Philosophy prof, students discuss meaning of word ‘entertainment’

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What is entertainment? What constitutes art? How do we decide what to do with those precious moments in which we are allowed to relax? 

Historically people have turned to art to fill the void that is made apparent when we are left to our own devices. For example, when the whaling industry was at large the crew would spend its downtime creating carved images on whale bones using metal scraps as tools. What drove them to that instinctual endeavor and how does that play out in today’s society? 

The key to opening this philosophical debate is found in a word study on entertainment.

The word “entertainment” has a long history dating back to the 15th century, when it was defined as keeping someone in a certain frame of mind. This definition has since developed to have a connotation that accommodates a consumer society and is now defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “the act of providing or being provided with amusement or enjoyment.”

If the word entertainment can be broken into two categories of intentionality (providing, provided), then we can reach into the 19th-century Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s mind and draw out his unique view (with the stipulation that he believed that boredom sought entertainment and distraction).

“Those who bore themselves are the elect, the aristocracy, and it is a curious fact that those who do not bore themselves usually bore others, while those who bore themselves entertain others,” Kierkegaard wrote.

Influenced by Kierkegaard and the etymology of entertainment, Dr. Sam Welbaum, professor of philosophy, redefined entertainment.

“I would say that entertainment is any media or activity that I am involved in or observe that engages or delights me in some way,” Welbaum said.

Welbaum expanded his definition by making a distinction between amusement and entertainment. He claims that amusement is equivalent to a lack of thought, leading to distraction. Some have categorized scrolling through Instagram for elongated periods of time to fall into the category of amusement.

The topic of entertainment can be explored, the question has transformed from “what is entertainment?” to “what entertains you?” with an added caveat that asks if your desired entertainment is ethical. 

Vladimir Bond, senior history and philosophy double major, answered this question.

“A good form of entertainment is something that brings you closer to your worldview and God,” Bond said.

With Bond’s view in mind, Trennon Williamson, junior Christian studies and philosophy double major, discussed the ethics of pursuing entertainment.

“If (entertainment) is taking over your thought process, it is an idol and needs to change,” Williamson said. “Whatever is taking the full focus of your life off of God needs to change.”

These two philosophy students agreed that all entertainment exists on a moral continuum and we can plot each instance on the continuum by looking at a combination of one’s own conscious and a conscientious care for those around them.

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