The January 11, 2005 edition of Market Watch contained an article entitled “America’s Culture of Entertainment”, in which it is revealed that Americans spend over $700 billion annually on entertainment. The article says that this is our fourth highest expenditure, after housing, food and healthcare. These are old numbers now. And from what I’ve read, it sure seems that even through the recession Americans are not reducing their spending on entertainment. Look around and you’ll see people forgoing a lot of things but not their entertainment. They’ll cut back some places, but then that movie comes out that they’ve been interested in and bam, there they are shelling out the bucks to see it. Or, they can’t help but get the latest I-Phone as soon as it comes out. Yes, I am daring to include smart phone use as entertainment. Why? Well, let’s look at the functions: internet, social media, games, movies and TV, all to be had on smart phones. In fact, I am sitting here considering including texting as entertainment as well. I think a good case could be made for including it. By the way, have you wondered about how those professional sports stars are able to make such ridiculous salaries - salaries that continue to rise during the recession? Or have you wondered why no one in the music industry has lost income and had to cut back on their lifestyle? It’s because we are all funding their salaries and lifestyles, even though our own have all taken a hit.
Why is it that we can’t seem to give up our entertainment? And what’s the big deal about it anyway? Entertainment is huge and profoundly impactful on society and influential to the feelings, thought processes and beliefs of individuals. Entertainment influences how we spend our time, how we use our finances, and what we consider to be popular or cool, or sometimes even morally right or wrong. We look to the industries of television, movies, music and sports to lead in setting the pace of the culture. And Christians for the most part are no different. Entertainment has gained a hold on humans the likes of which has never been seen before.
Going back some decades, the world was a different place. Oh, entertainment still was influential, but it did not have the same dominance that it does now. Some of that is due to the technological changes we have experienced. But this still doesn’t explain its hold on us. I believe it has to do with what has grown to become a society of escapism as a way of coping with the difficulties of life. It seems to me that entertainment has become more important to us than relationships and family, and more significant than religious belief and engagement, and with that shift we have lost the ability to contend with the higher-level difficulties of life head on. And so we have learned to substitute the comfort provided by God, friends and family with the comfort of avoidance of pain and trouble that we find in losing ourselves in entertainment.
Let’s get a little more personal, shall we? I will try to offend equally across demographics: men and women, married and single, rich and poor, left and right. Because this is one boat that we are all sitting in together. What do you do when you are stressed out, or when you feel weary? What do you do when you are bored? This, by the way, is the tell tale sign of the age that something is going on inside, which we have learned to label as boredom and thus seek to satisfy with – wait for it – entertainment. Do you,
A). turn on the TV,
B). read a book or magazine,
C). play a computer game,
D). text or do Facebook or roam the internet,
E). go shopping, or go somewhere to be entertained, or
F). share your feelings with a friend or journal about your thoughts and feelings?
Facebooking or texting your thoughts and feelings are not the same as talking about them in person with someone. It’s a step up from the TV, but it has its limitations as well.
The point is that all of the options except for the final one are likely choosing to ignore the thoughts and feelings underneath your boredom. Boredom often represents something deeper. It may be something about the quality of your life that may be missing, or it may be about a loss in your life. It is easier and less painful to squelch the boredom than to allow it to rise to the surface and face it and discern how to address the issues that it represents. America is a bored nation, and a bored nation is ripe for developing an entertainment addiction.
Once we have experienced the power of entertainment to squelch a negative emotion and distract us from the unpleasantness inside, it becomes an easy step to utilize it at other times until it becomes our drug of choice. And then the rationalizations come in force:
“I need to have my news to stay informed”,
“Everyone at work will be talking about who wins American Idol tomorrow”,
“I’m staying in touch with my friends”,
“I’ve gotten my work done”,
“I deserve some down time”
“I got it on sale”
Now that I have offended everyone, let me back up a bit and clarify. I am not contending that all entertainment is bad, or that to distract ourselves is all wrong and always hiding from some kind of pain. On the contrary, I believe distraction can be a helpful strategy to alleviate stress and anxiety. However, there is a line between helpful distraction and avoidance distraction. What I am suggesting is that it is important to be able to distinguish the difference and be able to pull back when one is about to cross the line, or if you are over the line, to be able to recognize it and make some healthy changes. So, just to be clear: entertainment addiction is not like substance addiction in that abstinence is not the goal.
So, where is the line between healthy distraction or restful recreation and avoidance distraction? Here are a few questions you can ask to help you sort it out.
1. Like an addiction, does the entertainment I engage in never really satisfy? Meaning, how long does it take for me to crave more entertainment? Do I move from one type of entertainment to another without thinking about it, or reviewing if it is needed?
2. Can I say that, after engaging in the entertainment, I feel refreshed? Do I know what refreshment even feels like?
3. Is there a sense of feeling empty or bored any time I am not being entertained?
4. Am I constantly thinking about the next opportunity to be entertained?
5. Do I spend more than I can afford to on entertainment?
6. Do I neglect responsibilities or relationships for the sake of entertainment?
7. Do I become angry or defensive if someone questions my involvement in entertainment?
I believe some people who wonder why they have trouble with follow through or with procrastination or in their relationships may be surprised to learn that maybe their trouble is related to their relationship with entertainment. Have you ever tried to cut back on the amount of TV you watch or the time spent playing video games or your Facebook time, only to feel restless, and become frustrated that you then don’t know what to do with the time and fall back into it?
However, restful recreation should give you energy to take on the tasks of life and enter into challenges. Remember how Jesus took time to recharge, pulling away from the crowds for time in prayer, meeting with his heavenly Father. But afterwards, he was back at it. If your entertainment doesn’t energize you, then it’s possible it is doing the opposite – sucking the life out of you and drawing you away from living with gusto and achieving your life purpose. I find it rather surprising how often folks will chose to spend their money on more entertainment rather than investing that same money in some type of counseling that could help them to process their underlying issues and equip them to live more free and empowered.
If you resonate with just a part of what I have proposed, then what does this mean? In part two I will offer some suggestions on how to make entertainment work for you and bring refreshment.
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