To Homepage

October 17

Entertainment for the Masses

When I logged onto the internet this morning, I was greeted with a headline which read "Family at the center of balloon saga faces scrutiny." Apparently, this incident in which no one was hurt is about the most newsworthy event of the past few days. Admittedly, the father seems to be an attention hog, so the whole event does seem suspicious.

Such so-called news is only a small part of a much larger syndrome in the United States, however -- perhaps around the world, as well. Karl Marx called religion "The opiate of the masses." In his day, there was no television, no high profile professional sports, and much less consumerism, fewer types of drugs, and of course, there was no internet. All of these things have become sources of entertainment which distract people from the real issues of the modern world. Witness the fact that I write about my fishing adventures for a California fishing website. I usually get over 1,000 views and several comments, even though I usually only catch a few modest size panfish. On the Thom Hartmann site where I also post most of these essays, few posts by anyone garner over 100 views, and the one with the most views has about 500. In other words, people (mainly men) would rather occupy their time with the idle pleasures of reading about others' fishing trips, than have a serious discussion about important issues. Even the Thom Hartmann message board has far fewer views of most posts than does the California Fishing News Network. Remember, the Hartmann site is nationwide, international even, while the fishing site is only for California. It seems to me that far more people should be interested in the important issues of the day, than a day's outdoor recreation.

Another male pastime which distracts men from their more pressing problems is sports, both professional and non-professional. I used to avidly follow baseball, and somewhat grudgingly follow other professional sports, until reality forced the acknowledgement on my part that sports has long since been corrupted. We can watch so-called amateurs who are actually highly paid professionals compete in Olympic events, steroid and stimulant driven athletes outcompeting their peers, and assorted accused rapists, murderers, assaulters, and drug addicts receive the adulation of sports fans around the world. Celebrity seems to come with multimillionaire status, and a "get out of jail free" card. Over the years, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that being a sports fan turns otherwise reasonably intelligent, normal men into babbling idiots. Witness the level of discourse on sports talk shows. An even more problematic distractor which statistically affects more men than women is the use of drugs. Of course, drugs have long been a distractor, as well as a form of self-medication, and as such, are probably more common than most of us realize. There are a lot more drugs than opium available now, and remember, alcohol and nicotine are drugs as well. Just because something is legal doesn't mean that it is not a potentially dangerous drug. Even prescribed drugs often have dangerous side effects. At this time, my father has been in a hospital for 11 days, mainly due to side effects of blood pressure medication (all my mother will allow me to say about his condition), so we are naturally very worried about him. I am so worried, that I believe it has compromised my immune system, so that I have been sick with an infection these past few days. (I am much improved now, fortunately.)

Women aren't immune to the distracting effects of entertainment. Shopping addictions, debt, bankruptcy, and out-of-control consumerism seem to have America in its grips. Mostly, the overspenders are probably women. Women also are likely the largest audience of gossipy programs and magazines which scrutinize and idolize celebrities.

A wild-card in all of this is the internet, which affects both genders rather equally (although porn is mostly utilized by men), as far as I can tell, and contains a very broad cross-section of content, some profane, some sheer entertainment, some personal, some serious intellectual discussion. And then, of course, there is the so-called news, which reflects the interests of corporate America.

What drives all of this? One factor behind people's fascination with entertainment is that they enjoy it. Also, anything new technology-wise is likely to be attention-attracting. A second factor is that, as Social Psychologist Shelley Taylor wrote, people tend to be cognitive misers. Too much heavy thinking seems to hurt most people's brains. It is easier to do something which is playful and involves no mental strain, than to engage in argument, intellectual discourse, and serious thinking about our problems.

The other side of the problem is that of the suppliers of entertainment. The supply of entertainment for the masses is driven by two things -- profit, and politics. People who run entertainment businesses have long realized that the more entertaining something is, the more profitable it can be. Also, the more addicting something is (as all forms of entertainment tend to be) the more profitable it will be, and the more reliable the consumer base will be. Thus, even news has trended toward, well, the trendy -- the sheerly entertaining aspects of current events.

However, the most insidious aspect of the supply of entertainment for the masses is the political side of it. Providers of entertainment have realized that they can control the information to which people are exposed, through the so-called news, through advertising, by influencing politicians, and even through sheer word of mouth once an item becomes popular. The selective use of information is used to promote the economic and political interests of those who control the information. A news station would never dare say anything bad about its corporate sponsors. A corporate sponsor would never dare say anything bad about a news station which advertises its products. And neither would ever endorse anything which ran counter to their own economic interests, such as increased tax rates, more regulation, or heavens no, having monopolies broken up!

Thus, we in America find ourselves in a sitution in which we plebescites have numerous crumbs of entertainment thrown to us, which most of us gladly gobble up, but are never given the slice of American Dreampie which we deserve. All the while, we fall further and further into debt, and trail other industrialized nation further and further in virtually every significant indicator of common wellbeing, while we hardly notice. After all, we have baseball playoffs to watch, or sales to go to, or if nothing else, drugs to take. With the help of entertainment for the masses, the corporate takeover of America is nearly complete. However, it will not last. Reality will reach up and bite us -- all of us including the rich providers of entertainment and the corporate moguls. In fact, reality already has. Now, we need to take action. Sooner or later, as a society we will have to let entertainment take a backseat to our real needs, and seriously deal with society's inequities, as well as our effects on the climate and ecosystem, our need to act as one global humanity, the need to secure a more peaceful world, and so forth. The more people who get involved, the better, and the sooner we get started, the better.