Just what constitutes entertainment? I was recently watching the highly entertaining and insightful HBO documentary Lucky about lottery players and winners, and it presented this interesting fact: Lotteries are by far, the most popular form of paid entertainment in the country. Americans annually spend $7 billion on movie tickets, $16 billion on sporting events, $24 billion on books (a heartening number to this writer and reader), and a whopping $62 billion on lottery tickets.
Id never thought of lotteries as entertainment, but on consideration, I have to concede that they are. And Ill confess that I do pay my regressive tax four times a week by buying lottery tickets ($1 Lotto Texas twice a week, $2 Mega Millions and Powerball twice a week for a grand weekly total of $8). Hey, as a freelance writer getting by and occasionally then some, the notion of huge windfall is nothing to sniff at, even if I know the odds are almost infinitesimally stacked against me (then again, I also look at how rarely Ive won anything in my life and labor under the delusion that it must mean I have a big one coming some day). And Lucky also cited how more than half of all American adults play the lottery, so I am hardly alone.
For me the entertainment isnt really playing but the daydreams I sometimes indulge in about what Id do if I did win. Of course, I also think about how a few years back while decrying the excessive wealth and disparity of wealth in America, I posed the question: Does anyone actually need more than $30 million dollars? It was a number I grabbed out of the air, but seems a reasonable one. A person can live quite well on that sum. So I also ponder if I did win more than that, would I live up to the principle I stated?
My entertainment pursuits are pretty basic: movies, music both recorded and live, and reading. Occasionally I play solitaire on my computer, but thats more a brief diversion even if, like the lottery, I suppose its also entertainment. These days I do entertain myself posting, commenting on and reading posts on Facebook. Reading magazines and web publications is entertainment. So is politics, even if its a troubling form of entertainment these days, and the fact that too many Americans think of politician as celebrities, ergo entertainers, is one huge problem with the system today. After all, what they should be is public servants who work for us, who pay their salary, and if they behaved as such the nation would be a lot better off.
Back when I lived in New York City, just walking the streets and observing the parade of diverse people and all that was going on served as a form of entertainment. And I guess going to a bar and drinking single malt scotch and talking with friends is also entertainment.
I dont watch or follow sports regularly as entertainment. Its not that I dont like sports or enjoy them when I watch them on TV or on those rare times I attend a game. I just have other things I prefer to do. And unlike some progressives, I dont object to more violent sports even if I have my concerns about them. The one sport, if any, I do get a bit into is the rather mild one of baseball, but will admit I like watching hockey, and though I dont watch matches, I do like movies about boxing and boxers. In recent years I have watched a lot of documentaries about sports and do like many Ive seen.
I dont play video games because what most of them are about doesnt appeal to me. And besides, Im too old to have developed the digital motor skills todays youth have to even play them. I dont go to plays much at all or follow celebrity gossip or play card or board games much. I guess some would think me a bit boring, but I stay entertained.
I will have to admit that Americas tendency as a people to indulge in entertainment has its negative impact on society, culture and politics. Time I spend being entertained could be used more positively, like volunteering to help others. But I also believe that all work and no play makes Jack maybe not a dull boy but a tired and stressed-out one. And at least my work as a writer can often be entertaining.
Entertainment is as old as human culture and an integral part of being human. It would be nice if more entertainment served positive social uses and human betterment. But hey, whatever we do to entertain ourselves, it sure beats being bored.
Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
From The Progressive Populist, November 1, 2010
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