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FIRST-PERSON: Our unhealthy obsession with entertainment

McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–During a recent five-day trip to Russia and France, Laura Bush told a Moscow audience that she believes American children are addicted to television.

The First Lady will get no argument here. However, I would suggest that TV is only the delivery system for a much more pervasive addiction. The compulsive habit that appeals to not only children, but also adults, is not tangible per se. It is a concept. The irresistible force that now saturates American society is entertainment.

There is little about life in the United States that is not tainted by the insatiable desire to be amused. GameBoys, Walkmans, and DVDs provide fun and diversion that is portable. Cell phones and PDAs now come with games as standard equipment.

Americans pursue electronic pastimes via television and computer. The Internet, which helped usher in the information age, is now primarily used for amusement — much of which is unseemly. And movies are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year via cable.

Professional sport has even been affected by America’s entertainment addiction. Once the games themselves were amusement enough. Not any more. I was treated to an NBA contest this past season. There I encountered non-stop entertainment. During breaks in the action there were contests, souvenir give-a-ways, dancing girls, and video replays. It was dizzying.

Politics is now dominated by entertainment. A candidate’s image has become more important than a substantive platform. Televised debates are nothing more than rehearsed sound bites and staged spin. A political pundit recently declared that a particular individual would make a good candidate because he makes the public feel good.

The church is even being tempted by society’s quest to be entertained. Once a local fellowship was evaluated by its commitment to biblical truth. No more. Many who file in and out of houses of worship now expect a service to flow with flawless musical presentations and engaging messages peppered with humor. Conviction must now contend with amusement.

There is little in American society that has not been tainted by entertainment addiction. Perhaps we should consider the song “Let Me Entertain You” as our new national anthem.

All addiction has consequences. America’s obsession with entertainment has produced a society that has become increasingly more passive toward life. It seems we would rather watch reality on television than experience it first-hand.

Entertainment is designed to appeal to an audience’s emotions. Those addicted to amusement lose their desire to think critically. The entertainment addict reacts to information, and even life, based on how it makes him or her feel. Emotion, rather than fact, is the supreme barometer for those enslaved to entertainment.

Addiction is also, by its very nature, an escalating condition. That is, an addict’s appetite never plateaus. Hence those obsessed with entertainment desire more and more amusement that is increasingly more spectacular. The end result is that the sensational trumps the substantive.

The attention span is the casualty of all addiction. The entertainment addict is not only easily bored and distracted, but also has difficulty retaining relevant information for a very long period of time. Those obsessed with amusement are unable to juxtapose contemporary happenings with history. Thus, current events become nothing more than passing bits of trivia.

A society addicted to entertainment comprises individuals whose obsession is their own pleasure. Once a people lose the desire to pursue life and to think critically, once a society fails to recognize the substantive and cultivate a historical perspective, once these realities become the rule rather than the exception, a society is in danger.

There are many things in life that taken in moderation are not necessarily negative. Entertainment is one of them. However, America has crossed the line of moderation and is plunging headlong into addiction. It seems we are, in the words of New York University’s Neil Postman, “Amusing ourselves to death.”
Boggs’ column appears each Friday in Baptist Press. He is pastor of Valley Baptist Church in McMinnville, Ore.

    About the Author

  • Kelly Boggs