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We are all entertainers

Entertainment is everywhere, especially in Edinburgh during Festival season, when the streets are peppered with performers, handbill distributors, costumed actors scuttling from A to B, and late-running Royal Scots Dragoon guards.

In an interesting essay of 2002 on entertainment and the Internet, film theorist Richard Dyer noted how entertainment was even then fusing with everyday communications channels, particularly via the Internet. The earliest forms of this fusion were sonic, in particular the use of background music and radio broadcasts that we might expect to hear anywhere and at any time. Then came personal stereos. Now the visual aspects of entertainment are ubiquitous as well:

“television, video and the internet are visual as well as audio media that are also in the home, permanently available, that you can take about with you and access at any time.”

So entertainment is no longer apart from the rest of life, at least not spatially and temporally. Neither is it constrained to professional production, but can be co-produced, crowd-sourced and user-generated.

“with the internet, performance is not even necessarily professionally provided (except by technicians facilitating commercial web sites) — music, drama, all kinds of performances and visual expressions are now as likely to be amateur as professional, and anyone may be both a provider and a consumer of entertainment.” (176)

What’s entertainment?

Entertainment seems to be a subspecies of art dedicated to pleasure and distraction. Commentators place entertainment in the company of popular culture. Entertainment also has its elite forms, from which the tastes of the rest of us derive. For the Victorian elite it was ok to entertain your friends with a song, but it was the professional performer who was most under suspicion.

Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin and the Critical Theory School weave the story of entertainment into political critique. Entertainment is often cast negatively, as an indulgence, separate from rational, workaday life, or as a means of diverting the exploited from their plight, sustaining mass consumption and therefore global capitalism.

As anyone online can generate media content, it looks as though any of us can assume the role of entertainer. Not all producers of entertainment are themselves entertainers. By entertainer I mean someone who presents themselves to an audience face on, or voice on — not the producer, scriptwriter, set designer or costumier, but the talent on stage, in front of the camera or microphone: the actor, juggler, acrobat, clown, extra, stand up, singer, instrumentalist, conductor, voiceover, player, dancer, performance artists, demonstrator, DJ, MC, and perhaps athlete.

Juggler in front of National Gallery, Edinburgh

Keeping out of the limelight

Anyone can be an entertainer, tell a joke, hold the floor at a party (sometimes), run a karaoke number, offer an entertaining speech or lecture, or appear on YouTube. But as ersatz online entertainers, what are we getting ourselves in to?

  1. The entertainer is a juggler of emotions. Aristotle says as much of the rhetorician. You have to gauge the mood of the audience, and in turn project the right mood. For the classical tradition, any discipline so dependent on the emotions for its raison d’etre is suspect. Emotions can sway either way. The entertainer has to be prepared for derision as well as applause.
  2. Entertainment carries with it the trappings of class. Society places a great premium on entertainers who fit the bill, and some receive stratospheric remuneration. For most it’s badly paid. Though we may admire and even envy the entertainer’s abilities, stories about entertainers place them on the margins of society. Even those who are rich and famous pay the price by giving up their privacy and dignity — Why isn’t Jennifer Aniston wearing her engagement ring?‎
  3. As depicted in Sylvain Chomet’s (and Jacques Tatti’s) clever animated film The Illusionist (2010) entertainment is closely associated with pathos, dashed dreams, derision, and playing the fool. Drag acts seem to play on comic-tragedy, and audiences do enjoy sad stories about entertainers: A Star is Born (1954); The Entertainer (1960); The Rose (1979); Festival (2005).
  4. “Entertainer” is sometimes a euphemism for someone in the sex business, or at least someone who is “available.” Look at the words and video of Robbie Williams’ Let me Entertain You. Entertainment has this association. According to Dyer, “To watch an action movie is to sink back in the seat and say, ‘show me a good time.'”(68)
  5. Though they are in the public eye, some people really don’t want to be mistaken for entertainers, and want to be “taken seriously”: journalists, educators, activists, politicians, critics, coaches, guides, sportspeople, bishops.

It’s interesting and somewhat jarring, when entertainers turn into politicians, activists and public intellectuals. But it’s just a role after all, like delivering information, or a challenge.

“We are all hooligans”

So said the banner of protesters in New York denouncing the sentencing of the three members of the Russian protest band Pussy Riot (Bloomberg). The lyrics of the punk prayer they tried to sing in the Moscow Cathedral are online. However the anti-sentimentalism of punk squares with the ethos of the entertainer, the cause has enlisted the support of many in the business. Entertainment and activism, punk and protest — there’s something here about the power, potential and danger of entertainment.

Pussy Riot band members with face masks

References

  • Adorno, Theodor W. 1991. The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture. London: Routledge
  • Aristotle. 1991. The Art of Rhetoric. Trans. H. C. Lawson-Tancred. London: Penguin. Written in the 3rd century BC.
  • Benjamin, Walter. 1992. The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction. In H. Arendt (ed.), Illuminations: 1-58. London: Fontana.
  • Dyer, Richard. 2002. Only Entertainment. London: Routledge

Notes

  • Here’s the first stanza to The Entertainer by Billy Joel: I am the entertainer; And I know just where I stand; Another serenader; And another long-haired band; Today I am your champion; I may have won your hearts; But I know the game; You will forget my name; And I won’t be here; In another year; If I don’t stay on the charts.
  • Here are some quotes about being entertaining: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/entertainer.html
  • In support of 4 above, Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz have the lines “The plot can be hot, simply teeming with sex, a gay divorcee who is after her ‘ex’ … the world is a stage, the stage is a world of entertainment” in their 1953 song That’s Entertainment from The Band Wagon. 
  • Also see What are audiences for.

About Richard Coyne

The cultural, social and spatial implications of computers and pervasive digital media spark my interest ... enjoy architecture, writing, designing, philosophy, coding and media mashups.

Discussion

18 thoughts on “We are all entertainers

  1. I carefully read the text and realized that we are all entertainers. I’d like to illustrate my understanding about entertainment. I think entertainment is a part of our life. From ancient times until today, people are always looking for the possibility to making entertainment. Chinese have a saying: Life is pain and try to joy from misery. In the recreational world, we can forget the pressure that reality life put on us. Some people find themselves from entertainment, but other people lose themselves. With scientific and technological development, our entertainment manner and medium have changed too. We party on the internet and we are changing, so is society and entertainment. We want to hold our base line which is not to show anti-social behavior. Only then can we serve ourselves in a useful way.

    Posted by QingZhao | September 24, 2012, 1:36 pm
  2. It’s interesting that once the audience get involved in the entertainment, they actually are playing a role of entertainer at the same time. Take a pop music concert for example. Fans go to the concert for enjoying the performance. However, despite of the entertainment from the performance, the audience also play an important role in the concert without consciousness. Apparently, one of the important elements of a successful concert is audience. Entertainers and audience create great atmosphere together. Nevertheless, after being record into DVD, the audience become the entertainers, too.
    In my point of view, this article is mainly about post-modernism. The concept of the entertainer and the audience are not easy to define. It’s changeable. It’s about Relativism.

    Posted by Peiyu Chiang | September 30, 2012, 1:26 pm
  3. Firstly, it let me think about today’s TV entertainment shows such as “The Voice”. One thing I have noticed from it is the judges, they are one highlight of the show itself. What they comment on and how they react to each component are really impressive. Here they become the entertainer themselves. In this case, the combination of components and judges make this show successful. It is impossible that judges could also be entertainments during 1990s but now it happens in many TV talent shows and radio programs as well. I suppose to say that there is a trend that we are leading an recreational way when we producing programs. Producers or directors are trying to make more entertainment to attract more audiences.
    Consequently, audiences interact with the internet and post comments on these programs. More interestingly, they have influence on the audiences and some of them even imitate the components they prefer by posting their own videos on Youtube. I think the number of audience is becoming uncountable with the interaction of internet. They are varies from the the audiences in reality to the audiences in virtual world. This change make the audiences themselves become the role of entertainers. Additionally, instead of making advertisement of these shows, audiences is becoming the advertisement for them. They add comments on Facebook, Twitter or blogs, which are just like making advertisements of these shows to their friends are families. And the transmission is to be continued.
    I also noticed that different people have different definition of entertainer that some of them want to be “taken seriously” because they hold a narrow opinion of entertainer, which I am not in favor of. With the internet involved in today’s new media, I think there is no difference between people who are journalists, educators or politicians and people who are hosts, actors or singers, which result in different responsibilities of social labor. For people like journalists, they are closely related to news and it also contains entertainment news, so they news become entertainers. It is the question of direct relation to entertainer and indirect relation to it.
    Lastly, I want to add my opinion about entertainment. Entertainment should not be the purpose of our program. Instead of that, audiences should be the purpose of the program. Based on that, I would prefer saying it is the process of producing the program. When the producer thinking about a program, he or she firstly should focus on the audience requirements so that the program could earn high proportion of audiences. It is the first step. After that, it comes to the entertainment part which is how to make it attractive to audiences? Do not let us be the slave of the entertainment but to make good use of it.

    Posted by Yang Ding | September 30, 2012, 5:11 pm
  4. Everyone may have the opportunity to be a provider of entertainment instead of just being consumer as the innovation of Internet and the emergence of new media. It is a stimulating phenomenon. In fact, it brings individual more fun. For instance, one of my friends who is interested in watching movies and TV series try to shoot a short film and post it on her own blog. And she can share her movie with her friends and other people. Moreover, she is able to get advice from other people. Therefore, with the Internet, people can produce their entertainment works and share it with other people. I also find that anyone may became a journalism because of the emergence of new media. Before a decade or even longer, individuals could merely accept the information that was published by the mass media. But now everyone is able to post news on their microblogs or other social media. So, we do not accept information or enjoy performance passively any more. We can get involve it and create it.

    Posted by yingjun ma | October 1, 2012, 1:07 pm
  5. After reading the passage, I have severaI viewpoint. Firstly, I have much agreement with the first sentence in this blog. During the fringe in Edinburgh this year, artists gave their performances everywhere, for instance, theatres, parks and even in the street. It was hardly for people who were in Edinburgh to be an non-entertainer at that time. It is the first time for me to take part in this sort of big international art event, whereas I heard about this festival from television in my hometown before. After arriving in Edinburgh, I searched lots of information about this event and watched a number of performances, not only in front of these entertainers but also on internet. It had a lot of fun by doing these things at that time.
    The experience which I mentioned above is an argument for the topic: “We are all entertainers”. The word `entertainer` in this blog refers to that “someone who presents themselves to an audience face on, or voice on” but in fact, as the rapid development of media medium, this explanation of entertainer is getting wider and wider. For example, common people hardly had chances to appear in TV or other media program in the past. However they can be a real entertainer by uploading their performance records to some website such as YOUTUBE nowadays.
    In conclusion, I assert the sentence“we are all entertainers” is another to say “play is ubiquitous”.

    Posted by Chen Xi | October 7, 2012, 11:18 am
  6. “Taking the entertainment seriously” is the only comment I have after reading this article. I want to talk about two aspects of entertainment here. The first one is the difference between arts and entertainment. While the second one is the relationship between tourism and entertainment. Most people will despise entertainment, which they only regard it to be simple activities like watching tv or playing games. In comparision, arts seems to be a refined activity. Only people who have talents and training experiences can be engaged in arts. In my opinion, no matter arts or entertainment, they both help people relax, escape and fantasize. Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller thinks arts comes from game and it also a kind of “free game”. Therefore, entertainment is more suitable for ordinary people and it can bring perceptual and rational liberation.
    Moving to the next question, the relationship between tourism and entertainment. Just like the first sentence saying: “Every year Edinburgh will hold the art festival,which will appeal more than thousands of tourists from all over the world .” It is a useful way to stimulate the economy of Edinburgh. As we all know, the world’s largest industry is tourism. How to improve the tourism industry is a big problem to every government. I think the answer is combining entertainment with tourism. Some successful examples like Macao and Edinburgh illstrate the importance of entainment. The success of tourism in Macao and Edinburgh is mainly because of kinds of recreational activities. People will easily enjoy that entertainment from visitors to tourist (visitors includes day-visitors and excursionist. Tourists means people will have an overnignt trip). The more time they spend, the more money are earned by governments. Thus, we can not ignore the importance of entertainment in tourism. Moreover, artists and entertainers want to find a wilder area to show their talents and abilities. If they always stay in a fixed theater or odeum , they do not have the chance to show their whole talents to all the people and can not exchange different abilities with each other. If they choose to play in a tourist place. A range of people come from all over the world will enjoy their performances. It is also a better way to study and exchange ideas. After all, we can not ignore the power from entainment. Let’s move on to entertainments!

    Posted by Xiaoye Wang | November 21, 2012, 10:50 pm
  7. The development of technology help us to get involve in every media production. In my opinion, “We are all entertainers” is one of the key reasons which makes multimedia more and more popular. Compare with bystanders, everyone wants to become an active participant . Just like what is been said that Media editors are empowering audiences in their own creative pursuit.
    Additionally, the article also remind me of an interesting phenomenon. In my college study, there were lots of gust speaker visit us on the master class of film industry. The filmmaker from US will always said that film is entertainment, we are all entertainers. On the contrast, the filmmaker from France and other European country usually concentrate their lecture on artistic value and social effect. It is interesting to note, just like the contrast between box-office of Hollywood film and European film, those lecture focuses on industry and entertainment always get good feedback. In the audiences report published by BFI in 2011, we can find that there were 87% UK audiences watching film for entertaining. So entertainment is always the mean motivation for audiences. So as an media designer, we just need to keep it in mind.

    Posted by Wang Jingyi | November 25, 2012, 2:05 am
  8. After reading the “Keeping out of the limelight” section in Richard’s article, I totally agree with the view about the famous “star” entertainers might have to pay the price by giving up their privacy and dignity. This reminds me of a typical phenomenon about some young people doing absurd or obscene things intentionally for the sake of being famous. Indeed they have successfully entertained the public and offered more harmless topics, however, sometimes I just feel confused about if such self hype could be regarded as the real entertainment.

    Let me share a real case happened in China. In the recent years, there is a woman called Sister Feng who has suddenly become quite famous that as long as you are a Chinese web surfer, you will certainly know her. Her full name is Luo Yufeng, who seems to be one of the most famous web celebrities these years in China. Initially Sister Feng passed out leaflets of her marriage-seeking ads in Shanghai, which drew attention of the public, because of her severe and shocking condition such as “He must have a bachelors-masters degree in Economics from Beijing University or Tsinghua University (The top 2 universities in China), with 172-183 cm tall, the more handsome the better.” Bear in mind that she is only 146 cm tall with a totally unattractive appearance and just has an ordinary job. The enormous divergence between her own qualifications and that of the man she was seeking seems quite ridiculous, and soon became well-known after someone post it online. After that, she even applied and had been on some television shows to go on talking about herself. Some sentence has become popular like “No men can be beyond me in intelligence, so the only potential for them to catch up is their height and appearance”. People enjoy watching her presentation, actually with sardonic irony. It was ever said by surfers “Eating, sleeping and laughing at Sister Feng” as the relaxation ways. The increasingly unimaginable saying made her more and more famous.

    I was shocked by Sister Feng’s funny behavior as the public do, and felt interesting and unbelievable in such lacking of self-knowledge in the society. However, one day a network-marketing agency admitted they engineered the case of Sister Feng. A woman in a poor image with unusual words has a great comic effect through hyping by the Network media. After knowing the truth, I lost interest in her performance because they are no longer real to me. It seems all the entertaining cases of Sister Feng were just deliberate acting. This is not the only case but just one of such cases these years. Some entertainment TV shows also hire figurants as guests or participants to act unusually in order to hype and create a buzz. As a result, I have to be suspicious about all the interesting TV programs, because I have no idea if people were saying what he really want to say without acting. Sometimes it just seems soured in the entertainment industry.

    In this day and age, the entertainment seems an active demand to us. A variety of entertainment programs and topics emerge endlessly and sometimes serious topics would be explained in an entertaining way. The appearance of the so-called web celebrities, such as Sister Feng, are likely to satisfy the entertainment need of net surfers. Once there is a need, there is market. I am not standing in the oppositional position to this current phenomenon, but in my opinion, these performances just not seem the real entertainment. In fact I am still confused about the meaning of such entertainment cases.

    Posted by Yanjie HE | December 17, 2012, 9:33 pm

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