Entertainment as paradigm

When discussing purpose and economics, the lingering unstated alternative was of a worldview dominated by entertainment per se. In this series of editorials, when it comes to art music, or even meaning more generally, I have carefully refrained from invoking a "flat" entertainment paradigm. That is, I have focused on more specific uses for & attachments to music. I have expressed a "contoured" aesthetic paradigm, and have put some uses for music ahead of others. Indeed, I have defined the paradigm internally to reject certain uses. When it comes to interacting with other powerful worldviews, however, the general entertainment paradigm is enjoying some success today. The ascendence of the economic paradigm has been accompanied by a subsidiary counter-reliance on the entertainment paradigm. To the money-oriented, of course, good entertainment is what sells. That idea fits nicely into their views, especially when it comes to popular music, and an entertainment paradigm has been allowed to develop, precisely because it seems so non-threatening to an economic world emphasis. In fact, it might even implicitly support it.

Whether an entertainment paradigm provides a positive environment for an aesthetic orientation is an open question, and one worth exploring. Naïvely, an entertainment paradigm seems to be one step in the direction of an aesthetic emphasis, even if the impetus behind it is rather different. Simply put, the entertainment paradigm measures the value of something based upon how entertaining or diverting it is. Within certain social circles, such as the "been there, done that" teenagers, this sort of metric is in heavy use. Advertisers also encourage thinking of this type. From their perspective, any sort of uncontoured assessment is potentially beneficial, as it directly expands the domain of saleable products. A new product is, by definition, a new thing we are supposed to want. We consequently see a heavy backlash building against justified personal preference (whims are considered OK). Hard-core relativism goes hand-in-hand with the entertainment paradigm, especially as we are told in some circles that it is "morally wrong" to adopt an epistemic preference, i.e. that it is wrong to believe that something might actually be better. This sort of paradigmatic backlash is typical of dominance, and was discussed among the dangers of the economic & evolutionary paradigms. While at their most basic, these thought-systems can connect & order ideas in a mostly-sensible way, growing intellectual dominance is quickly accompanied by an orthodoxy which seeks to suppress any alternate point of view.

Ignoring backlashes of this type, the entertainment paradigm is actually rather versatile & resilient. It can take anyone's predilection and define it as something particularly entertaining to them, i.e. the person entertained by money, or by scientific discovery, or by being snobbish. In the latter case, the paradigm can seek to explain its own negative pole in positive terms. Regarding the central item, and related intellectual endeavors, a particularly epochal discovery can be explained as having broader entertainment possibilities arising from its ramifications. Science is good because it gave us television. Such an assessment essentially breaches the original "uncontoured" priority, however (as any human interaction eventually does), because it lets some events become more important than others. Moreover, the entertainment paradigm is particularly at odds with most forms of religious valuation, and any attempt to cast religion as an entertaining activity is particularly strained. The entertainment paradigm is almost forced to rely upon the cult of celebrity, and with it, an inclination to behave spectacularly badly for the purposes of others' amusement. Even among more skeptical individuals, this idea persists in its negative form, i.e. schadenfreude. Either inclination is inherently atheistic.

That an entertainment paradigm should embrace vice is obvious enough, and in terms of dominant thought patterns, might be the single most important reason it accompanies the economic paradigm on the world stage. In its orthodox backlash, the economic paradigm eventually asks one to embrace particular vices (e.g. greed), and the entertainment paradigm essentially generalizes this inclination, finding vices — whether in ourselves or others — to be entertaining. Does such a position provide space for an aesthetic paradigm to flourish, or is it fundamentally opposed? Simply put, an aesthetic paradigm shares with an entertainment paradigm an emphasis on some sort of internal mental valuation, what we might vaguely call enjoyment. Both eschew concrete measurement. On the other hand, an aesthetic paradigm explicitly begins with the idea of discernment, something of which the entertainment paradigm is inherently suspicious. That gulf is immediately widened by entertainment's emphasis on constant stimulation, an emphasis which aesthetics now seeks to counter with silence. We can consider the two approaches to have bifurcated from an earlier artistic orientation, in which "art for diversion" was not problematic. The increasing ubiquity of artistic — or, we might say, human-crafted — sounds & events eventually yielded the idea that there might be too many for our own good, or even sanity. We can see the two paradigms part company at exactly such a moment, and while the distinction might have seemed overly subtle at first, the consequences of making it have become increasingly severe.

Especially given the latter's dominance, it is only too easy for an aesthetic paradigm to define itself in opposition to an entertainment paradigm. A negative definition of this sort is to be avoided, for obvious reasons. One might even speculate that a flat entertainment paradigm will naturally evolve (to inject that dominant idea) into a contoured aesthetic paradigm, as each individual matures. That idea is appealing in many ways, but also fails to deal with the orthodox entertainment-oriented backlash, and especially with the increasingly promulgated idea that one should never mature. Indeed, the question might as well be asked: Why would one want to mature or increase discernment? At the most basic level, being easily entertained is a simple recipe for an enjoyable life. We need to ask whether those of us involved in more esoteric concerns have fundamentally failed to enjoy the world playground. Any suggestion to the contrary is bound to two different explanations: Either a doom & gloom scenario which mandates vigilance in order to solve an eventual problem, or the notion that a more finely nuanced sense of assessment yields deeper satisfaction. The former is a popular idea today, too, while the latter presents itself naturally to those of us with more intellectual concerns. It can even be self-fulfilling, analogously to transcendental ideas on recognition. Where a more nuanced intellectual view really suffers, however, is in its perilous intermingling of meaning & historicism. That danger may seem far removed from a flat paradigm, but then, that does not mean that it is necessarily less conditioned by historicism. Ultimately, this battle remains about taking control of our own thoughts, something an aesthetic paradigm inherently asserts.

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Todd M. McComb