That’s entertainment

Tuesday 13 Oct 2020

Whether it comes or goes, whether it leaves or stays, it has changed our lives, perhaps forever.

Habits die hard, but during this time of anxiety, the coronavirus has been with us long enough to do just that.

Boredom rages at the core of our lives. A succession of ordinary days and uneventful nights wears you out. A great need for distraction, flight, escapism gnaws and nags from within, but where do we find relief?

Television has become the compelling power of our attention. In greater or less measure this power of concentration and convergence calms the strife of our mental conflict even more than rumours about the perfect vaccine. We have found the solvent to our intolerable ennui.

Once referred to as “the idiot box”, TV viewing has now gone up 60 per cent, with the Internet devices filling the gap.

While television has gained from Covid-19, the global film industry has been dealt a severe blow.

Early in the 20th century, access and forms of media were quite limited, reserved to a select few. Theatre, concerts, museums, art exhibits were restricted to time, place, expense, an impediment to most.

The birth of the film industry played an important role in society. The most democratic of all art forms, it was available, affordable and the finest form of entertainment.

Man has always nurtured the concept of entertainment, to escape from the blahs and blues of struggle and survival. He painted on cave walls, depicting hunting scenes. Hunting and fishing were common distractions. He invented rhythmic music, possibly by clapping. He made musical instruments from wood and reeds. What has survived are bone-pipes made of swan and vulture bones that are 39,000 to 43,000 years old.

The story of music is in many ways the story of humans. It has been with us ever since. From its sounds man learned to move his body rhythmically and invented dancing. Both are still the source of joy in life and on film. Music is the oldest form of entertainment.

Movies of the 1950s and 1960s were famous for their musicals. Known as “the Golden Age” of film, those productions are classics. Some critics believe this art form has reached its peak and could only slide downwards hence.

Admittedly movie ticket sales are down, but movies remain a big part of our lives. Television depended on showing old movies, besides an occasional game show and news broadcasts in the 1950s, but by the 1960s it started to develop and flourish. It did not, however, kill the movie industry as was predicted. Movies remained the ultimate entertainment for families.

Until Covid-19 came to visit, perhaps to stay, it most certainly has halted film production, closed numerous cinemas, and movie-financing became more risky due to increases in insurance costs.

Despite cinemas upgrading their audio-visual technology, providing more comfortable seats and services, the distance restrictions have not encouraged viewers to rush to movie-houses.

But Hollywood has not given up. Most studios have invested in what they call Stod, or Streaming. You can see any video, movie, sports game, concert, event, newscasts, or whatever your heart desires by joining a streaming service.

Netflix is already ahead of the game. We now have a variety of streaming services such as Disney, Amazon Prime, Hulu, among others with tens of millions of subscribers, garnering spectacular gains.

A streaming service, Twitch, relies on advertisements for revenues rather than subscriptions. Now, who would not like that?

Without a doubt that can only mean more stay-at-home viewers, thoroughly entertained.

As in the golden days, books are once again the ideal escape from the hum-drum of reality. Is there anything more entertaining than reading a book, alone, in silence, between four walls.

The pandemic has revived the reading habit. UK fiction sales climbed by a third and in the US there was a 66 per cent lift in sales of non-fiction titles for children. This is a most encouraging sign of creativity and hunger for information.

Unfortunately, the hunger does not end there. There is an alarming rate of weight gain, as our only activity is restricted to the couch and the kitchen.

A new study shows that isolation means more snacking. While sheltering at home, restrictions ease. What is wrong with a cookie or some ice-cream?

John Morton of Yale sees weight gain as a sign of a disrupted life, an escalation of stress and feelings of lethargy. We turn to food for comfort, escapism and some guilty pleasure. Is there anything more pleasurable than guilty pleasure?

Yes, indeed. Good health. We must be wary to sacrifice one for the other.

 Is it easy? No.

Watching the telly is. It gives you everything and makes you feel less lonely to boot.

Psychologists coined the term, social surveyancy, filling the shoes of absent friends and family. “People feel less lonely watching their favourite stars,” is the conclusion of a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

The world seems out of control. Should we be out of control as well?

If we choose entertainment, escapism, or distraction, we should consider future consequences.

Shun boredom by starting a new hobby. Take long walks at dusk. Weigh yourself regularly.

Obesity is also a killer.

We are on the cusp of the biggest shift in history.

Soon we shall tire of our small screens. Big stars are made for big screens.

One question remains. Where are the big stars?

“Television is not the truth. Television is a circus, a carnival, story tellers, singers, jugglers, and football players. We’re in the boredom-killing business.”

 Paddy Chayefsky (1923-1981)

*A version of this article appears in print in the 15 October, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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