonder
Salute the girl by the pond
What the GOP has done with their cavalcade of crazy is a direct extension of corporate entertainment. As the middle class became more similar to the leisure class it ended up substituting its very consciousness with pre-packaged gook. The leisure class can sail, travel, play tennis, and other things that don’t require a livingroom and Wii. So, they are more immune to the deleterious effects of mass media entertainment.
You put your finger up the pulse of what is really wigging me out about entertainment… it’s sameness. It is the lead-in to big brother. However I heard documentaries, the old-fashioned Maysle’s, Errol Morris and Fred Weisman kind are making a comeback.
The only good thing one can say about all this is that the sameness desert may allow difference to bloom ultimately and and since it is significantly easier to produce one’s own creations, grace to the technology we have been vilifying to an extent, people have more control.
Can we play checkers, instead? 🙂
A HUNDRED VERSES
FROM OLD JAPAN
TRANSLATION OF THE HYAKU-NIN-ISSHIU
WILLIAM N. PORTER
AT THE CLARENDON PRESS
HENRY FROWDE, M.A.
PUBLISHER TO THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD
LONDON, EDINBURGH, NEW YORK
TORONTO AND MELBOURNE
THE Hyaku-nin-isshiu, or ‘ Single Verses by a Hun-
dred People’, were collected together in A.D. 1235
by Sadaiye Fujiwara, who included as his own contribu-
tion verse No. 97. They are placed in approximately
chronological order, and range from about the year
670 to the year of compilation. The Japanese devote
themselves to poetry very much more than we do ;
and there is hardly a home in Japan, however humble,
where these verses, or at least some of them, are not
known. They are, and have been for many years,
used also in connexion with a game of cards, in which
the skill consists in fitting parts of the different verses
Japanese poetry differs very largely from anything
we are used to ; it has no rhyme or alliteration, and
little, if any, rhythm, as we understand it. The
verses in this Collection are all what are called Tanka,
which was for many years the only form of verse
known to the Japanese. A tanka verse has five lines
and thirty-one syllables, arranged thus : 5-7-5-7-7 ;
as this is an unusual metre in our ears, I have adopted
for the translation a five-lined verse of 8-6-8-6-6
metre, with the second, fourth, and fifth lines rhyming,
in the hope of retaining at least some resemblance to
the original form, while making the sound more
familiar to English readers.
I may perhaps insert here, as an example, the follow-
ing well-known tanka verse, which does not appear in
the Hyaku-nin-isshiu collection :
Nushinaki yado to
Nokiba no ume yo
Haru wo wasuruna.
Though masterless my home appear,
When I have gone away,
Oh plum tree growing by the eaves,
Forget not to display
Thy buds in spring, I pray.
A belated but sincere word of thanks, WTS, for another thought-provoking article and wonderful accompanying art. And AdLib’s response dovetails perfectly, too.
Artists and entertainers of earlier generations would probably be aghast at modern America’s insatiable appetite for entertainment. I recall reading comments by Buster Keaton, who was so justifiably admired for his painstakingly beautiful comedic filmmaking. Toward the end of his active career he attempted a weekly TV show, but found that, creative as he was, he could not keep up with the pace required to produce original, quality comedic productions on a weekly basis. Well, of course, no one could. His films, which took months to complete, were eaten up by theatre audiences in an hour or so. There was no way to produce those types of mini-masterpieces every single week for television, even though audiences craved them. The appetite, even then, was too big for the artist to satisfy.
We also seem to demand greater and greater control over our entertainment, along with a larger quantity of it. We want to Tivo our favorite TV shows to watch them on our schedule. We want to stream Netflix movies at our convenience, any time, any where. And I wonder if I’m the last human on the planet who actually enjoys listening to the classical music on the car radio while travelling — especially not knowing what piece of music will come up next! Surprise me! I don’t have to be in control and I don’t have to listen only to things I’ve already heard and pre-recorded for myself!
I have to wonder if the relentless search for entertainment hasn’t de-sensitized us to verbal violence, too, in the way that video virtual violence has been shown to do with physical violence. Commenters on Fox “news” and on AM radio seem to have to keep ratcheting up their level of anger and making more and more outrageous statements to get any sort of rise at all out of their increasingly jaded viewers/listeners. Even a couple of decades ago, hearing the President of the United States referred to as “an enemy within,” a “racist who hates white people,” or “the anti-Christ” would have been stunning to most average citizens. Now it’s daily fare. The drug dealer has to take into account the fact that his customer has developed a tolerance to the “product.”
Not too far from where I live there’s a retreat house. The last time I visited there for a few days (about 4 years ago) to settle my addled brain, the rooms were still very simple: twin bed, desk, chair, bathroom down the hall. Ceiling fan, no air conditioning. In the rooms: no TV, no phone, no radio. In the dining area: silence, no TV. Outdoors: acres and acres of pine, maple and oak trees, lots of flower beds, deer wandering the grounds. I’m afraid today this would be some people’s idea of hell. 🙂
The bottom line seems to be that the more engaged we are with life, the more engaged we become. I often think of the way that rural people in this area amused themselves in — say — 1850. After an extremely long day in the fields or the farm house, doing labor that required considerable amounts of physical exertion (plowing, harvesting, milking, churning butter, chopping wood, scrubbing clothes), how did they get their entertainment? They had square dances!! Wow.
A heartier stock of folk indeed!
Thanks for the kind words and great comments, Kes. The story about Buster Keaton is perfectly emblematic. It must have seemed perplexing even to the great pioneers like Keaton that people wanted THAT much entertainment. That there was no end to it. They grew up in a different era, when it was a treat, not a given. A treat it should have remained, I truly feel.
WTS, Thank You! I am loving this visual delight!
You just don’t see enough of Godzilla these days!
Have you seen the Disney/Pixar Film Wall-e?
It is not in this trailer but what becomes of the people is very interesting!
I would be interested in your thoughts on that.
As for Today?
Overly Entertained – Under Informed
Overly Fed – Under Nourished
Makes for What?
Jack and Jill a dull boy & girl
It is very interesting that you talk of Caruso, I love all the early recordings.
For me one of the reasons I love the old classics in music is because
I feel like I am stepping back into a time when THAT was the sound
that was being discovered for the first time.
I often have wanted to go back and see the way a city looked a century ago
or a lake front or valley before all the development took root.
From that same era…..
1904 Rare recording of the Violinist and Composer playing his own work
Sarasate Plays Sarasate Zigeunerweisen
And a few years (decades) later Heifetz Playing the same work
One more for comparison… This was recorded recently
Kyung Wha Chung – Zigeunerweisen
Can you imagine being there hearing this kind of music for the first time?
Or purchasing the recording and playing it in your home for the first time?
I think there was an awe of the art back then.
Itunes is kinda like ….. so what…. I expect to have instant satisfaction all the time…
Where is the thrill?
Thanks so much for the clips, Patsy! I think you and I are on the same wavelength. Like you, I am interested to know how it was for humans to experience certain eras, like the immense transitions that the Industrial Revolution brought. Or cities before cars, etc.
Now, I feel, the thrill IS gone. We just expect, take it for granted, that we need never be bored, and that in itself is boring.
I haven’t see Wall-e. True to the spirit of this article, I see, like one movie a year if that :). But I’d be interested to hear what happens to the people, and would gladly share my thoughts. From the looks of the planet in the clip, it ain’t pretty.
Wall-e is a strong social commentary film hidden in a animated pic… I wonder how they got away with that? Any way if you run across it let me know.
The things that are keeping us from being bored are making us boring!
Oh the Irony.
what a wonderful piece of history the Sarasate clip is! Thanks again for posting it!