Niagara Gazette

February 9, 2014

SINGER: A look at the 'entertainment society'

By B.B. Singer
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — We live in an entertainment society and too often succumb to, endure and in some ways, suffer from what might be called entertainment overload. Stories about the stars and their most trivial style choices, likes and dislikes crowd out more serious events and developments. In the 19th century Lord Palmerston made a remark about surviving our amusements, but he should have beheld today’s scene in that regard!

Due to such an ambiance, even when something serious occurs and gets reported on, it frequently becomes done to death in the media, trivialized by repetitive superficiality — exactly as befits an “entertainment society.” How do we survive this addictive kind of atmosphere? What effect does its collective weight have upon us?

Because for much of human history, diversions were but short, sweet breaks — carnival time or saints’ days, fairs or Sunday picnics, weddings or baptisms. Versus the current world where life is filled almost constantly with vicariously imbibed fun and games, right down to the music that’s piped in everywhere these days.

The current entertainment culture, I believe, has superficialized us, exacerbating our impatience, not least in endless surfing with the TV remote. We want to be entertained in every bite, and there’s always another channel, another choice, another snippet to be sought — “snippetitis” is my word for the activity engendered by all this.

We’re becoming loaded down and colonized by this well-nigh constant entertainment culture. Even if we confine ourselves to old movies, TV shows, or music, we’ve all become walking cognitive museums in the process. Yes, that’s what we now are — vicarious entertainment museums, and jangling ones at that! Put another way, we’re all snippety Wikipedias!

And yet ... I do find it marvelous when I visit my daughter’s family and can play old favorites on YouTube for the grandchildren — Dinah Washington’s “September in the Rain” or her duets with Brook Benton; Olivia Newton-John’s “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” and so on — jumping decades, hitting buttons, establishing traditions on these visits.

I can also unearth oldies you rarely hear any more, such as the Beatles’ version of “Anna” from one of their early albums that slayed me then and, I’ve found (years later), still does. And I admit to liking karaoke, too, unless 49 other amateurs precede me.

What to make of all this? One sociologist back in the ‘70s talked of a “participatory delirium” — many of us wanting a break from vocations to be part of this growing entertainment focus. Today the phenomenon is much more pronounced with numerous “idol” and dancing and game shows and the rest.

And I guess the museum atmosphere of having easy access to virtually everything done in previous decades has something in common with Johan Huizinga’s old thesis in his “Waning of the Middle Ages” – i.e., that when a period starts redoing its oldies too much, when it exaggerates beyond belief, it’s really on the way out.

To be replaced by a Renaissance and exploration of new worlds? Or — as in the Fall of Rome — by barbarians?

That we shall see... But you don’t even have to consider the large sweep of the human past to observe how societies become so entertainment-oriented. All people in this vicinity have to do in order to see how things change is drive by the remarkable old Nabisco building, which since the early 20th century made so much for so many; and right across the road? The equally striking building now dominating the area and devoted — for good or ill (or both) — to gambling, shows, good eating, and the rest.

Or to keep with a regional flavor, you should see me punching at radio stations, when I ought to be savoring the mighty Niagara in her many moods, and often blue skies above. Who, in sum, can be immune to this omnipresent entertainment society? Not even the most rarefied philosopher of yore could have resisted today’s chaotic media competition (see this competition depicted in the finale of an amiably superficial film, “Anchorman 2”).

“That’s entertainment”? Perhaps, but it’s gotten out of hand.

B.B. Singer has taught at several colleges in the area, including Niagara University.