The Industry is a key part of modern Culture & a gateway to culture itself.
In modern society, entertainment is something we have in abundance. Since streaming services found their footing in the late 2000s, we’re spoilt for choice more than ever before, with an ever-increasing number of TV series, podcasts, films, music, and video games at our fingertips.
Netflix currently boasts over six-and-a-half thousand films and TV series available in the UK, and Spotify over fifty million songs. Simply put, there is not enough time in our lifetimes to enjoy all the entertainment the world has to offer.
With the sheer volume of works for us to sink our hours into, there is naturally a vast spectrum of quality. When it comes to entertainment, a topic that often sparks arguments is artistic integrity; namely, which works are considered art, and which are nothing more than commercial cash-grabs.
In a previous Mackayan article, ‘Press Start for Art’, the concept of video games as art was discussed, as well as the complicated question of what exactly art is. The most reasonable answer suggested that art is inherently a subjective concept. Unlike physical quantities that can be measured such as distance and temperature, there are no scientific measures or equations for defining art. Despite its long debated criteria, there is no official checklist to determine whether something is art or not.
Still, there are some examples of entertainment which are almost unanimously regarded as art; in film, one such example is Andrei Rublev. There is much debate that these forms of entertainment are more worthy of our time, and more respectable to consume. On the other hand, soap operas such as the popular British soap, EastEnders are commonly criticised as cheap entertainment that is all shock and no substance.
However, it’s worth mentioning that for all its repetitive plot points of jealousy and extramarital affairs, EastEnders has also covered heavy topics pertaining to real-life issues, such as sexual and domestic abuse. It’s interesting to note that soap operas retain this negative status despite the fact that tackling societal issues is frequently used as a reason for something being considered art.
Conductor Delta David Gier insists that there is a significant distinction between art and entertainment. He claims that entertainment is designed for distraction since it allows you to take your mind off something, whereas art is ‘the opposite’, provoking you to think more deeply.
This is certainly a reasonable understanding of these concepts; those who have seen The Emoji Movie, for instance, may have been entertained but were likely not thinking very deeply about its contents. It didn’t exactly have a message to convey beyond a standard ‘be yourself’, which was somewhat undermined by the film’s underdeveloped and cliché presentation. Still, Gier says that there is, of course, overlap between these areas. There is plenty of art that is entertaining, and plenty of entertainment that is artful.
Art films are known for making the audience think deeply, and in many cases there is a smug arrogance in the people who watch them; they take pride in refusing to engage with commercial entertainment. And it can hardly be argued that all entertainment invites the same level of deep thinking and considerations of real-world topics. Some examples are clearly more artistically inclined than others. But the question is, does that make artsy films inherently better, more worthy of our time?
There is something to be said for engaging critically with the media we consume. We can enjoy The Emoji Movie, but be aware that its pseudo-feminist quips are more likely a cynical, trend-exploiting tactic than a genuine critique of society, and that its overzealous product placement cheapens the authenticity of the film. However, these admissions don’t have to subtract from one’s enjoyment of the film. You may recognise its flaws and have a good time watching it all the same.
Many people seem to be aware when the entertainment they enjoy is one-dimensional or shallow, and therefore refer to these examples as ‘guilty pleasures’. But what, then, are they guilty of? Enjoying themselves? ‘Guilt’ implies a culpability, a confession of some offence, for which we should feel shame. The offence here is enjoying content that apparently does not match up to some invisible standard of being ‘good’ or intelligent content worthy of our time.
This insinuates a culture regarding entertainment, particularly music and film, in which intelligence is valued over all else. This may be generally accepted, but when we stop to ask ourselves why intelligence deserves to be glorified in this way, its pedestal starts to crumble.
It may well be that the latest song in the charts is fairly shallow, has repetitive and cliché lyrical content, uninspired instrumentals, and – to someone who doesn’t enjoy it – will likely sound like every other song of its genre. But does this really matter? Why should everything we do in our personal time have to contribute to some greater goal of constantly bettering ourselves? This is an attitude cultivated, if not produced entirely, by living in a capitalist society. We are told that time is money; therefore, time spent on trivial, frivolous activities such as simply enjoying oneself is a waste.
Furthermore, the glorification of intelligence is flawed at best, and incredibly harmful at worst. Of course, the standardized version of intelligence is important in many contexts, particularly in occupational fields where it may be necessary (those which are scientific or mathematical in nature). But too often other forms of intelligence are ignored; it is just as valuable to be someone with a high level of emotional intelligence, who is good at empathising with others. Being a loving and caring friend, relative, or stranger to others, is sorely underrated in a world that needs kindness. This person could even go on to be a therapist, in which case their emotional abilities would save lives.
The theory of multiple intelligences is often disregarded, and it doesn’t have sufficient scientific evidence to back it up. Nonetheless, even if other human abilities – empathy, kinaesthetic ability, intrapersonal awareness – can’t be labelled as intelligence, they are certainly equally important and worthy of merit.
A person who is incredibly book-smart may communicate poorly with others, whereas somebody else with little understanding of academic subjects may be highly competent in meaningful communication and empathy. Neither person is more valuable than the other; such attempts to quantify the human experience are baseless and reductive.
Particularly in times such as these, films, music, and shows are a welcome respite from the world around us. Perhaps it’s time we stopped turning our noses up at those which are ‘less artful’ and enjoy them for what they are. There is no need to judge the things we use to enjoy ourselves against a criteria of how profound they are, or how intelligent they make us. Our pleasure does not have to be guilty.
MACKAYAN: PLEASURE IN ENTERTAINMENTTweet