Entertainment is a form of activity that holds the attention and interest of an audience, or gives pleasure and delight. It can be an idea or a task, but is more likely to be one of the activities or events that have developed over thousands of years specifically for the purpose of keeping an audience’s attention. Although people’s attention is held by different things, because individuals have different preferences in entertainment, most forms are recognisable and familiar. Storytelling, music, drama, dance, and different kinds of performance exist in all cultures, were supported in royal courts, developed into sophisticated forms and over time became available to all citizens. The process has been accelerated in modern times by an entertainment industry that records and sells entertainment products. Entertainment evolves and can be adapted to suit any scale, ranging from an individual who chooses a private entertainment from a now enormous array of pre-recorded products; to a banquet adapted for two; to any size or type of party, with appropriate music and dance; to performances intended for thousands; and even for a global audience.
The experience of being entertained has come to be strongly associated with amusement, so that one common understanding of the idea is fun and laughter, although many entertainments have a serious purpose. This may be the case in the various forms of ceremony, celebration, religious festival, or satire for example. Hence, there is the possibility that what appears as entertainment may also be a means of achieving insight or intellectual growth.
An important aspect of entertainment is the audience, which turns a private recreation or leisure activity into entertainment. The audience may have a passive role, as in the case of persons watching a play, opera, television show, or film; or the audience role may be active, as in the case of games, where the participant/audience roles may be routinely reversed. Entertainment can be public or private, involving formal, scripted performance, as in the case of theatre or concerts; or unscripted and spontaneous, as in the case of children’s games. Most forms of entertainment have persisted over many centuries, evolving due to changes in culture, technology, and fashion for example with stage magic. Films and video games, for example, although they use newer media, continue to tell stories, present drama, and play music. Festivals devoted to music, film, or dance allow audiences to be entertained over a number of consecutive days.
Some activities that were once considered entertaining, particularly public punishments, have been removed from the public arena. Others, such as fencing or archery, once necessary skills for some, have become serious sports and even professions for the participants, at the same time developing into entertainment with wider appeal for bigger audiences. In the same way, other necessary skills, such as cooking, have developed into performances among professionals, staged as global competitions and then broadcast for entertainment. What is entertainment for one group or individual may be regarded as work by another.
The familiar forms of entertainment have the capacity to cross over different media and have demonstrated a seemingly unlimited potential for creative remix. This has ensured the continuity and longevity of many themes, images, and structures.
Psychology and philosophy
Entertainment can be distinguished from other activities such as education and marketing even though they have learned how to use the appeal of entertainment to achieve their different goals. The importance and impact of entertainment is recognised by scholars and its increasing sophistication has influenced practices in other fields such as museology.
Psychologists say the function of media entertainment is “the attainment of gratification”. No other results or measurable benefit are usually expected from it (except perhaps the final score in a sporting entertainment). This is in contrast to education (which is designed with the purpose of developing understanding or helping people to learn) and marketing (which aims to encourage people to purchase commercial products). However, the distinctions become blurred when education seeks to be more “entertaining” and entertainment or marketing seek to be more “educational”. Such mixtures are often known by the neologisms “edutainment” or “infotainment”. The psychology of entertainment as well as of learning has been applied to all these fields. Some education-entertainment is a serious attempt to combine the best features of the two. Some people are entertained by others’ pain or the idea of their unhappiness (schadenfreude).
An entertainment might go beyond gratification and produce some insight in its audience. Entertainment may skillfully consider universal philosophical questions such as: “What is the meaning of life?”; “What does it mean to be human?”; “What is the right thing to do?”; or “How do I know what I know?”. Questions such as these drive many narratives and dramas, whether they are presented in the form of a story, film, play, poem, book, dance, comic, or game. Dramatic examples include Shakespeare’s influential play Hamlet, whose hero articulates these concerns in poetry; and films, such as The Matrix, which explores the nature of knowledge and was released world-wide. Novels give great scope for investigating these themes while they entertain their readers. An example of a creative work that considers philosophical questions so entertainingly that it has been presented in a very wide range of forms is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Originally a radio comedy, this story became so popular that it has also appeared as a novel, film, television series, stage show, comic, audiobook, LP record, adventure game and online game, its ideas became popular references (see Phrases from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) and has been translated into many languages. Its themes encompass the meaning of life, as well as “the ethics of entertainment, artificial intelligence, multiple worlds, God, and philosophical method”.
The “ancient craft of communicating events and experiences, using words, images, sounds and gestures” by telling a story is not only the means by which people passed on their cultural values and traditions and history from one generation to another, it has been an important part of most forms of entertainment ever since the earliest times. Stories are still told in the early forms, for example, around a fire while camping, or when listening to the stories of another culture as a tourist. “The earliest storytelling sequences we possess, now of course, committed to writing, were undoubtedly originally a speaking from mouth to ear and their force as entertainment derived from the very same elements we today enjoy in films and novels.” Storytelling is an activity that has evolved and developed “toward variety”. Many entertainments, including storytelling but especially music and drama, remain familiar but have developed into a wide variety of form to suit a very wide range of personal preferences and cultural expression. Many types are blended or supported by other forms. For example, drama, stories and banqueting (or dining) are commonly enhanced by music; sport and games are incorporated into other activities to increase appeal. Some may have evolved from serious or necessary activities (such as running and jumping) into competition and then become entertainment. It is said, for example, that pole vaulting “may have originated in the Netherlands, where people used long poles to vault over wide canals rather than wear out their clogs walking miles to the nearest bridge. Others maintain that pole vaulting was used in warfare to vault over fortress walls during battle.” The equipment for such sports has become increasingly sophisticated. Vaulting poles, for example, were originally made from woods such as ash, hickory or hazel; in the 19th century bamboo was used and in the 21st century poles can be made of carbon fibre. Other activities, such as walking on stilts, are still seen in circus performances in the 21st century. Gladiatorial combats, also known as “gladiatorial games”, popular during Roman times, provide a good example of an activity that is a combination of sport, punishment, and entertainment.
Changes to what is regarded as entertainment can occur in response to cultural or historical shifts. Hunting wild animals, for example, was introduced into the Roman Empire from Carthage and became a popular public entertainment and spectacle, supporting an international trade in wild animals.
Entertainment also evolved into different forms and expressions as a result of social upheavals such as wars and revolutions. During the Chinese Cultural Revolution, for example, Revolutionary opera was sanctioned by the Communist party and World War I, the Great Depression and the Russian revolution all affected entertainment.
Relatively minor changes to the form and venue of an entertainment continue to come and go as they are affected by the period, fashion, culture, technology, and economics. For example, a story told in dramatic form can be presented in an open-air theatre, a music hall, a movie theatre, a multiplex, or as technological possibilities advanced, via a personal electronic device such as a tablet computer. Entertainment is provided for mass audiences in purpose-built structures such as a theatre, auditorium, or stadium. One of the most famous venues in the Western world, the Colosseum, “dedicated AD 80 with a hundred days of games, held fifty thousand spectators,” and in it audiences “enjoyed “blood sport with the trappings of stage shows”. Spectacles, competitions, races, and sports were once presented in this purpose-built arena as public entertainment. New stadia continue to be built to suit the ever more sophisticated requirements of global audiences.
Imperial and royal courts have provided training grounds and support for professional entertainers, with different cultures using palaces, castles and forts in different ways. In the Maya city states, for example, “spectacles often took place in large plazas in front of palaces; the crowds gathered either there or in designated places from which they could watch at a distance.” Court entertainments also crossed cultures. For example, the durbar was introduced to India by the Mughals, and passed onto the British Empire, which then followed Indian tradition: “institutions, titles, customs, ceremonies by which a Maharaja or Nawab were installed… the exchange of official presents… the order of precedence”, for example, were “all inherited from… the Emperors of Delhi”. In Korea, the “court entertainment dance” was “originally performed in the palace for entertainment at court banquets.”
Court entertainment often moved from being associated with the court to more general use among commoners. This was the case with “masked dance-dramas” in Korea, which “originated in conjunction with village shaman rituals and eventually became largely an entertainment form for commoners”. Nautch dancers in the Mughal Empire performed in Indian courts and palaces. Another evolution, similar to that from courtly entertainment to common practice, was the transition from religious ritual to secular entertainment, such as happened during the Goryeo dynasty with the Narye festival. Originally “solely religious or ritualistic, a secular component was added at the conclusion”. Former courtly entertainments, such as jousting, often also survived in children’s games.
In some courts, such as those during the Byzantine Empire, the genders were segregated among the upper classes, so that “at least before the period of the Komnenoi” (1081–1185) men were separated from women at ceremonies where there was entertainment such as receptions and banquets.
Court ceremonies, palace banquets and the spectacles associated with them, have been used not only to entertain but also to demonstrate wealth and power. Such events reinforce the relationship between ruler and ruled; between those with power and those without, serving to “dramatise the differences between ordinary families and that of the ruler”. This is the case as much as for traditional courts as it is for contemporary ceremonials, such as the Hong Kong handover ceremony in 1997, at which an array of entertainments (including a banquet, a parade, fireworks, a festival performance and an art spectacle) were put to the service of highlighting a change in political power. Court entertainments were typically performed for royalty and courtiers as well as “for the pleasure of local and visiting dignitaries”. Royal courts, such as the Korean one, also supported traditional dances. In Sudan, musical instruments such as the so-called “slit” or “talking” drums, once “part of the court orchestra of a powerful chief”, had multiple purposes: they were used to make music; “speak” at ceremonies; mark community events; send long-distance messages; and call men to hunt or war.
Courtly entertainments also demonstrate the complex relationship between entertainer and spectator: individuals may be either an entertainer or part of the audience, or they may swap roles even during the course of one entertainment. In the court at the Palace of Versailles, “thousands of courtiers, including men and women who inhabited its apartments, acted as both performers and spectators in daily rituals that reinforced the status hierarchy”.
Like court entertainment, royal occasions such as coronations and weddings provided opportunities to entertain both the aristocracy and the people. For example, the splendid 1595 Accession Day celebrations of Queen Elizabeth I offered tournaments and jousting and other events performed “not only before the assembled court, in all their finery, but also before thousands of Londoners eager for a good day’s entertainment. Entry for the day’s events at the Tiltyard in Whitehall was set at 12d”.
Although most forms of entertainment have evolved and continued over time, some once-popular forms are no longer as acceptable. For example, during earlier centuries in Europe, watching or participating in the punishment of criminals or social outcasts was an accepted and popular form of entertainment. Many forms of public humiliation also offered local entertainment in the past. Even capital punishment such as hanging and beheading, offered to the public as a warning, were also regarded partly as entertainment. Capital punishments that lasted longer, such as stoning and drawing and quartering, afforded a greater public spectacle. “A hanging was a carnival that diverted not merely the unemployed but the unemployable. Good bourgeois or curious aristocrats who could afford it watched it from a carriage or rented a room.” Public punishment as entertainment lasted until the 19th century by which time “the awesome event of a public hanging aroused the loathing of writers and philosophers”. Both Dickens and Thackeray wrote about a hanging in Newgate Prison in 1840, and “taught an even wider public that executions are obscene entertainments”.
Children’s entertainment is centred on play and is significant for their growth and learning. Entertainment is also provided to children or taught to them by adults and many activities that appeal to them such as puppets, clowns, pantomimes and cartoons are also enjoyed by adults.
Children have always played games. It is accepted that as well as being entertaining, playing games helps children’s development. One of the most famous visual accounts of children’s games is a painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder called Children’s Games, painted in 1560. It depicts children playing a range of games that presumably were typical of the time. Many of these games, such as marbles, hide-and-seek, blowing soap bubbles and piggyback riding continue to be played.
Most forms of entertainment can be or are modified to suit children’s needs and interests. During the 20th century, starting with the often criticised but nonetheless important work of G. Stanley Hall, who “promoted the link between the study of development and the ‘new’ laboratory psychology”, and especially with the work of Jean Piaget, who “saw cognitive development as being analogous to biological development”, it became understood that the psychological development of children occurs in stages and that their capacities differ from adults. Hence, stories and activities, whether in books, film, or video games were developed specifically for child audiences. Countries have responded to the special needs of children and the rise of digital entertainment by developing systems such as television content rating systems, to guide the public and the entertainment industry.
In the 21st century, as with adult products, much entertainment is available for children on the internet for private use. This constitutes a significant change from earlier times. The amount of time expended by children indoors on screen-based entertainment and the “remarkable collapse of children’s engagement with nature” has drawn criticism for its negative effects on imagination, adult cognition and psychological well-being.
Some entertainments, such as at large festivals (whether religious or secular), concerts, clubs, parties and celebrations, involve big crowds. From earliest times, crowds at an entertainment have associated hazards and dangers, especially when combined with the recreational consumption of intoxicants such as alcohol. The Ancient Greeks had Dionysian Mysteries, for example, and the Romans had Saturnalia. The consequence of excess and crowds can produce breaches of social norms of behaviour, sometimes causing injury or even death, such as for example, at the Altamont Free Concert, an outdoor rock festival. The list of serious incidents at nightclubs includes those caused by stampede; overcrowding; terrorism, such as the 2002 Bali bombings that targeted a nightclub; and especially fire. Investigations, such as that carried out in the US after The Station nightclub fire often demonstrate that lessons learned “regarding fire safety in nightclubs” from earlier events such as the Cocoanut Grove fire do “not necessarily result in lasting effective change”. Efforts to prevent such incidents include appointing special officers, such as the medieval Lord of Misrule or, in modern times, security officers who control access; and also ongoing improvement of relevant standards such as those for building safety. The tourism industry now regards safety and security at entertainment venues as an important management task.
Although kings, rulers and powerful people have always been able to pay for entertainment to be provided for them and in many cases have paid for public entertainment, people generally have made their own entertainment or when possible, attended a live performance. Technological developments in the 20th century meant that entertainment could be produced independently of the audience, packaged and sold on a commercial basis by an entertainment industry. Sometimes referred to as show business, the industry relies on business models to produce, market, broadcast or otherwise distribute many of its traditional forms, including performances of all types. The industry became so sophisticated that its economics became a separate area of academic study.
The film industry is a part of the entertainment industry. Components of it include the Hollywood and Bollywood film industries, as well as the cinema of the United Kingdom and all the cinemas of Europe, including France, Germany, Spain, Italy and others. The sex industry is another component of the entertainment industry, applying the same forms and media (for example, film, books, dance and other performances) to the development, marketing and sale of sex products on a commercial basis.
Amusement parks entertain paying guests with rides, such as roller coasters, ridable miniature railways, water rides, and dark rides, as well as other events and associated attractions. The parks are built on a large area subdivided into themed areas named “lands”. Sometimes the whole amusement park is based on one theme, such as the various SeaWorld parks that focus on the theme of sea life.
One of the consequences of the development of the entertainment industry has been the creation of new types of employment. While jobs such as writer, musician and composer exist as they always have, people doing this work are likely to be employed by a company rather than a patron as they once would have been. New jobs have appeared, such as gaffer or special effects supervisor in the film industry, and attendants in an amusement park.
Prestigious awards are given by the industry for excellence in the various types of entertainment. For example, there are awards for Music, Games (including video games), Comics, Comedy, Theatre, Television, Film, Dance and Magic. Sporting awards are made for the results and skill, rather than for the entertainment value.
Architecture for entertainment
Purpose-built structures as venues for entertainment that accommodate audiences have produced many famous and innovative buildings, among the most recognisable of which are theatre structures. For the ancient Greeks, “the architectural importance of the theatre is a reflection of their importance to the community, made apparent in their monumentality, in the effort put into their design, and in the care put into their detail.” The Romans subsequently developed the stadium in an oval form known as a circus. In modern times, some of the grandest buildings for entertainment have brought fame to their cities as well as their designers. The Sydney Opera House, for example, is a World Heritage Site and The O₂ in London is an entertainment precinct that contains an indoor arena, a music club, a cinema and exhibition space. The Bayreuth Festspielhaus in Germany is a theatre designed and built for performances of one specific musical composition.
Two of the chief architectural concerns for the design of venues for mass audiences are speed of egress and safety. The speed at which the venue empty is important both for amenity and safety, because large crowds take a long time to disperse from a badly designed venue, which creates a safety risk. The Hillsborough disaster is an example of how poor aspects of building design can contribute to audience deaths. Sightlines and acoustics are also important design considerations in most theatrical venues.
In the 21st century, entertainment venues, especially stadia, are “likely to figure among the leading architectural genres”. However, they require “a whole new approach” to design, because they need to be “sophisticated entertainment centres, multi-experience venues, capable of being enjoyed in many diverse ways”. Hence, architects now have to design “with two distinct functions in mind, as sports and entertainment centres playing host to live audiences, and as sports and entertainment studios serving the viewing and listening requirements of the remote audience”.
Architecture as entertainment
Architects who push the boundaries of design or construction sometimes create buildings that are entertaining because they exceed the expectations of the public and the client and are aesthetically outstanding. Buildings such as Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, designed by Frank Gehry, are of this type, becoming a tourist attraction as well as a significant international museum. Other apparently usable buildings are really follies, deliberately constructed for a decorative purpose and never intended to be practical.
On the other hand, sometimes architecture is entertainment, while pretending to be functional. The tourism industry, for example, creates or renovates buildings as “attractions” that have either never been used or can never be used for their ostensible purpose. They are instead re-purposed to entertain visitors often by simulating cultural experiences. Buildings, history and sacred spaces are thus made into commodities for purchase. Such intentional tourist attractions divorce buildings from the past so that “the difference between historical authenticity and contemporary entertainment venues/theme parks becomes hard to define”. Examples include “the preservation of the Alcázar of Toledo, with its grim Civil War History, the conversion of slave dungeons into tourist attractions in Ghana, [such as, for example, Cape Coast Castle] and the presentation of indigenous culture in Libya”. The specially constructed buildings in amusement parks represent the park’s theme and are usually neither authentic nor completely functional.
Effects of developments in electronic media
By the second half of the 20th century, developments in electronic media made possible the delivery of entertainment products to mass audiences across the globe. The technology enabled people to see, hear and participate in all the familiar forms – stories, theatre, music, dance – wherever they live. The rapid development of entertainment technology was assisted by improvements in data storage devices such as cassette tapes or compact discs, along with increasing miniaturisation. Computerisation and the development of barcodes also made ticketing easier, faster and global.
In the 1940s, radio was the electronic medium for family entertainment and information. In the 1950s, it was television that was the new medium and it rapidly became global, bringing visual entertainment, first in black and white, then in colour, to the world. By the 1970s, games could be played electronically, then hand-held devices provided mobile entertainment, and by the last decade of the 20th century, via networked play. In combination with products from the entertainment industry, all the traditional forms of entertainment became available personally. People could not only select an entertainment product such as a piece of music, film or game, they could choose the time and place to use it. The “proliferation of portable media players and the emphasis on the computer as a site for film consumption” together have significantly changed how audiences encounter films. One of the most notable consequences of the rise of electronic entertainment has been the rapid obsolescence of the various recording and storage methods. As an example of speed of change driven by electronic media, over the course of one generation, television as a medium for receiving standardised entertainment products went from unknown, to novel, to ubiquitous and finally to superseded. One estimate was that by 2011 over 30 percent of households in the US would own a Wii console, “about the same percentage that owned a television in 1953”. Some expected that halfway through the second decade of the 21st century, online entertainment would have completely replaced television—which didn’t happen. The so-called “digital revolution” has produced an increasingly transnational marketplace that has caused difficulties for governments, business, industries, and individuals, as they all try to keep up. Even the sports stadium of the future will increasingly compete with television viewing “…in terms of comfort, safety and the constant flow of audio-visual information and entertainment available.” Other flow on effects of the shift are likely to include those on public architecture such as hospitals and nursing homes, where television, regarded as an essential entertainment service for patients and residents, will need to be replaced by access to the internet. At the same time, the ongoing need for entertainers as “professional engagers” shows the continuity of traditional entertainment.
By the second decade of the 21st century, analogue recording was being replaced by digital recording and all forms of electronic entertainment began to converge. For example, convergence is challenging standard practices in the film industry: whereas “success or failure used to be determined by the first weekend of its run. Today,… a series of exhibition ‘windows’, such as DVD, pay-per-view, and fibre-optic video-on-demand are used to maximise profits.” Part of the industry’s adjustment is its release of new commercial product directly via video hosting services. Media convergence is said to be more than technological: the convergence is cultural as well. It is also “the result of a deliberate effort to protect the interests of business entities, policy institutions and other groups”. Globalisation and cultural imperialism are two of the cultural consequences of convergence. Others include fandom and interactive storytelling as well as the way that single franchises are distributed through and affect a range of delivery methods. The “greater diversity in the ways that signals may be received and packaged for the viewer, via terrestrial, satellite or cable television, and of course, via the Internet” also affects entertainment venues, such as sports stadia, which now need to be designed so that both live and remote audiences can interact in increasingly sophisticated ways – for example, audiences can “watch highlights, call up statistics”, “order tickets and merchandise” and generally “tap into the stadium’s resources at any time of the day or night”.
The introduction of television altered the availability, cost, variety and quality of entertainment products for the public and the convergence of online entertainment is having a similar effect. For example, the possibility and popularity of user-generated content, as distinct from commercial product, creates a “networked audience model makes programming obsolete”. Individuals and corporations use video hosting services to broadcast content that is equally accepted by the public as legitimate entertainment.
While technology increases demand for entertainment products and offers increased speed of delivery, the forms that make up the content are in themselves, relatively stable. Storytelling, music, theatre, dance and games are recognisably the same as in earlier centuries.
Source from Wikipedia