Most, if not all of the ‘targets’ in this series have been quite easy, the ones which time and time again come across as cliches when written or spoken about, and I’d like to think that I have tackled them in such a way that I’ve removed some of the detritus added to them by motivational group-think. With this said, I’m going to target one of the most cliche targets of all modernity, TV. Or in its overarching context, entertainment. The fact this begs a whole post to cover should show how it’s affecting your life more than you think. In the previous posts I have made it clear I am rather passionately averse to contemporary entertainment, and I’d like to utilize this post to clear up many misconceptions regarding entertainment, and how one can form a healthier relationship with it – if such a relationship is possible.
Let’s begin at the micro and move out to the macro. Once again the average Joe spends his day working a job he dislikes, commuting, eating junk etc., basically he spends his day being controlled. But at the same time he bows down to a more covert form of control, one under the guise of ‘entertainment’ and ‘happiness’. Now, the term entertainment is in direct correlation with TV, video games and smart phones, it is primarily what they’re built for. Even texting and phone calls are entertainment to a certain degree, I mean people are using their phones to natter and gossip far more than they’re using them to communicate actual data – we’ll meet at the cafe at 12 etc. – in this sense smart phones, even at their most basic, are a form of entertainment.
Entertainment: the action of providing or being provided with amusement or enjoyment.
So between ol’ average Joe’s hours of work, biological needs and commuting, his other primary focus is being entertained. Upon waking he turns on the radio or scrolls through his phone, or eats his breakfast whilst watching TV. On his commute he listens to the radio or music on his phone. At work the radio is on and he routinely checks his phone and on and on. Basically, Joe has the need/desire to be entertained as much as he can be, there’s never a moment when he is truly alone with his thoughts. As soon as he sits down with nothing to do he whips out his phone and starts scrolling. Now, most people get quickly on the defensive here – “Well, what’s wrong with that!?”. Largely I think this is just projection of their insecurities, most people know they’re wasting their finite time (the only thing you can’t buy) and get angry at those who point this out. But for sake of argument, let’s find some reasons why it actually is a bad thing to do.
I don’t often enjoy nor find much use in excessive deconstruction, but the act of contemporary entertainment begs such a process to drag it to court. Because that’s what most people forget when they’re watching TV or scrolling through their phone, it is an act, they are performing an action, however banal and mind-numbing it may be. Any action performed consistently eventually becomes a habit, at least in a certain sense, whether you like it or not. And at its root the action you are performing when one is engrossed within contemporary entertainment is apathy. That’s right, man has found a way to not only be actively apathetic, but also has found a way to cultivate this behaviour in such a way that it has become a virtue – “Bro, I spent all weekend watching Netflix!” Let’s take this apart, let’s have a look at how man decides to spend the life he has been given-
There is a man or woman, plonked on a sofa. Their body in a strange unnatural position, all folded up and round, no point taking any more weight than any other, they’re a big pile of goo. They will remain here, just sat, in the same 4ft by 4ft space for hours end – the world is way bigger than this by the way – they’ll move their arm, maybe reposition, but that’s about it for using their body. As for their mind, it is quite literally working at its lowest setting. Unlike reading, learning, meditating, practicing or concentrating, contemporary acts of entertainment require nothing from the viewer, apart from one thing, that they stare in a certain direction. They are mediums of apathy. One could, if they so wished, be numbed all over, except for their eyes, and they would still be undertaking the act of being ‘entertained’, that is how pathetic this act is. I have nothing against what is on the TV, nor anything against visual media, what I am against is media which is a means to an end. People no longer like TV shows or specific films, they like Netflix, or watching-TV as a whole. They’re favorite pastimes are being apathetic to all that they can be. It is once again a question of whether or not you ever desired this in the first place, or has someone else decided this is the normal desire to have?
Not only do TV/media/smart-phones emanate as a false-desire, they also project further false-desires into your brain. Aspiration, that is what the large majority of contemporary media is – ‘You should be X, you should be doing Y, you should own Z’. Often a critique of TV is that it sells you the life you could be living, that you are watching the life you want instead of working towards it. I am somewhat sympathetic to this view, but at the same time very cautious of it. Why am I allowing the TV to tell me what I desire? Prior to switching the infernal thing on I never knew nor cared about X, Y and Z and now I have been quickly programmed to care, but I do not, not actually. What TV wants you to aspire to is to desire to watch more TV.
Let’s move to the macro, the main focus of this piece. We’ve seen what entertainment does on a micro level – it turns someone into a pathetic waste of potential, if this is what you wish, fine, just stay away from me. But what of entertainment in itself, as an idea? Since when did entertainment become the thing we directed ourselves towards after all survival, work and responsibilities were taken care of. “Ah, everything I need to do is done, time to no longer take any other aspect of my life seriously!”
And this is where the greatest lies ever sold (by modernity) comes to the fore. Happiness and entertainment. Those are complete and utter lies. I put them here together because of their importance in relation to one another. See, entertainment can also be taken as hedonism or enjoyment, and has become synonymous with happiness. When someone talks of being happy these days more often that not we assume that person enjoyed many material pursuits and pleasures, they were entertained and so they were happy, they went clubbing and so they were happy, they ate pizza and watched Netflix and so they were happy etc. We often hear people state with conviction that what they wish for themselves and their children is happiness, but have spent little time working out what happiness actually is. Because if one never thinks on whether or not they’re actually happy, then they will be quite content to merely be entertained forever. As soon as you question whether or not that 10 hour TV and junk food marathon actually made you happy, you soon come to realize that absolutely isn’t what happiness is. And of course, this is what you’re sold. Because happiness-as-entertainment is easy to sell: Holidays, new cars, big TVs, video games, junk food etc. all make one happy, but only if one’s definition of happiness is the same as those selling you it. Don’t allow others to redefine your emotions. You are not entertained just because they say that what you’re taking part in is entertainment, and as such, you have not found happiness just because they say you are undertaking that which supposedly makes you happy.
I know what you’re all thinking, “Well, what the hell is happiness then if you believe you have all the answers!” Now, I never said I had any answers, you should search for those yourself for fear of falling into someone else’s answer. With that said I do believe, to paraphrase David Foster Wallace, that to interject a question without attending to the answer is a tyranny, and as such I will attempt to extrapolate as to what happiness is and how it can be found from within modernity.
When one thinks back to the moments in which they were happy, they actually realize quite a bleak truth about happiness without realizing it. That is, happiness only exists in retrospect. I theorize this is why so many people find comfort in those long TV binge-watching sessions, it reminds them of a time in their childhood when they escaped for hours into a fantasy world on the TV etc. Anyway, the idea that one can just be happy, right now, this instant, is a complete miscommunication of what happiness is. Happiness is always in relation to suffering, discomfort, effort or overcoming. Those 4 terms can take very odd and unlikely manifestations in real life, but if you think about the times you were most happy, in the sense of contentment, fulfillment and a serious happiness of sincerely earned merit, you realize that prior to the happiness a certain amount of suffering took place, more than likely an amount in relation to the happiness you felt.
You earn your first belt in karate, months of work pays off and you feel happy that it’s all come together. You spend extra time preparing a delicious meal for someone you love. You spend 3 years studying hard for a degree. You take the time to get your thoughts down on paper because you believe they’ll help people in the same predicament. You spend years watching your child grow and learn with the help of your efforts. Each and every one of these examples expected the person to take the rest of their life, outside of work and eating, seriously. They had expectations. They were expected to make a sacrifice and suffer, but not in some torturous sense, but in the sense of testing themselves to see just how far they can go whilst they’re here on this planet. All of these examples are in strict opposition to apathy. The habit cultivated by desiring to be entertained 24/7, if you’re being entertained you’re not pushing yourself, not truly looking into your full potential.
Here’s something for you dear reader, and as much as I care about you, and am open to emails from those frustrated at modernity’s tricks, I present you with this: Were you really put on this earth to simply be comfortable? You probably never thought about it because we’re bombarded with the idea that the opposite notion is true 24/7, we take it as a given that those who are lounging around all day are having the best lives, that those in complete comfort are loving life. I am not saying that we have to all go down the mines to feel truly alive, nor am I saying that one should just work, work, work. I am simply asking you, quite sincerely, is comfort really at the end of your journey? That’s it is it, to just be entertained and die?
What else is there you cry! There is the rest of the world, there is suffering, triumph, overcoming, challenge, searching, frustration, breaking-through, stoicism, asceticism, love, affection, concentration, discipline and motivation, to name just a few. All of these are in some sense in battle with apathy, apathy wishes to take you over, it wishes for you to be easy. To sit back and let all the desires they have for you take you over.
Practice: Question why you turn to your smart-phone every time you are free to do so. Check the amount of time you use your phone and calculate how many days per year that is, ask yourself, is this how I truly wish to spend my finite time?
 If your check your phone 1 hour a day that accounts for 18 full days (24 hours) a year. I imagine many of you check your phone for 6 hours a day, that equates to roughly a third of your year, or; if you have a smart-phone for the rest of your life, a third of it will be spent staring at it. Is that how you wish to spend a third of your life, staring at a tiny screen?