What Is Entertainment?

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What 's Entertainment? Notes Toward a Definition 1

Stephen Bates and Anthony J. Ferri

What’s Entertainment? Notes Toward a Definition

Introduction
Entertainment has been a part of all cultures, from the Chauvet Cave paintings to the iPad. For Rothman, it is “the storehouse of national values” (xviii). Perhaps nowhere is that observation more apt than in the United States, a nation that Gabler terms a “republic of entertainment” (11). Many Americans seem to feel entitled to high-quality entertainment (Zillmann and Vorderer viii), and more and more entertainment jostles for their attention (Wolf 46). Zillmann goes so far as to predict that entertainment “will define, more than ever before, the civilizations to come” (“Coming of Media Entertainment” 18). The importance of entertainment can be gauged by a study conducted by Brock and Livingston (259). They asked 115 American undergraduates how much money they would require in order to give up television for the rest of their lives. More than half said they would demand over a million dollars, with several naming amounts exceeding a billion dollars. Despite the centrality of entertainment to society, however, academia has treated the subject in a disjointed, scattershot, sometimes condescending fashion, for a variety of reasons. To start with, the earliest communication theorists chose to study the mass media in terms of persuasion rather than entertainment, and most subsequent scholarship has retained that em33.1 Fall 2010

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Stephen Bates and Anthony J. Ferri

phasis (Katz and Foulkes 376; Singhal and Rogers 120). Furthermore, many scholars look on entertainment as too trivial for study (Shusterman 291). They believe that entertainment amounts principally “to taking up large amounts of the daily time of individuals, but not representing an important force for human behavior change” (Singhal and Rogers 120). In addition, different disciplines have asserted dominion over different aspects of the topic.

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