Pop Culture by Daniel Blackaby August 31, 2022
How Much Entertainment Is Too Much Entertainment?
We’ve all been there. We’re sitting in our favorite restaurant, lethargic, full, and feeling the first pangs of an inevitable stomachache, but there’s still some delicious-looking food in front of us. We take “just one more bite.” Then another. And another. After all, we’ve paid hard-earned money for it. So we keep chewing long after the food brings any semblance of delight. This imagery keeps coming to mind as I think about the current state of entertainment. I’ve found myself asking the question: How much entertainment is too much?
It’s not hyperbolic to suggest that there is currently more easily accessible, high-quality entertainment available than at any point in human history. Yet there is also an increased dissatisfaction, weariness, and ambivalence toward it. Where once the mere idea of something might have brought uncontained glee (“Star Wars on TV?!?” or “A Marvel show that directly connects with the larger MCU?!?”), the actualization of it has left many people feeling oddly numb and indifferent (“Maybe a Boba Fett show was a bad idea after all,” or “Yet another Marvel show? Hope it’s better than the last one.”)
Perhaps it’s more anecdotal than scientific, but as someone engaged in the pop-culture conversation, I’ve encountered the sentiment more and more in recent days. Data suggests that audiences are still watching these shows in mass numbers, but the surrounding discourse reveals that enthusiasm is often in short supply.
Too Much of a Good Thing
There are many reasons why the abundant entertainment options fail to excite as expected. One factor may simply be that entertainment, like seemingly everything else in our culture, has been sucked into the all-consuming maw of contemporary politics. Thus, engaging with today’s entertainment can feel like a chore, an extension of our current problems rather than an escape from them.
At the same time, there may also be a simpler explanation. We have become disillusioned with today’s entertainment because we have far too much of it. We’re drowning in the ever-rising deluge of options. Streaming platforms like Netflix now boast such sprawling media libraries that they’ve implemented an algorithm to choose on our behalf.
Even our terminology reflects our shifting mindset toward entertainment. Movies and television shows, once deemed an innovative artform, have now been reduced to “content.” Streaming companies promise subscribers more content than ever before, with the emphasis placed on the quantity. Studios and streaming platforms compete in an arms race to churn out more and more content to feed the machine of consumerism. A show like The Rings of Power or Obi-Wan Kenobi should feel like big, cultural landmark events. Instead, they seem like just the latest batch of content to come off the assembly line.
The existence of “lots of stuff” obviously doesn’t necessitate that people must watch it. No one forces me to shove another bite of Thanksgiving turkey into my already stuffed belly either. There is something about the abundant availability of a good thing that provokes overindulgence. The “more is more” mentality of constant content fosters a culture of consumerism. It’s not unusual for someone to share, “I’m finally catching up on ________,” in reference to a show that aired only a few days ago or to trudge dutifully through a lackluster Marvel show so they don’t get left behind in the larger narrative.
Moderation and Discernment
When it comes to Christianity and entertainment, the discussion typically centers on what or how to watch. The focus is on how to navigate the endless jungle of today’s entertainment choices. Implicit in this mindset is a general acceptance that Christians are unavoidably deep in that jungle. We question what to watch but rarely if we should watch at all. In fact, it is because most Christians are so immersed in entertainment that the questions of how to navigate it have become so relevant.
The Bible is largely silent regarding entertainment. It provides several general principles, but no specific guidelines (and even the wider principles can be ambiguous). The lack of clear scriptural guidelines regarding entertainment may suggest that entertainment was not a primary issue. Foundational theological doctrine and church policy were more essential to establish than how to engage with poetry or the theater, for example.
Another reason the early church didn’t focus much on entertainment is likely because entertainment occupied a small portion of people’s lives. The theater and poetry were popular, but first-century citizens weren’t spending four to five hours every evening vegging with entertainment. The average American spends more time engaged with entertainment on a weekend than first-century citizens may have experienced in a month.
That is not to suggest that enjoying entertainment is inherently wrong. The first-century lifestyle is by no means the platonic ideal. There is nothing wrong with relaxing and being entertained after a long day. Recreational activity is healthy, and stories can be a powerful vehicle for understanding ourselves and our world. The danger is not in the activity but in the overindulgence of it.
How much entertainment is too much entertainment? There is no one-size-fits-all answer, as much as Christians might wish there was. The Bible doesn’t give specific restrictions or establish a quantifiable threshold. Each Christian must exhibit discernment and moderation in this area. A persistent theme throughout Proverbs is the importance of prudence and self-control. Paul used the vivid metaphor of the strict training of athletes (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). Athletes need to rest and know their physical and mental limits. But the moments of rest are to recharge them for the more important activity ahead, not ends in themselves.
Entertainment can be good and healthy in moderation. But when we begin to feel weary or drained by it, we must ask ourselves if we’ve crossed the line into overindulgence.