Monday, June 2, 2008

The Impact of Entertainment - St. Augustine

I was reading in Augustine's CONFESSIONS today and ran across his reflections on theatrical entertainment in III.ii(2). After confessing his own attraction to such entertainment Augustine reflects on the impact these shows have on him (and on all of us). Attraction to this entertainment is "amazing folly" for him because it erodes the spectator's ability to withstand the passions enacted in front of him or her. In fact, they become a source of pleasure, this vicarious experience of "grievous and tragic events." It seems he is suggesting that such events have the capacity to shape us thorugh passive viewing in ways we may not find healthy.

A further conequence of this kind of entertainment that Augustine observes is that it corrupts the quality of mercy. Aroused to such passion by the events happening on the stage the spectator is moved, not to action, but only to grief; and a spurious grief at that because the feeling of the pain that arouses this passion is the source of his enjoyment! Thus not only does this feeling of "mercy" not provoke us to sct (presumably in real life as well as in the theater) but it becomes absorbed into our own search for enjoyment and pleasure.

In light of our preoccupation with such visual representations of all manner of "grievous and tragic events," and our national debates over the impact of such on the minds. hearts, and wills of their consumers, it might repay us to reflect on Augustine's reflections on this matter!