That’s entertainment? Wired for distraction
They say you are never more than 6ft away from a rat.
The same could be measured of the distance between us and any manner of alluring, seductive entertainment platforms, technologies and gizmos in our homes, our work and our play. Truly, in a world where the market forecast for the global entertainment and media market in 2016 is expected to reach a value of just over two trillion US dollars, there really is no escape.
So what is our relationship with entertainment? Why are we such avid users and, more importantly, what is it we’re really and truly getting from it?
Whether it be TV, video online, gaming, cinema or any other representation, we don’t appear to discriminate our usage based on format. From blockbusters to box sets, it hardly matters what the medium is. Like chocolate, it’s all made from the same ingredients, just in different wrapping and we’ll eat whatever looks good and is priced reasonably. Labels are meaningless to a viewer only hell bent on content and story.
It’s certainly massive business. Alone, global box office statistics for all films released in each country around the world reached $36.4 billion in 2014, with international box office figures – that’s anywhere outside of the US and Canada – accounting for 72%. An ocean of popcorn by anyone’s reckoning...
But it’s not just cinema that has us under its spell. Television has a similar, almost religious-like following. In the US alone:
- People watch over 30 hours of TV a week
- It is estimated the average person will spend 9 years of their life watching TV
- The average American youth spends 1,200 hours per year watching TV compared to 900 hours per year in school
- 65% of US homes have 3 or more TV sets
- 54% of 4-6 year-olds, when asked to choose between watching TV and spending time with their father, chose TV
Perhaps as consumers, we should be asking whether all this is supply driven or demand led. Because just where are we, the viewer, in the equation of choice about when, where, how and why we consume entertainment? Are we perhaps relegated to mere paying pawns in the overall game?
Well, Kevin Spacey, actor, producer and spokesperson for the industry has admitted that ‘‘the device and the length are irrelevant… It’s all content. It’s just story – and the audience has spoken. They want stories. They are dying for them… and all we have to do is give it to them. The prize fruit is right there, shinier and juicier than it’s ever been before. So it’ll be all the more shame on each and every one of us if we don’t reach out and seize it."
"Dying for them"? That’s addiction-speak by any other name, applied to our unquenchable viewing habits by someone who knows from research and wisdom the intricate, collective behavioural patterns of their consumer. It’s clear here that those responsible for content production and broadcasting seek to continue to stoke our habit in return for stakeholder coffers and gong glory.
But it’s too easy to see this as ‘big Goliaths bad, little Davids good’… for don’t we have that magic ingredient up our sleeve – personal choice? If so, then what is it that gets us to choose a fantasy, make-believe world as a way out of the realities of our own, if just for a couple of hours an evening? The industry giants are merely responding to demand by creating further demand. That’s called business. We can’t lay all blame at their foyers, consoles and remotes. So what is it that has us ‘using’ like addicts, on a daily basis, never sated, guaranteeing our return?
Is our primary purpose in seeking entertainment one that uplifts, celebrates, enhances relationships with ourselves and those around us, makes connections and deepens our sense of wellbeing – or is it purely about escapism and checking out? And how often do we truly stop to question what we’re ‘ingesting’, what qualities we’re allowing into our homes and our heads?
The addictive nature of entertainment is further evident in the disorder-labelling of a now established behaviour known as binge-watching or binge-viewing. Indeed, ’The Lost Weekend’ isn’t the latest blockbuster, but an ongoing phenomenon, an immersive way of living in someone else’s fantasy world, marathon watching our way through a box set equivalent of programmatic content, sometimes over days. And why? Well, 76% of TV streamers confess that watching several episodes at a time is a ‘welcome refuge from the busy world we live in.'  But what is it that makes us crave an escapist storyline and be in it for as long as possible to displace the reality of The Reality that we share with billions of others on the same planet?
Well, we literally plug in to an incessant supply of emotional distraction to satisfy our insatiable demand. Yes, entertainment is about the provision of emotion; a form of a distraction from our true emotional needs not being met. It doesn’t deal with pain, emptiness or lack of self-worth. It simply numbs them for the duration. So when the credits start to roll, everything that was there before floods straight back into consciousness and we confront our lives and ourselves again. Then starts the search for another programme, game or film to distract us and so it keeps on.
So the Entertainment industry has us by the short and curlies. For them no need to bother with built in obsolescence because it comes automatically supplied in the end user at the end of each ‘fix’.
But why do we allow ourselves to take the edge off life and instead surrogate with short-term, fabricated, manicured versions? Is it irresponsibility or fear that has us competing for the remote as soon as we get home or for our ITunes as soon as we hit the bus, train or car? It’s a white-noise-at-all-costs strategy, to fill the space, the time until bedtime, rather than confront the real issues that are going on in our relationships, our work, our families, ourselves.
Responsibility for what, when and how we ‘consume’ cannot and ought not to be controlled centrally in a free society. The responsibility has to come from ourselves. Yes, that’s right. Our lives are built on the basis of the choices we make about the quality we will experience it in.
That’s a whole new ballpark when it comes to self-responsibility for our leisure time and one we can easily hide from in the contagious, ubiquitous world of popular entertainment.
So how would it be if we diverted even the tiniest slice of some of that $2trillion entertainment industry value into looking at how we are truly living and why indeed we need all manner of distraction, numbing, relief and solace, of which entertainment in all its forms is but one socially acceptable offering? The reality is that we use not just stories, but gaming, light entertainment, music shows, the works – to check out of the stresses of our day. It’s sheer escapism from the emptiness that we contend with deep down every day because of the relationship we have with reality. So surely it’s worth some investment for humanity in uncovering the truth behind the malaise that fuels this craving for an out? How is it with the most intelligent minds in the world that can make the most sophisticated gaming devices and 3D animation that we haven’t bothered to ask, why are we so ill at ease in the world and with ourselves that there is today barely a moment we can sit still without a screen in our palm or in our view?
What is going on? Why the explosion of the ‘distraction industry’?
Let’s state the blindingly obvious. What’s presented through the entertainment industry is not real. People are acting, cartoons are animating, CGI is feigning. It’s not truth. Yet day and night we immerse ourselves in this world, with advertisers, fashion, music and technology industries flourishing as parasites in the game, all looking for their slice of the pie and planting illusory ideals and beliefs in our minds through strategically subliminal strategies. A visiting Martian might be forgiven for interpreting this as a wholesale attempt at mass brainwashing. Indeed it suggests we would be wise to consider just who is in the driving seat of what we’re feeding our brains and our bodies at any given time.
Because the point here is – we feel. Whether we’re talking real or ‘pretend’ people, we have a response as we get carried along with the emotion and we react.
So, just what reactions are we setting up for ourselves every time we watch a formulaic romcom, pulse-racing psycho-drama or gratuitously violent cop series? More to the point, what quality of energy are we going to bed on or in when it’s preceded by a nightcap of shootings, rape, abuse, misery, exhaustion, alcoholism, drugs, poverty, corruption and the rest, that we’ve willingly chosen to let in through our nocturnal channel hopping hobby?
Entertainment? Think again.