Entertainment and Societal Ruin

Essay I wrote and will submit tomorrow.

Prompt (from 2003 AP Test):

“In his 1998 book Life the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality, Neal Gabler wrote the following:

           One does not necessarily have to cluck in disapproval to admit that entertainment is all the things its detractors say it is: fun, effortless, sensational, mindless, formulaic, predictable, and subversive. In fact, one might argue that those are the very reasons so many people love it.
           At the same time, it is not hard to see why cultural aristocrats in the nineteenth century and intellectuals in the twentieth hated entertainment and why they predicted, as one typical nineteenth century critic railed, that its eventual effect would be "to overturn all morality, to poison the springs of domestic happiness, to dissolve the ties of our social order, and to involve our country in ruin."

Write a thoughtful and carefully constructed essay in which you use specific evidence to defend, challenge, or qualify the assertion that entertainment has the capacity to "ruin" society.”

My Essay:

Warning to the reader: If you find this essay entertaining in any way, shape or form, please, for the sake of society, discard it at once. If you do not, you may be overturning morality, poisoning “the springs of domestic happiness”, dissolving “the ties of our social order” and involving “our country in ruin”.

In 1998, a man named Neal Gabler wrote of his displeasure with entertainment, characterizing it as “fun, sensational, mindless, formulaic, predictable and subversive”, and ascertained that this entertainment would “‘dissolve the ties of our social order’” and result in societal ruin. What Gabler did not do is define entertainment. Thus Gabler attacks this distant, ambiguous enigma that he labels “entertainment”. In light of this gaping hole in his assertion, it must be said that Neal Gabler, is quite mistaken when he proclaims that entertainment will magically drive society into a fiery abyss of disorder and anarchy; in fact, entertainment has routinely led to the positive progression of society.

In the 1930s a nation stared into a gloomy future amidst even gloomier numbers as giant bread lines circled cities. Industries in the east fell and farms in the Midwest were covered by dust. Homelessness rose and hopelessness rose; dreams came crashing to the ground and the stock market came crashing to the ground. At a time, nearly a quarter of the country was unemployed, and of those that were employed, most worked for governmental programs that paid a very low amount. Farmers lost the land that they had identified with for generations and began to migrate west, to California, where they began to get used for cheap labor. Society had hit rock bottom. There was this one author, though, who saw this. The sight moved his pen. 455 pages later, John Steinbeck had created a novel that cogently packaged together the experience that millions of migrants experienced. Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, explored the fundamental human spirit, the immortal, human spirit that continues, in the face of joy and sorrow, to seek a meaningful life. Like many works of genius, the novel too was criticized and condemned. Of course it was communist, it was proletariat, it would raise mass uprisings, people would rebel against society, we would have lawlessness, and the country would fall into shambles. We were doomed, America was doomed, society was doomed, and humanity was doomed. Or so the critics said. Society had already fallen into a state of despair. There was not much more room to go lower. The book however, instills within the student escaping a teacher’s lecture or the child on the long car ride, the sense of interconnectedness, a sense of community. The novel makes one question taking advantage of another. It instills fundamental values within a person. Is it not a laughable notion that society will be “ruined” because a few more people became a little less selfish and identified a little more with their fellow humans?

Also consider that while aboard a train in South Africa, a young Indian lawyer, kicked out of the first class seat that he had a ticket to, grew bored with the dismal surroundings consisting of the odor of hundreds of people fit into a small space without having experienced the fresh air of the great outdoors for days on end. Among his possessions was a short essay, some eighteen pages long, written in a different time, in a land far, far away. Seeing that his only other form of entertainment would be to stare out through the window into utter darkness, the lawyer reached down into his luggage and grabbed the thin pamphlet. He cringed at the first two sentences, which seemed to him to be an open cry for anarchy but, because he had no other viable option, he drudged through the next words. Slowly, words became sentences; sentences became paragraphs and paragraphs, pages. And with each turning page, it seemed that the hands of time, that were locked in position a few moments prior, began moving with much speed. The lawyer was enraptured, the text spoke to him, it connected to him. In the text he saw a reflection of him, a reflection of the oppressed Black in South Africa and a reflection of the occupied Indian in India. He saw in those pages, a reflection of mankind around the world, tied, bound, constricted by the malicious chains of power, power that respected no morality, but just unjustly pursued more power. The essay he had picked up just to pass a few hours became a cornerstone of his life, and he went on to become the international and timeless epitome of civil rights, Mahatma Gandhi. He protested the tyrannical white rule in South Africa and he secured India from the hands of the despotic British.  Sure, the techniques Gandhi learned in the essay, “Civil Disobedience” by Henry David Thoreau, may have led Gandhi to “poison the springs of domestic happiness”, “dissolve” some “social ties” and “ruin” a few countries here and there in the short term, but from a long term perspective, can the independence of India, the end of apartheid in South Africa and the guarantee of civil rights to African Americans in the United States really be classified as ruination?

As a final vivid example invalidating Gabler’s preposterous claim, consider the advent of social networking in contemporary times. The largest of these social networks, Facebook, boasts a population of over 500 million and is known to teenagers as the reason their grades are so low. And it is true that these social networks have facilitated in the arrangement of meetings between naïve people who believe every stranger on the Internet is safe, and predators. Nevertheless, these social networks have been very useful sources of the progression of society. Consider the role of Facebook and Twitter in the recent revolution in Egypt. Tired of the ruling President Hosni Mubarak who has been ruling for nearly 30 years, protestors banded together on social networking sites in order to plan a revolution. The government, decided to shut off all Internet connections, however, because of the pressure of the insurrection, Mubarak was forced to create a new government. Sure the state is currently in turmoil, but if this movement can cause the upliftment of that 50% of the Egyptian population that currently lives under $2 a day, wouldn’t this form of entertainment be vindicated?

                Thus, literature, history and current events prove that entertainment is not a cause of societal ruin, but actually a positive force in building it up, and making it better. Gabler’s claim is therefore dumbfounded as common forms of entertainment have proved to society that they are in fact a major force in taking it forward, as evidenced by Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Gandhi’s experiences with “Civil Disobedience” and the current state of events in Egypt.

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3 responses to “Entertainment and Societal Ruin

  1. This is FREAKING awesomei hope you get an A ♥

  2. Thanks and I’m glad you liked it! I actually did end up getting an A 🙂

  3. Hi Tejas, excellent work man. I also enjoyed your article in the Hinduism Today. Btw you should check out this website http://www.bhagavadgitaquest.net. It may be useful for the kind of work you are involved in.Cheers and keep up the great work.

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