How many times did I see my mom shake her head as she clucked her tongue at whatever TV program we kids were watching. The thing was, my dad often was watching too, which put Mom on an island by herself, clucking and shaking.
Whenever she voiced her disapproval, often about the level of violence, our argument was something like, But Mooomm, it’s just pretend. Those guys aren’t really dying. Of course, in love scenes, the couple really was kissing, so the argument was more along the line of, But they’re only kissing!
The point is, I didn’t think about what I was watching much, unless Mom was in the room, and then I was decidedly uncomfortable in the scenes I knew would bother her.
As a young adult, after seeing some raunchy movies, I came to a place where I realized I needed to set my own parameters for my entertainment. Teaching in a Christian school caused me to examine my standards yet again. What kind of an example was I to be to my students?
Eventually I asked what seemed like a logical question: is entertainment even necessary? Are we wasting our time listening to idol contestants, watching the Final Four, reading the comics page of the newspaper, or tuning in to see the latest episode of V?
That’s a tough question. Some entertainment seems to fall into the category of “art,” so it would be hard to argue against it. I remember seeing Macbeth when I was young, and an operetta version of Hansel and Gretel. But if those stories fall in the realm of acceptable entertainment, what about the Donald Duck comic books I loved so much? Or the Nancy Drew novels I started reading?
Is the issue entertainment in general or meaningful entertainment? In other words, should entertainment have something about it that justifies the time it requires? Or is it enough that we can lose ourselves for a few hours? Is it enough that we are amused or thrilled or happy?
I think about Jesus, working so hard to meet the needs of the crowds that flocked to Him that there were days He didn’t even have time to eat. I have a hard time imagining Him sitting down to watch Survivor or going to a Dodgers game. But maybe that’s because those weren’t the forms of entertainment in the first century.
J. R. R. Tolkien famously defended “escapist” literature, particularly “fairy stories,” saying that it allowed escape from the “horror” of the technological, to that which is more permanent and beautiful:
I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which ‘Escape’ is now so often used. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?
– from “On Fairy Stories”
The implication is that the escape to something more true, validated the escape. But what about escape that isn’t to something true? What about escape that is mindless, designed only to give a momentary jolt — a thrill or a sense of happiness? Is that escape still profitable?
I suspect many in our western culture, including many Christians, will eagerly answer that of course it is. But I can’t help wondering if that isn’t the world talking, not God. I’d like to look at what the Bible says about entertainment next time.
What are your thoughts and insights on the subject?