Readers like stories when they feel engaged by them. Whether the story is pleasant, neutral or unpleasant matter doesn’t really matter. Readers simply enjoy the feeling of being engaged by a story.
Television is a form of one-way entertainment, but that's not how people want to think about it. They want to believe they're somehow involved.
This is why they talk back to the TV. This is why they get upset if certain characters don't behave in a likable fashion.
This is why they complain when the story moves further from their own personal definition of interesting.
This is why they criticize boring episodes on the Internet and expect the show's writers to study their thoughts and care what they think.
This is why they love shows that involve voting. They believe their personal experience with television effects what television is.
But television is the only place where this belief exists. Within their actual life, they feel powerless. They believe voting is frivolous. They think caring is a risk. They assume they have no control over anything, so they don't even try.
They perceive reality backward.
"I feel bad for current human Americans because, with all the products and all the technology and the communication, no one can take silence. It's terrifying to people, I think."
~ Louis C.K.
In other centuries, human beings wanted to be saved, or improved, or freed, or educated. But in our century, they want to be entertained. The great fear is not of disease or death, but of boredom. A sense of time on our hands, a sense of nothing to do. A sense that we are not amused.
But where will this mania for entertainment end? What will people do when they get tired of television? When they get tired of movies? We already know the answer — they go into participatory activities: sports, theme parks, amusement rides, roller coasters. Structured fun, planned thrills. And what will they tire of theme parks and planned thrills? Sooner or later, the artifice becomes too noticeable. They begin to realize that an amusement park is really a kind of jail in which you pay to be an inmate.
This artifice will drive them to seek authenticity. Authenticity will be the buzzword of the twenty-first century. And what is authentic? Anything that is not devised and structured to make a profit. Anything that is not controlled by corporations. Anything that exists for its own sake, that assumes its own shape. But of course, nothing in the modern world is allowed to assume its own shape. The modern world is the corporate equivalent of a formal garden, where everything is planted and arranged for effect. Where nothing is untouched, where nothing is authentic.
Where then will people turn for the rare and desirable experience of authenticity? They will turn to the past.
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See also: Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want by James Gilmore and Joseph Pine
The market for narrative nonfiction shrank not because people got dumber or lost their attention spans; narrative nonfiction, like so many 20th-century forms, fell on hard times when the Web came along, and readers stopped paying for content…
…When the iPhone first appeared, followed by the Kindle and then the iPad, it became clear that e-books and apps provided a way to siphon the resources of the Internet to individuals, who could now sample that energy without having to be vulnerable to the Web’s commercialism. That was an enormous breakthrough. Anyone who’s honest with herself knows that the Web stopped being a great place for consumers of culture a year or two ago. You think you’re reading the Web these days, but it’s reading you — gathering data on you, trying to sell you stuff, pushing you to other links. On the Web, reading is shopping. And sometimes you don’t want to shop.
The Kindle in particular brought me the first moment of peace from Web noise that I’d had in a long time. True, I thought I loved the Web noise when the only alternative was to recede into analog culture — but I have adored the silence I’ve found on the Kindle.
I never thought I’d back off the Web, but I have. The once-glorious freedom of the Web was not free. Its price is a bone-deep commercialism that cannot yet be circumvented. For convenience, comprehensiveness and social life, I still visit, but now I see these visits as at least as risky and irritating as they are liberating and exhilarating.
In the contemporary entertainment business (and also, increasingly, in sports and in politics), it’s the business that’s the entertainment and the art of the deal that’s the art that draws most notice. We have become a society that is fixated on process and absorbed by the slippery, complex machinations of the middlemen, brokers and executives who conspire offstage to determine what takes place onstage. Call this outlook “procedural voyeurism” — a redirection of mass attention from the spectacle of the game itself to the circus of the game behind the game, as when LeBron James, the N.B.A. superstar, commandeered the TV sets of umpteen thousands of sports bars, not to mention the better part of the Web’s bandwidth, to tell us, months before the season’s first tipoff, that he was moving from Cleveland to Miami to take advantage of the new team’s “cap space,” a slangy term for the ability teams have to add new strings of zeros to coveted players’ salaries.
You might also think back to last winter’s late-night-talk-show feud, its battlefield swarming with lawyers, go-betweens, snitches, seducers and propagandists, that pitted Conan O’Brien against Jay Leno for the desk that the senior comedian nobly ceded to the younger and then, as if by tugging on a lasso encircling the desk’s legs, rudely jerked away. This orgy of Jacobean backstage backstabbing wasn’t televised directly, but rumors about its intrigues captured our imaginations anyhow, stirring extensive discussions of ratings numbers, severance payments, contractual etiquette and viewer demographics...
Procedural voyeurism grants us an illusion of control over realities that we secretly fear we have no power over — sometimes correctly, as with the BP oil spill, whose coverage has been rich in process and until recently short on meaningful developments. The Romanian religious philosopher Mircea Eliade wrote about mesmerizing narratives that he called origin myths. He said they helped people feel a sense of authority over an otherwise chaotic world. Today our origin myths are more mundane, but we still see the deal as a primordial act. We might do well to call these decadent versions “LeBron Announcements” or “Conan-Leno Matches”: rituals of symbolic participation in games-within-games that are way above our heads and occur within heavily guarded inner circles that we can peek into but never truly penetrate.
From “But Enough About You… ” by Emily Yoffe, Slate.com (March 18, 2009):
These days, "narcissist" gets tossed around as an all-purpose insult, a description of self-aggrandizing, obnoxious behavior. Unfortunately, the same word is used to describe a quality that comes in three gradations: a characteristic that in the right amount is a normal component of healthy ego; a troublesome trait when there is too much; and a pathological state when it overwhelms a personality. Narcissism fuels drive and ambition, a desire to be recognized for one's accomplishments, a sense that one's life has meaning and importance. The problem occurs when narcissism becomes the primary principle of someone's personality. Its most extreme form is narcissistic personality disorder, a psychological condition that impairs a person's ability to form normal relationships and wreaks havoc on those who have close encounters with it.
A recent study titled "Leader Emergence: The Case of the Narcissistic Leader" describes how narcissists have skills and qualities—confidence, extraversion, a desire for power—that propel them into leadership roles but that when true narcissists are in charge, other aspects of their makeup—a feeling the rules don't apply to them, a need for constant stroking—can have "disastrous consequences."
"Of course it’s simplistic to say that good sad plays are moral or emotional tonics, like fiber cereal for the soul. But on some level it is fundamentally true. Escapist entertainment can offer fleeting rewards, but in the long run only art really nourishes. Sure, it’s sweet to daydream our way into the worlds inhabited by George Clooney and Angelina Jolie, but it’s more important for us all to know ourselves. Great theater, like much high art, tells us who we are, not who we would like to be.
You could make the argument — well, I could, anyway — that some of the havoc caused by the subprime mortgage crisis can be traced to a collective amnesia on the part of the powers that be about the essence of human nature."
~ Charles Isherwood, "A Healthy Dose of Misery for Company," New York Times (10.26.08)
Excerpts from Rise of the Takedown by Alex Williams, New York Times (4/8/07):
“It’s a new generation, and there are a lot of people who say they have more of a feeling of entitlement,” said Michael Addis, director of the new film, Heckler. He added, “They feel like they should be getting the attention.” Indeed, Asher Patrick, a temp worker whose hectoring of the comedian Jamie Kennedy at a Nashville comedy club last year earned him a brief appearance in the movie, said in a telephone interview last week that he saw his role as “more of a critic” than a hooligan.
But what is driving all this vitriol? One factor, at least where the Internet is concerned, said Mr. Addis, is that “sex sells, but hate really sells,” and helps bloggers draw traffic. Mr. Kennedy believes that Internet meanness, which flourishes on media gadfly blogs and pop culture Web sites like televisionwithoutpity.com and PerezHilton.com, and independent movie review sites like mrcranky.com and rottentomatoes.com, has bled over into public discourse, a point echoed by P. M. Forni, a professor at Johns Hopkins University who founded the school’s long-running Civility Initiative.
The psychological term, Dr. Forni said, is the “disinhibition effect,” where people express themselves more openly or bluntly online than they would in person. The old filters — namely, good manners — atrophy offline, and the result is a cultural narcissism: people think that only their feelings and opinions matter.
The comedian Kathy Griffin said in a later interview that heckling has thrived as “the lines have become blurred” between legitimate performers and mass-produced pseudo-celebrities, like those manufactured by reality television and YouTube home videos. If everyone’s a star, no one is — so forget the traditional deference that fans once accorded the famous.
“Let’s face it, it’s their moment in the sun,” she said of taunters. “The guys who heckled Michael Richards did 20 interviews.”
Results from this poll indicates that perennial boredom among teenagers persists in spite of the overabundance of options they have for amusing themselves:
A new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll, the first in a series of annual entertainment surveys, finds that a large majority of the 12- to 24-year-olds surveyed are bored with their entertainment choices some or most of the time, and a substantial minority think that even in a kajillion-channel universe, they don't have nearly enough options. "I feel bored like all the time, 'cause there is like nothing to do," said Shannon Carlson, 13, of Warren, Ohio, a respondent who has an array of gadgets, equipment and entertainment options at her disposal but can't ward off ennui.