We live in a cultural milieu in which “fun” has become the highest good. This is the condition known as the “entertainment society”, a condition that was hinted at by the Frankfurt School, particularly the “Culture Industry” of Max Horkheimer and Theodore Adorno.
Rather than a situation of us consuming passive commodities, extracting the pleasure, and going on unchanged, James KA Smith reminds us that the saturation within our culture of alleged opportunities for such consumption actually envelops us, forming us into particular kinds of people with particular ends that may run counter to our waiting for the coming of the Lord.
At one level, the consumption of entertainment as the centre of existence, which then envelops us and moulds us into consumers, bears disturbing parallels to the Patristic notion of our Eucharistic coabiding with Christ, in which our consumption of the Eucharist turns us into whom that is consumed (namely Christ). This again points to secular culture acting as an alternative sacramental economy, as hinted at in a previous post
At another level, the positing of “fun” as the centre of existence also serves to domesticate any opposition to the status quo, as Herbert Marcuse reminds us in his One Dimensional Man. In maximising consumer choice of material goods, Marcuse opines, such societies become trained into thinking that all goods, material or otherwise, have been provided for. We see evidence of this in the tacit or active promotion of entertainment in places such as Berlusconi’s Italy or Lee Hsien Loong’s Singapore. One renders democracy impotent through the constant saturation of the airwaves of sitcoms, talk shows and soap operas through the Prime Minister’s own communications channels, while another tries to make those question the need for democracy through the active proliferation of the consumerist lifestyle, via telecommunications, shopping malls, bars and clubs.
The Church thus must be wary in making entertainment a criterion of spreading the Gospel, for in doing so, it could very well extend something other than the Body of Christ.