To celebrate my 400th blog, I invited subjects of discussion. This one comes from Chris Quinn, @irlchrusty, who wants me to talk about clowns, and about how different forms of entertainment have fallen out of fashion, eg circuses, in favour of others.
For so many people there was never anything so terrifying as a clown, and for anyone who’s read Stephen King...
I suggested, the other day, that for people of my generation, our childhoods more closely resembled those of our parents’ generation than they did those of our children’s, and, having made the observation, I promised myself that I’d follow it up.
I think the same is true of entertainment. I think the manner in which we entertained ourselves and the scale on which we do it has changed dramatically, and that includes clowns.
|a gorgeous old circus poster|
Chris cited circuses, and, having grown-up in Great Yarmouth, I'm more than a little familiar with the concept, but let’s begin with all live entertainments. It’s only sixty years since the coronation, which is when tvs were first bought in any numbers, so most entertainments, excluding the radio, of course, were live prior to that time, and even most radio entertainments were broadcast live. The exception to the rule was film, of course, which, while it wasn’t live, was, at least, entertainment for the masses, and was enjoyed en masse.
TV and radio were the beginnings of small scale home entertainment, but, until very recently they were also very much shared. Until the 80s we all watched the same three channels and we all watched the same programs at the same times on the same days. We shared the experience of watching them, usually in family groups around the only tv in the house, and we discussed them together, often at work or in school with friends and colleagues and a wider community.
Entertainment was a community activity, from singing around a piano in the local drinking hole to standing room only at the local theatre, for hundreds of years. Until modern times, most people didn’t even eat their hot meals alone in their homes, but in local bake shops.
We still indulge in big events and special occasion entertainments, but we don’t share them in the same way we used to. We travel to our entertainments. We don’t walk to our local theatre, we travel to a big city. We don’t sit with our neighbours and friends, we sit with strangers, and when the show is over we get back in our cars or on the train, and we don’t share the experience, except with the people who might have accompanied us on the trip.
There are a few exceptions.
I haven’t been to a modern music festival, but I certainly see the appeal. I can imagine the camaraderie, the hedonistic delights of living in a field, in tents, with strangers for three or four days at a time, sharing food and music, and love and mud; making friends, possibly for life, and making plans to meet again at the next venue.
I completely understand why people who meet under no other circumstances gather in fields half a dozen times a year for LARPing extravaganzas, or why they meet enthusiastically at conferences and conventions.
I worry, though about the dilution and dissolution of our entertainments. I worry about their specialism. I worry about labelling.
Take fiction. Books used to be books. When I was a kid, fiction was fiction, a good story was a good story, and I never cared what genre it happened to be; there really wasn’t anything like the snobbery there appears to be now.
When I go into a book shop, now, everything is labelled, and heaven forfend a book doesn’t easily fit into a category. What is YA? What are Gothic Historical Romance and Alternative Steampunk Fantasy? And where, oh where, is the joy?
Every time a kid plugs his earbuds in, I cringe a little, especially when he’s got a buddy sitting next to him. Whatever happened to sharing, and why aren’t we all sharing our entertainments a little more readily.
I hope that we are, and I hope that we’ll continue to.
Shared entertainments like shared experiences of all kinds have got to be a good thing, surely?