Entertained to Death

Move closer.  We can talk about this without too much concern.  The statistics show that virtually nobody else is reading this post, so we can speak freely and openly.  This is just between you and me.

There’s something about society, which I don’t think is very healthy, but which most other people think is perfectly normal, or even desirable.  If they don’t think that, then they haven’t become aware that perhaps the way society is might be a tad broken.  They’re blissfully ignorant of it.  Without a historical context to draw upon, including knowledge of how world leaders and the media have actively and somewhat covertly colluded, since the 1920s, to distract and calm the madding crowds and prevent political dissent from fomenting, they cannot see what has happened.  You don’t have to believe me about this.  Adam Curtis and various other social commentators have provided some excellent historical narratives and analyses of this phenomenon.  Some of the cleverest people I know are blissfully unaware of it, or will argue vehemently that this is the best and only way for society to be.  I don’t think so.  Let me tell you why.

We’re being entertained to death.  I thought it was Frank Zappa that first advanced the notion, at least in my consciousness, but the Google searches I did today seem to indicate that it was Brian Eno.  It barely matters who said it first.  The fact is: we have been conditioned, over and over, to seek short term gratification, through entertaining activities, over thinking deeply, confronting difficult realities or allowing dissenting discussion to take place.  So much so, that some people actively fear such discussions and have lost the ability to confront uncomfortable facts about the world, without completely losing their optimism and motivation to seek solutions.

Any response, other than those, to everyday injustices is thought to be a downer.  People flee from any engagement with an examination of the problems and looking for solutions, into their own self-made, happiness cocoons.  Unfortunately, that’s an escape into fantasy and it has some serious consequences for all of us.  They’re compromising our herd immunity to being manipulated by those in charge.

This is a readily verifiable phenomenon that you can observe for yourself, hundreds of times a day.  Mention any pressing, unsolved problem facing humanity, of your own choosing and see for yourself how people react to you bringing it up.  People turn away from anything that describes uncomfortable realities that require urgent solution.

They scurry to hurriedly construct an illusory mental state, where everything about their world is positive, which is the only form of world they are capable of inhabiting.  The mere mention of any unaddressed problem of any significant scale causes this sort of person to immediately lose all motivation to carry on.  Instead, they must continue to doggedly, chauvinistically construct an edifice in which trying harder and staying cheerful are the antidote to all ills.  They truly believe that just by wishing problems away, they cease to exist.

All the dreary justifications will be trotted out, such as claims that negative energy prevents anybody from doing anything, all the while their so-called positive energy is making damned sure nobody does a thing toward solving the problem.  They’ll tell you that negative people are the cause of the issues, rather than confess that they have been manipulated into remaining happy and ineffectual, rather than challenge those who benefit from things being as messed up as they are.  They’ll resort to distractions and entertainment, which are essentially displacement activities that prevent them from having to face up to the problems and make their contribution toward thinking through a solution, then implementing it.  They feel powerless, so in their state of learned helplessness, they return to their social media interactions, box sets, computer games or whatever it takes to put the uncomfortable truths out of their minds.

Meanwhile, those in charge or in power, who largely create the problems that affect the rest of us, carry on with business as usual.  It’s quite literally a recipe that, in extremis, can get you killed.  We’re being entertained to death.

If something isn’t entertaining and uplifting, they don’t want to know about it.  We’ve been infantilised, deliberately and methodically, by the powers that be, so that we remain tractable, docile, distracted, incurious, passivated and no threat to the existing order and hierarchy.  Again, you don’t have to believe me.  There is a lot of scholarly research that can verify the truth of this.

As a society, we behave just like little children, who cling to their wide-eyed wonder at the world, rather than take on the very adult responsibility of facing up to frightening realities and then ensuring that the world is, indeed, worthy of wide-eyed awe and wonderment, rather than being the deeply destroyed, despoiled, corrupted place, where kleptocrats and plutocrats run wild, that we actually inhabit.

Innocence is all very well, but not if it prevents you from creating a real world that truthfully allows the next generation to keep their innocence, because there really is nothing to take it away.  That isn’t the world you and I live in, at all, regrettably and refusing to acknowledge the fact and staying on the sidelines, insisting on your own status as an innocent bystander, just allows it to get worse and worse.  You can fill your psyche with fluffy kittens and bunnies, but that won’t stop torture, murder, large scale inequality, corruption, theft and a million other regrettable features of modern life, as it really is.

I read an article by Neil Gaiman about his friend, the late author Terry Pratchett.  In it, he observed that all of Terry’s extensive writing was fuelled by a white hot anger, driven by a sense of urgent disgust, at unfairness and injustice.  The engine of his creativity was almost pure rage and righteous indignation.  Yet, for purposefully positive people that stubbornly insist on remaining upbeat the whole time, anger is thought to be very bad.  It’s so bad that you will be censured for displaying any.  Heaven help you if you allow your writing or activism to be fuelled by it.  You’re accused of bringing everybody down.

Of course, for every escapist Peter Pan, that wants to push all the bad things out of their minds and leave them for an unknown somebody else to tackle, there are nearly as many hyperbolic over-reactors who, when confronted with a problem that faces humanity, will immediately react with stories about lizard leaders and alien infiltration, covered up by the secret services.  This is just a different form of constructing a fantasy world, which allows the person constructing it to flee any responsibility for actually facing and rectifying what’s really wrong with the world.  By constructing immutable, indomitable outside forces, possessing magical super powers, far beyond their own capabilities, they’re also letting themselves off the hook for having to solve anything.  They can live in this little fantasyland which, while perhaps not as fluffy and positive as the affirmative thinkers’ universe, is nevertheless as remote from taking real responsibility, all the same.

I saw a blog post, the other day, which angrily asked other blog authors to stop bitching about the fact that nobody interacted with their posts, via the comments, and moaning about the fact that their readership numbers were tiny.  In this author’s view, the real problem was that those with low engagement and readership numbers were displaying a “bad attitude”, which comes across in their writing.  The thesis of the argument was that nobody comes to read a blog post in order to be brought down and depressed.  They come to be entertained.  “Be upbeat and entertaining”, was the advice.  In other words, don’t mention any significant problem that might require difficult discussion and urgent solution.

The insidious and quite hideous idea behind this piece of advice is that people are entitled to demand, from blog authors, their daily fix of motivational positivity and uplifting exhortations to work smarter, not harder, or to wish a wonderful reality into existence, by the sheer power of their happy thoughts.  None of these people can tell you why innocent children in faraway lands are killed by drones or starve, for want of a few grains of rice, despite their continual happy thoughts and wishes for a better future, of course.  Neither do they address the root causes of why those things might keep happening in the world.  No, the advice is to fill your blog posts with vacuous, vapid self-help memes and ideas for a brighter kitchen.

It angers me that even those that are fuelled by anger and righteous indignation, in their art, get nowhere unless they are entertaining.  There seems to be no other way to slip those thoughts into the consciousness of people trained to be entertained.  Terry Pratchett had to disguise his anger in humorous stories and scenarios, or with witty phrases.  Bill Hicks had to turn his terrible truths into stand up comedy and jokes.  It seems that even the angriest of artists are not able to stand up, in front of the rest of humanity and simply say, “This is wrong, it makes me angry and we need to change it.”  They know people will turn away.

For their part, the psychopaths in charge know that they only need to do something fear-inducing, which is spectacularly abhorrent, for people to run away and retreat into fantasy, in order to get away with anything they want.  To do anything they like, they just need to provide a surrounding scenario that the perniciously, thick-headedly, positive people will excuse, under the guise of patriotism, fighting terrorism, supporting “our troops”, or what have you, while the conspiracy fantasists invent the most outlandish of scenarios to explain what just happened, in terms that allow them to do nothing about it.  Nobody, it seems, will stand up to those they are pretty sure were responsible and face them down.  People, today, have a very good idea who was behind the banking crisis of 2008, for example, but nobody has gone to prison.  We don’t face down the criminals.

Are we, as a species, so lacking in the resilience and clear-eyed vision that we require to face, courageously, the hardest things that threaten us and proceed to correct them, with methodical deliberation and determination?  I’m more optimistic than most.  I think it is well within human capability, but first we must unlearn nearly a century of instruction in how to remain child-like and helpless, at all times.  The first step is in being able to discuss and face dark subject matter, which might not be diverting and entertaining, not with a hysterical fear of being made into a permanent depressive, or else a manic, paralysed alarmist, but with the strength and bravery required to take effective action to correct things.  We need to break our addiction to being entertained.

As I say, hardly anybody will read this blog post.  The readership statistics provided by WordPress will confirm it (and frequently do).  If it’s you that has read this far, well done for reading something that is so un-entertaining.  It isn’t a fun read at all.  There is nothing much in it to feed your hunger for uplifting motivational slogans and exhortations to see the bright side of even the worst of things.  There is no escapism here, or any way to put the problems out of your mind.  Here they all are, warts and all.

If you got this far, reading this post, you just might have the maturity and strength of character to make a positive change in the world, by confronting injustice and standing up, courageously, to those that inflict the injustices.  While everybody else escapes into their own unrealities and fantastical, self-indulgence playgrounds, you’re prepared to roll your sleeves up, get down into the dirty trenches, suspend your fear and loathing and start making a difference.  Well done to you, if this is you.

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About tropicaltheartist

You can find out more about me here: https://michaeltopic.wordpress.com/. There aren’t many people that exist in that conjunction of art, design, science and engineering, but this is where I live. I am an artist, a musician, a designer, a creator, a scientist, a technologist, an innovator and an engineer and I have a genuine, deep passion for each field. Most importantly, I am able to see the connections and similarities between each field of intellectual endeavour and apply the lessons I learn in one discipline to my other disciplines. To me, they are all part of the same continuum of creativity. I write about what I know, through my blogs, in the hope that something I write will resonate with a reader and help them enjoy their own creative life more fully. I am, in summary, a highly creative individual, but with the ability to get things done efficiently. Not all of these skills are valued by the world at large, but I am who I am and this is me. The opinions stated here are my own and not necessarily the opinion or position of my employer.
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4 Responses to Entertained to Death

  1. arielpalmer says:

    Your post makes me think of Erich Fromm “To Have or to Be?” when he writes “We are a society of notoriously unhappy people: lonely, anxious, depressed, destructive, dependent — people who are glad when we have killed the time we are trying so hard to save.” (if you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it to you!)
    And by the way, I read all your posts and they always make me think a lot. Even when you explore the dark corners of the human mind, your writing is never depressing. It’s food for thought and I find it incredibly valuable. I’m sure your other readers think the same.
    The WordPress readership statistics probably don’t say that, so I had to tell you 🙂

    • I’m very grateful for your kind comments and feedback. I have had feedback saying my writing was too bleak, so I had a long soul search about it. I concluded that only some of it is and then, only when deliberately so. For information, you are one of nine people that read the post. The other two pieces I posted today received two readers a piece. I’m very glad you find something of worth in what I write. This sustains me. I will definitely find that Erich Fromm book. Thank you for the recommendation. I hope you have a great day, Ariel. Thanks again for taking the time to comment.

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