What the Entertainment Society Really Wants to Tell You

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.
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3 thoughts on “What the Entertainment Society Really Wants to Tell You

  1. This is all very pertinent Matt. It amazes me how conformist we have become (maybe we were always thus). Our political minders in Oz want us to be worried only about 'interest rates', that mining companies can make enourmous profits and that evil boat people are treated with appropriate firmness. Which ever government is in. So buying things and being entertained prop up this amazing scenario where the politicians in consort with the big end of town and info-tainment of the news cycle do whatever they like, and the people just do as they are told… Very scarey. Come GFC mark 2, come some real hardship, and this mentality will easily go the same direction that Germany went before the second world war. Very frightening.

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  2. Becoming consumers instead of persons seems to resonate with Lewis's Abolition of Man. Neil Postman earlier argued that our public communication was all based on entertainment and complained that such was a not a good omen for our ability to think.

    The Hydra has many heads, but they all lead away from humanity fulfilling itself and more towards morbid self enslavement.

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  3. Another perceptive post Matt.The danger as I see it though is not related to serving the perceived purposes of capitalism as a corruption of popular capacity to think. Some time back I heard an American woman academic complain that Americans too often cannot discern the difference between reality and entertainment and we see that so often in the Media treatment of issues. It is also becoming the problem here. Classic examples are the Morning TV current affairs and “News”programmes and the 7.00 O'çlock Project where every subject, no matter how serious is reduced to banal “comedy”. We see reflections of it in some people saying of Holy Mass that they don't go because they don't get anything out of it – they are looking to be entertained. Sadly some liberal Clerics are only too keen to be obliging.Whereas the proper disposition is one of doing and giving attention – worship .As I say I'm not so sure consumerism is the great worry, but rather the loss of the capacity to think critically and analytically.

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