Saturday, January 26, 2008

Some perspective on entertainment

The fiery holiness preacher Leonard Ravenhill used to say, "Entertainment is the devil's substitute for joy!" That always rubbed me the wrong way. I think we were created to need a certain amount of recreation and entertainment. But I'll concede to Leonard that we certainly have lost our perspective on the priority of entertainment.

I don't watch much TV. I find it an annoying barrage of "sound and fury, signifying nothing." But lately I have been tuning into the cable news stations to keep up on developments and debates in the Presidential race. What I find though is that the "news" channels don't really provide much actual news. It's mostly "analysis", which is a fancy way of saying "opinion". Watching cable news channels also means that I've been subjected to a constant stream of over-hyped "journalism" about the unfortunate death of Heath Ledger, the mental condition of Britney Spears, the Golden Globe awards, the Academy Award nominations and other assorted and sundry bits of "entertainment news". Do the poor schlubs who have to report on this stuff ever stop to wonder what became of their journalistic aspirations and how they ended up squandering their talent providing "analysis" of Lindsey Lohan's hijinks?

Here's an interesting scenario: What would happen if all of the popular entertainers--actors & actresses, pop musicians, etc.--suddenly vanished? No Brad & Angelina, no Tom & Katie, no Beyonce, no Paris. How long do you think it would take the entertainment industry to provide a new supply of celebrities?

I'm thinking a few days.

I first encountered the speculation of such a scenario when I read an essay by David Brin. Although Brin is a scientist and a Ph.D., he is best known for his science-fiction books. He posted an essay on his website entitled A Long, Lonely Road: Some Informal Advice to New Authors, in which he extolls the virtues of science in the pursuit of empirical truth. He compares the relative scarcity and value to mankind of scientists vs. entertainers:

"As for the artists and writers I know, they seem almost universally convinced that they stand at the pinnacle of human undertakings. Doesn't society put out endless propaganda proclaiming that entertainers are beings close to gods?

Ever notice how this propaganda is feverishly spread by the very people who benefit from the image?

Don't you believe it. They are getting the whole thing backwards.

Oh, don't get me wrong; art is a core element to being human. We need it, from our brains all the way down to the heart and gut. Art is the original "magic." Even when we're starving -- especially when we're starving -- we can find nourishment at the level of the subjective, just by using our imaginations. As author Tom Robbins aptly put it:

"Science gives man what he needs,
But magic gives him what he wants."

I'll grant all that. But don't listen when they tell you the other half -- that art and artists are rare.

Have you ever noticed that no human civilization ever suffered from a deficit of artistic expression? Art fizzes from our very pores! How many people do you know who lavish time and money on an artistic hobby? Some of them quite good, yet stuck way down the pyramid that treats the top figures like deities.

Imagine this. If all of the professional actors and entertainers died tomorrow, how many days before they were all replaced? Whether high or low, empathic or vile -- art seems to pour from Homo Sapiens, almost as if it were a product of our metabolism, a natural part of ingesting and excreting. No, sorry. Art may be essential and deeply human, but it ain't rare."

I like Brin's perspective on this. I've met some amazing musicians in my life, who will never be known to the world at large. How many brilliant songs have been written that would equal or eclipse anything from McCartney & Lennon but never got to the ears of the industry movers & shakers? How many Tom Hanks' and Cate Blanchett's never got their shot? One of the things I like about U2 is that they readily attribute their fame to dumb luck. They appear to try to maintain perspective, which is generally so lacking in the entertainment industry (including the cable "news" channels). As Bono once said, "Don't confuse success with fame. Mother Teresa is success, Madonna is fame."


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