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Is “Light Entertainment” Bad For You?

Mocking American tastes and intellectual sloth is a bad habit of mine. Which is why, on occasion, I receive emails like this one:

I always bristle when you start picking on the populace for what they watch on TV or choose to read or when you suggest that so many are idiots! I bet there are lots of brilliant people whose lives are full of serious challenges, and they just like some light entertainment. How about a brain surgeon who is under serious stress all day? He’s brilliant, but when he gets home, he wants to unwind with [The] DaVinci [Code]. Or the mom of 3 who cares for her husband, kids and home plus heads up a ministry at church. She is organized, creative, and shrewd. Makes meals that keep her family raving, settles sibling rivalry incidents with wisdom, gets the best deals… And then she collapses with some Christian chick lit. Okay, I’m rambling. I’m just saying people have a right to read what they want to read and if their choices aren’t as literary as yours or mine, it doesn’t mean they are stupid. 

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Actually, the tone of the letter was gracious. This is just the part that took me to task.

I appreciate correspondences like this and don’t feel the least offended. (So if you’re thinking about sending me a nasty letter, now’s the time to do it, while I’m in a good mood.) I realize I can come off as an elitist sometimes and, in a way, have no defense.

As long as we agree that there is “light entertainment” (some would say, “mindless entertainment”) then we’re on the same page. Where we probably differ is in

  1. What constitutes “light entertainment”
  2. How much light entertainment is good for a person
  3. Why we gravitate so naturally to light entertainment

I’m probably over-thinking this, but here I go: If there’s “light entertainment,” then there’s other grades of entertainment, from “heavy” to the “really light” (vacuous?), from the “substantial” to the “substance-less,” from pure diversion to exploitation to the obscene. So it’s a matter of drawing lines and people are free to draw them where they want.

Still, I can only take so many game shows before I want to puke.

So maybe we can agree on degrees. While art appreciation is a subjective exercise, most people would agree that the Beatles were better than your neighbor’s garage band and that Ulysses is superior to Mike’s First Story. Maybe The DaVinci Code falls somewhere in between. All I’m suggesting (albeit in my snide manner) is that it’s far better to listen to the Beatles than your neighbor’s garage band, and to read Joyce than Dan Brown. Watching American Idol might not make one stupid, but striving for better, deeper fare definitely wouldn’t hurt.

All that to say, light entertainment might not be bad for you, but neither is small doses of cotton candy.

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{ 17 comments… add one }
  • Kessie November 29, 2011, 8:12 AM

    I don’t know, I think the “garbage in, garbage out” principle still applies. Light entertainment or not, if it’s garbage, it’s still rattling around in your mind, dirtying up the place.

  • Mark H. November 29, 2011, 8:16 AM

    Certainly most of us probably consume more “light entertainment” than we should, just as we probably eat more junk food than we should. But I still think there’s a place for it.

    If I eat nothing but asparagus and broccoli for the rest of my life, I may be incredibly healthy and live into my 100’s, but what good is it if I’m miserable because I really hate asparagus? Being allowed to consume a greasy Philly cheesesteak now and then would make the other days of eating what I should much more bearable.

    High art and literary work is mostly deep and often full of angst and rage, making you think, discuss, argue, ruminate…in other words, work. God prescribes six days of work followed by a day of rest each week. Sometimes you get enough angst and rage in your everyday life and you just want to laugh. Or see what happens when something blows up. I think light entertainment fits into the category of “rest”.

    • Kevin Lucia November 29, 2011, 3:37 PM

      I’m a big believer in this. I tend to swing to whatever my mood fits, because, hey: I’m not in school anymore. Don’t have to write reports for school anymore. So, in the end, I read what I feel like. I just go through different phases. Sometimes, I want my Stephen King or Peter Straub. But then, I want some cool Noir/pulp, so I want Norman Partridge. And then sometimes I just want something relentlessly hopeful, so then I dial in Dean Koontz. OR, maybe I’ll something really atmospheric and tense – but subtle – so it’ll be Charles Grant, T. M. Wright, or Ramsey Campbell. Right now, I’m in a total Ed Gorman/Western phase.

      Admittedly, I DO have a hard time with faith-driven fiction, because there are so few authors I like (and I have done the review thing, so I’ve read plenty). Have to wait until the next T. L. Hines or “ahem” Mike Duran novel…

      And I “block” certain books out for different times of the year. For example, I’ve got “Grapes of Wrath” and all the Brother Grimm’s fairy tales blocked out for the summer. because I won’t be teaching and reading for teaching, so I’ll have the brain space.

  • A. November 29, 2011, 8:49 AM

    I had a friend in college who once accused me of having “intellectual movies for shallow reasons” (most of my dvds in my dorm room were period movies staring Colin Firth, etc) to which I said, “isn’t that still better than shallow movies for shallow reasons?”

    Anyway – my point is – where does that fit in there? People do like “heavier” entertainment for “light” reasons at times. How does this fit into this?

    I also think there’s a huge difference between “light” and “trash” – Mythbusters is light. The Jersey Shore is trash.

  • Katherine Coble November 29, 2011, 9:33 AM

    People are different. What compells them is different, what they do well is different and how they unwind will be different as well.

    Borrowing the example above mine–I personally find Mythbusters horrific because of the way they use destruction and violence to entertain. (“Let’s go blow s–t up and call it science”). On the other hand, I have strong anthropological interests and find shows like Jersey Shore (which I admit I’ve never seen) and People’s Court to be fascinating studies of human nature. Watching them relaxes me.

    My husband is just the opposite.

  • A. November 29, 2011, 10:06 AM

    true enough =D (And I acknowledge your point on the Mythbusters thing – I was thinking more along the lines of when they started out, rather than their current “lets just blow up stuff even if it doesn’t get blown up testing the myth” incarnation – but even then – it is a matter of people’s personal tastes!)

  • Lyn Perry November 29, 2011, 12:00 PM

    To make a connection with your last post on meaning in art, I might suggest that although the producers of those shows may *intend* for them to be light fare, they are *meaningful* to me because (if the previous blog post is correct) meaning is derived by audience. 😉

  • Nikole Hahn November 29, 2011, 12:01 PM

    I can’t think of a single rotten thing to say and so I am choosing to keep you in a good mood. I like your last line in this blog “but neither is small doses of cotton candy.” I like to give people a bad time about liking Twilight stuff. I would never say they are stupid for liking it, but they get so passionate about it they become unintentional targets of my humor. I’m not into vampires. I do like light movies, but sometimes movies like Hallmark can be so light as to be unrealistic and straining my patience. :o) But I’m not saying all Hallmark is this way. Some of them I do love and watch every year. I think everybody should be well-rounded. I know people who watch light fare because they live in fear much of the time.

    • Katherine Coble November 29, 2011, 12:38 PM

      I’d lose a substantial portion of my reason to live if I couldn’t mock Twilight.

  • R. L. Copple November 29, 2011, 12:18 PM

    Still not sure what the definition of “light” entertainment is. My first reaction is to say it speaks of entertainment that does little else other than to entertain. Doesn’t try to make a point, allegorize anything, speak to social, political, or religious issues, and any theme or point it ends up making or promoting is purely incidental and often accidental. The whole point is merely to entertain.

    And that is probably where some of the more “heavier” stuff, the more literary, can fail. Sort of following your points about trying too hard to have a theme, much of it so focuses on that, that it fails to do the one thing entertainment is supposed to do: entertain.

    If our entertainment doesn’t entertain, then it is pointless no matter how much meaning is stuffed into it. It might as well be non-fiction, self-help book then, and read for that purpose, not to relax and enjoy something.

    But what is entertainment is the subjective part of this. I listened to a speaker one time whose primary job was an accountant. He said he liked numbers, and he could read the phone book for entertainment. So what some find entertaining is the “heavy” stuff. They enjoy a puzzle, to think about things, and focus on deep thoughts helps them to relax. For other people, just a good story that keeps their interest, but says little about the realities of life, is how they relax.

    To me it almost sounds like we are mixing points to a degree. By “light” entertainment and “heavy,” it almost sounds like you are making the point of whether “To much relaxing can be bad for us.” Or, “Why don’t people find my kind of entertainment relaxing?”

    I’m of the type that if I want to be entertained, I don’t want to have to think about things a lot. I want to just sit back and enjoy without having to try and pull meanings out of the story, or look up some obscure word the author decided to plug into the book so as not to be “common.” (As a matter of fact, I would rarely look up such words, if it isn’t clear from the context, I shrug and move on…I’m not reading entertainment to learn anything, generally, unless it sort of happens by default).

    I guess because at the jobs I’ve tended to have in the past required a lot of mental focus, learning lots of information, etc. that anything associated with learning equals work, not relaxing. But to someone who works at a job, like a daycare taking care of kids all day, for instance, may find more “intellectual” stories very entertaining and a good way to relax.

    Naturally we can’t relax all the time, and some people who are lazy do just that. But if we want to accomplish anything in life, we can’t be on retreats 24/7. But that doesn’t negate the need to have a retreat from the world we live in day in and day out.

    So to me it isn’t so much whether a person is smart or not that moves them toward light or heavy reading. It is what they find relaxing and entertaining. And to me it becomes “elitist” when whichever category of entertainment you find relaxing and entertaining, you act or treat others with disdain as if they are wrong for finding the other type of entertainment as entertaining when you do not. That goes for those who like literary, as well as those who like space opera or sword and sorcery.

    It’s not like fiction is the only place one learns anything, if they want to. It is why any “messages,” if the story is done right, are natural and organic to the story, and not overt. And that’s why the more overt “and the meaning of this is…” doesn’t sit well with readers of fiction. If they wanted that, they’d be reading non-fiction. When I read fiction, I primarily want an entertaining story, not to learn anything. Not that learning something from such a story is a bad thing, mind you. I can appreciate it when it is there, and I write such stuff. But that shouldn’t be the primary purpose of fiction. The primary purpose is to entertain, and if it fails at that primary task, none of the rest matters.

    So the more central question to me is what is entertainment to any one person? And why should I, if I don’t find literary writings to be entertaining, be expected to read it much if at all? I don’t see the problem here, really.

  • Jill November 29, 2011, 12:41 PM

    Cotton candy is by its very nature poisonous. Small portions won’t kill you, but they aren’t good for you either. From a sociological perspective, I might study the type of person who eats cotton candy and the behavioral effects caused by refined sugar and food coloring, but I won’t personally ingest it. I already made those experiments when I was younger, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t like sweets, and my tolerance level goes down as I grow older. And the same is true of light fiction, though what one person considers light may not be the same as the next. For example, comedy may appear light, and reading it may help someone to “lighten” up at the end of the day, in that it makes “light” of the human condition. But for that very reason, it isn’t as light as it first appears. Even the fluffiest literature works on multiple levels; however, I choose to eschew the type of light lit that reveals, on a deeper reading, a base or foolish world view. The “Shopaholic” books are a good example of this because they highlight the condition of many modern females who have few skills, little self-control, and no integrity. But at the end, this modern example wins because she has sex with a rich man, which, as you know, if a flighty girl has sex with a rich guy, her future is secure. Rich men don’t ever take advantage of attractive but poor females. Ever. That’s cotton candy for you–poisonous even in small doses. But, hey, it’s not going to kill you.

    • Katherine Coble November 29, 2011, 1:06 PM

      Jill has her computer back!! Happy day!!

      Back OT:
      excellent point about the insidiousness of faux light fare.

      And frankly, as a comic writer and a lover of farce I often find there to be plenty of deep in the funny.

      • Jill November 29, 2011, 2:05 PM

        I don’t have my computer back. I gave it away, and I can’t take it back now. I’m working from the family computer, which I have to fight for in order to check e-mails, etc. Boo-hoo, but I’m the one who gave it away.

        Hurray for comedy! What would I do without it? Go insane, probably.

  • Susan November 29, 2011, 1:00 PM

    My problem has been that I tend to be too serious, and forget to have fun.

  • Jason Joyner November 29, 2011, 1:35 PM

    I was in an intense Bible school for nine months and had little access to diversions like TV and movies. We poured over the Bible each day. I brought three Louis L’Amour westerns with me (overseas) and they became treasures. I had read them multiple times as a teen, so I didn’t even have to think about them. They became an island of fluff I could retreat to after a hard day at the books. I portioned them out once a trimester, and they were so refreshing. I don’t think I’ve read them since, but they were a boon to me at the time.

    And I am highly amused by Mark H.’s analogy – he would know why 😉

  • A. November 29, 2011, 1:43 PM

    case in point about the differences between people… Louis L’Amour is only known to me as the author of the one book I had to read for history class in high school that I could not stand… (I was the odd girl who actually liked most of our assigned readings – there’s few books that I’ve ever been assigned that I completely hated- that Louis L’Amour book is the only one I hated enough to actually remember) So it was assigned class reading for me, but pleasure/light/fluff reading for you!

  • Karen November 30, 2011, 5:43 AM

    You may be seriously disappointed but when I feel completely defeated in life, after reading my Bible- I love a Disney cartoon movie. “Someday my prince will come…” Happy endings can happen I saw it from Disney! Ok, I think I’m supposed to write and illustrate children’s books.

    But the part I don’t get is the “reality” TV. Why would anyone in there right mind want to watch brides throwing temper tantrums and cussing? Or a family that constantly quarrels all the time? If I want to quarrel I can pick on my husband. Not such a good idea. Throw a person in front of a train and see how they cop notion. So sadistic.

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