History and the Endless Pursuit of Entertainment... Continued
A Century of Entertainment
In the United States, the 20th century introduced a plethora of devices intended to entertain. Collectibles like baseball cards were favored, along with teddy bears, jigsaw puzzles, and yo-yos. The post-war economic climate of the 1920s allowed many Americans to purchase cars and travel to movie theaters and on-stage productions. Wild dancing, nightclubs, speakeasies, and lavish home parties kept members of the upper class occupied.
During the 1930s and 40s, entertainment choices turned from expensive and elaborate to simple and affordable. Americans didn’t have much cash at their disposal, but they still sought amusement to help them forget economic and wartime troubles. Radio continued to flourish and featured a variety of programs that included sermons and soap operas. The theater also became increasingly popular, as comedies and musicals appealed to audiences of all ages.
Television became the center of attention in the 1950s and 60s. Although invented in the 1930s, most people did not own a TV in the home until much later. It differed from movies in that it was free, and sitcom characters reminded viewers of themselves. But television also introduced the idea of entertainment as a solitary pleasure. People stayed home and tuned to their sets in anticipation of shows like I Love Lucy and Gunsmoke.
The Beat Generation
While television enthralled some, it also enraged others. A group known as the Beats believed television rotted the mind and limited a person’s experiences in the world. They craved meaning rather than mere entertainment and experimented with drugs and alcohol. The Beats did not want to start a revolt, but they did want people to think for themselves. Perhaps they feared all people would think as King Henry VIII had, in that he couldn’t seek pleasure for himself but needed to be guided and led in this endeavor.
Ironically, television and its spread of mass culture gave publicity to the Beats. News programs reported on the group’s activities and earned ratings in return. But the Beats were ostracized as “beatniks,” and therein began a world of journalism in which those who are different earn their so-called fifteen minutes of fame. Thanks to the combined efforts of the Beats and television, a faction still remains today that resists technology and embraces free thinking for all.
But technology has persevered and sits comfortably at the forefront of entertainment. Many innovations even promote the idea of solitary amusement. Invented in 1978, the Walkman allowed people to listen to the music of their choice without interrupting others. But its key features of portability and individual enjoyment precluded the listener from conversation with others.
Later inventions of the 20th century - including the personal computer and laptop - achieved the same effect. Apple continued the idea of solitary leisure with the iPad, iPod, and iPhone. Thanks to these devices, people can have entire conversations with each other and never utter a word. They connect with the world and watch television shows in the palm of their hands, but they are not engaged with others the way previous entertainments required. The days of revels and masques are long gone. Sports are still played and enjoyed by widespread masses, but they are not daily pleasures as in Tudor times. Feasts are all but unheard of, unless in reference to the holiday season. Speakeasies disappeared with the end of the Prohibition era.
One trait that remains is the difference in how social classes derive pleasure. Exclusive memberships at yacht clubs and country clubs remain for the wealthy. The affluent also enjoy luxury vacations and travel abroad. Some own multiple vehicles, boats, and other machines that also give pleasure. Like their ancestors, they throw sumptuous parties with or without the added entertainment of professional singers and dancers.
Members of the middle and lower classes continue to frequent movies and stage plays. Books, television, and participation in civic groups also give joy and satisfaction. Major theater productions are no longer free, and traveling troupes do not perform in village squares, but free festivals and concerts do occur during the warmer months.