“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

entertainment and art

It was in the late sixties, I think, that most American newspapers began hosting a “business” section. Of course, most of the readers of newspapers back then were laborers, but there was never a labor section. Now business sections are universal, and the last surviving labor unions are about to get a stake through their heart as the Supreme Court, that bastion of reaction, prongs them. Those Business sections were, literally, a sign of the Times.
I am not sure when I first noticed that newspapers were putting their movie, book and music reviews in a section called Arts and Entertainment. It is now a pretty standard section heading. It begs the question, or at least I am going to beg the question, of what is meant by that conjunction. What is supposed to be the difference between art on the one side and entertainment on the other?
In the seventeenth century, entertainment was a term that possessed a lot of semantic scope. It held onto its French roots in “tenir”, to hold, and meant hosting, or supporting, or amusing. In John Donne’s sermons, one can see examples of all these things. For instance, in interpreting the passage in Genesis in which Abraham feeds some strangers who turn out to be angels, Donne writes: … the angels of the Gospel come within their distance, but if you will not receive them, they can break open no doors, nor save you against your wil: the angel does, as he that sends him. Stand at the door and knock, if the door be open, he comes in, and sups with him; What gets he by that? This; he brings his dish with him; he  feeds his host, more than his host him. This is true hospitality, and entertaiment of angels, both when thou feedest Christ , in his poor members abroad, or when thouh feedest thine own soul at hom, with the company and conversation of ture and religious Christians at thy table, for these are angels.” “Entertainment” here is not only the provision of food and drink, but also of conversation – l’entretien. It is something more than providing the bare necessities.
On the other hand, Donne can also pluck amusement out of the word. In a Lent Sermon, Donne speaks of the function of the sermon and, in general, of the service. There’s an implicit self reference here, for Donne’s own sermons were pretty well wrought – were, in a word that would not have been used in his time, artistic. He speaks here of “Gods ablest Ministers, indued with the best parts, to be but as music, as a jest, as a song, as an entertainment.”
Now, a sermon is not a secular prose piece. In this respect, the binary is between the sacred and the profane, not art and entertainment. But Donne was, of course, well aware of the fact that poetry could straddle the divide between sacred and profane. Still, he does not insert, after “song”, as poetry. Entertainment, here, is something different from the entertainment of angels. It is already show business.
Is it possible, though, that all of art is show business? Or, less pejoratively, that entertainment is art and art entertainment? And that the journalistic conjunction caters to a popular misconception, an ill-made middle or high brow hierarchy?
This question is, I think, mixed up to an extent with the old division between the sacred and the profane. In particular, the exclusion of some from the Protestant and Catholic notion of the sacred.
An act of 1572, in England, proscribed "common players in interludes and minstrils." Players had to belong to the household of a baron or an honorable personage - hence Shakespeare's membership in the "Queens men." The punishment for being a wandering player ranged from whipping, to having your ears lopped off, to being shipped out of the district.

Entertainers, like Jews and slaves, were outside the bounds of the Holy City - Augustine's City of God, Christian Europes millennial long dream. They were, one way or another, under the ban of social death. It wasnt only the Puritans who objected to the actor. Heres Bossuet, a French bishop, commenting about Moliere, who - according to legend - died right after acting in La Malade imaginaire: he "passed from the pleasantries of theater, among which he practically drew his last breath, to the judgment seat of him who said: cursed be those who laugh now, for you shall cry." 
I’ve been thinking about these things since the death of David Bowie, wondering about how to characterize him: Entertainer? Artist? Or is there a difference? Does the and stand?

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