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.

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Thank-you wts for a most excellent post. I thoroughly enjoyed it and learned much from all!


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.



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” 😉


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.


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.


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.


Tanka is an interesting type of poetry, and Sedoka is one of the two forms that can actually be written down (Choka is the other) but it isn’t easy.

Sedoka consists of two parts or one pair of Katauta. The difference between Sedoka and Katauta is that Sedoka is written by a single author and does not ask a question. But the norm for writing Katauta is 5-7-7 onji; 5 onji is considered a pleasant variant from the norm. Katauta has respect for its variety as well as its conformity. So, Sedoka is written by combining two Katauta. Each Katauta is made up of three parts (lines) with two different rhythms, having a length of 17-19 onji and each part being an odd numbered line in terms of onji.

Can we play checkers, instead? 🙂














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 :

Idete inaba
Nushinaki yado to

Narinu tomo
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.


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?