Creativity and Entertainment: A 21st Century Conundrum

From the wealthy of Regency England gathered around the pianoforte for an evening of music to the pioneers in the American West listening to a man with a fiddle, from a man telling stories by the firelight to a group of gamers telling stories about their D&D characters, the human race has a long history of people creating and sharing those creations with others. But not so much in the recent past.

We hardly even think of this kind of creativity as creative anymore, we just call it entertainment, ignoring the fact that throughout most of history “entertainment” was something that people created for themselves or those immediately around them. Since the rise of media driven culture people in societies with advanced media have largely given over the business of entertainment to an elite caste and become entirely consumers, rather than creators. The theory, as with all the things we’ve stopped doing for ourselves over the years, is that a professional will do it better than we could and the loss of knowing how to do it won’t hurt us that much. And in some cases that’s probably true.

But in the case of creating entertainment I’d argue it’s very much the opposite.

Our culture has lost the ability to create entertainment itself and it suffers for it. We suffer from a loss of ability to connect to other people, a loss of insight into the creative process and a loss of the ability to appreciate creativity.

Creativity is, at it’s core, the ability to explain ideas to other people in a way that they find exciting and engaging. In order to do it you have to be able to get a feel for where other people are mentally and emotionally and then lead them to the experience you want them to have. On the large scale that means understanding the society around you and on a smaller scale it means being alert and attentive to the people you meet. By necessity it requires that you both know how to understand people and how to best collaborate to bring them where you want them to go. These kinds of very basic people skills are a core part of entertainment and when we stop creating to entertain they begin to atrophy and our society is paying the price – as a culture America is becoming more rude, less understanding and more impatient. Is all this because we’ve given up entertaining ourselves? No, probably not. But is that a factor? I think it may be.

But society isn’t the only thing hurt by our failure to create and entertain – our ability to understand the creative process is impaired. There are some things about what goes into entertainment that can only be understood fully by someone who’s done it. Ask anyone who’s just attempted theater or written a short story for the first time – they’ll always tell you it’s more effort than they expected. On top of that, the sense of accomplishment and, when working in a group, the sense of comradery is far more than you would expect. To go with it, there’s almost a sense of possession – what you’ve done or created is yours alone and not like anything else on Earth, for good or bad.

An understanding of that work and that sense of accomplishment comes with an understanding of the euphoria and sense of importance that comes with creativity. After all, you’re making up something that never existed before and that’s going to feel good. With that rush comes the tendency to push ideas, to construct stories in ways that make our own ideas prominent. As a creator it’s important to check this tendency in the interests of verisimilitude but no one can do it perfectly and some creators don’t do it at all. Having actually been through the process personally helps you spot when others aren’t policing themselves as well as they might.

That’s an important skill to have because entertainment contains a lot of ideas that entertainers are trying to advance – yes, they have the goal of entertaining you but almost all entertainers have things beyond entertainment that interest them and those ideas always creep into the entertainment you provide. If you’ve created your own entertainment before you know how this can happen and can spot the signs more easily. Sure, TV is just TV but that doesn’t mean it’s not influencing you at all. You might not be selling your soul to the devil when you flip on pop radio but Taylor Swift is certainly getting some real estate in your brain. The familiarity being a creator yourself gives you will help you understand what those influences are doing with the brainspace you’re giving em.

Finally, being creative really does help you appreciate the results of the creative endeavors produced by others. The act of creating requires a practiced eye or ear or hand. Once you’ve developed those skills it will as easily pick out the best that other creators have to offer and savor it all the more for knowing all the time and passion that went into it.

The benefits of creating are many, but you’ll probably effect the most people with them if you aim to entertain. If you’ve not even dabbled a bit in creative expression to share with others then go out and try it. It will be good for your friends and for you.

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