Is Entertainment Worthwhile?

An article I wrote in 2004, just because the subject interested me. I intended to do a series of big life question-centered pieces, more of which may follow soon.

Film: The Philosopher’s Alcohol?

After watching the film American Beauty and performing in the play Our Country’s Good, I was inspired to write an article attempting to answer the question: ‘Is entertainment a worthwhile aim for the media?’ The media being inclusive, in this case, of all forms of the Arts; from news transmitters such as radio to recreational theatre. I will consider the benefits and disadvantages of the affects entertainment has on society and individuals, and begin to weigh them against each other.

Obviously there are glaring sensitive ethical issues arising from the content and nature of many risqué plays, films, etc. such as copycat crimes as a result of particularly graphic violent scenes in horror movies and stereotypes that originate in one person’s very determined perception, no matter how legitimate. For example, James Bulger, whose murderers imitated the violent actions of a possessed doll in Child’s Play 3. However, this crime was not carried out by the vast remaining number of young boys who endured similar upbringing to these two, and so it seems logical to assume there were other factors behind their anti-social behaviour.

Putting aside the moral take on how far we can consider films of this nature entertainment, the popularity of its entire genre clearly indicates that people do adhere to it as a leisure. It could be argued that feeding this morbid fascination with crime and violence by turning their presentation into a thrilling experience is amoral, although we all have an imagination that was bound not to stop just at what we see in every day life; the action of the film were clearly possible realities and so surely it was something else within the children involved that was at fault, not the way another’s imagination had been carried out in the safety of a Hollywood basement.

It seems obvious that blind imitation is insensible, and that we should take advantage of the opportunity to be individuals. This is why the arts are so valuable; they question reality as we know it, they experiment with theories and occasionally, if they’re anything worth paying attention to, twist common knowledge and change small pieces of our life interpretations by adding new aspects to them. This contemplative effect that anything presented (in clever productions, with confidence) to an audience has on our perception and even thought patterns has to be of incredible value. As Lester claims in American Beauty, “It’s a wonderful thing when you discover that you still have the ability to surprise yourself.” Films that manage to overwhelm you each time you watch them (like this one) are real gems. Considering how desensitized we are today due to the vast, usually crude coverage of life issues by the media, anything that can overcome this and stimulate the mind, to whatever effect (intellectual or emotional, e.g. endorphins being released through laughter), has a valid purpose. Before watching the film Dogma I was unsure of my intellectual strength, but having the theory brought forward that it is better to have ideas than beliefs really assured my confidence that determined direction is not always urgent and I can safely say I haven’t made up my mind on an issue.

Emotional sensitivity to be easily persuaded like this can be perceived as a weakness, although I think this ideology only comes from a generally hostile attitude. This kind of cynicism is, in my opinion, a fatal flaw; the inability to accept or at least stay open to any new ideas is what creates conflict. On top of this, I think the ability of any writer/speaker to have even the smallest overwhelming effect on the audience as that they stop and think about it, deserves praise for acknowledging such rare talent and using it to this extent.

Another strong point towards the value of entertainment is the scientifically proven effect it has on our health. Various measurable states in our bodies are eventually weakened by long periods of depression or bereavement. Conversely, positive moods are known to enhance these methods of protection, therefore allowing us to thrive.

Although stereotypes and identity groups are formed through the media, don’t we need a little competition to keep up our level of motivation? Conflict is generally thought of negatively, but within civilised constraints it is healthy to attempt to better those around us. Without this drive we would fail to ever succeed. If we’re not careful, our social need to flatten out complications in our relationships with others will override our individual desire for achievement and accreditation, and so all successes will be in the past.

Of course the diversity and experimentation that is allowed to take place in the realm of fiction gives us basis for theories to inspire new experience, and so develop on our deeper understanding of whatever area the Arts happen to be dealing with. These foreign topics are usually given some kind of angle according to the director’s opinion, but this can only affect individual perception to a certain extent; everyone takes in something different from what they see and hear. These more questionable issues separate or bring people together, depending on whether they hold their preferences in common or not. We constantly search for traits that we either hold in common with people/admire them for (if we want to develop a good relationship with them), or those that we do not approve of, as excuses for avoiding those we do not care to understand. For example, a character in The Matrix: Reloaded is meant to be seen as decadent, and the director’s interpretation of this was to set him as presiding over a bondage-style dance club. The director’s vision indicates his view on this controversial behavioural tendency, and the way the film is presented leads the audience towards agreeing with him, but there is obviously a cult following behind it that would be affected very differently by watching these scenes.

The media does not impregnate ideas that we would otherwise not have; they merely encourage us to shape these opinions more solidly and dominantly so they are brought out and social development can take place more quickly.

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