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Pop culture 
Jesse Muller

What is entertainment? From phones to games to television, entertainment surrounds us constantly throughout our lives. With new hit shows like Cambridge and Wandavision every month, it seems to have completely integrated into our society. But where did it start and how has it expanded to such a diverse and large industry? To get a better sense about how entertainment today came to be, let's look at the history and modernization of entertainment and what led it to become so prevalent.

Entertainment has been around for a lot longer than people might think. Historians can trace it back to the Greeks and even the Ancient Egyptians. In Greece, many playwrights wrote plays for small audiences and, if they were lucky, sometimes, kings. You might even recognize some of the most famous playwrights of the time, like Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes. The Ancient Egyptians had their forms of entertainment as well. In Egypt, people played a popularized game at the time called “Senet.” Senet was very similar to some of the board games we have today, where pieces move around a board to reach a final goal and ultimately win the game. One reason historians think it was so popular was because of its religious significance. Some of the spaces on the board depicted the Egyptian sun god Ra’s journey as he traveled through the twelve gates of night. As we can see, entertainment played a role in the civilizations before us, but these entertainment forms seem archaic compared with the forms of entertainment we have today, such as social media and movies. So how did we get to this point?

In America, the birth of modern entertainment occurred in the late 1800s as the middle class developed. Before this time, the husband of the family was expected to work while the household's mother stayed home to take care of the children. But over time, these societal standards began to change. It became more common for the husband, wife, and children to work independently at higher-paying jobs, creating a higher household income for some people. This higher income brought an abrupt change in people’s way of life and launched them into the middle class. Families now had enough money to spend on luxuries like entertainment that had only been previously available to the wealthy. The rise of the middle class led to a boom in different forms of entertainment, such as plays, shows, and movies. Since then entertainment has continued to expand into a more broad and diverse field. 

One of the most prominent forms of entertainment that has emerged over the past decade has been streaming services. Although these streaming services are not technically a form of entertainment, they house hundreds and sometimes thousands of movies and shows for people to choose from. Many people prefer these services over going to the movies, or cable, especially during the pandemic where certain entertainment forms are limited. Disney launched their streaming service, Disney+, this past year in the height of the pandemic and recorded that within the first 24 hours of its launch, they had reached around ten million subscribers. Not only do these streaming services have an initial following; their growth over time seems exponential. Since its launch, Disney+ is estimated to have over 87 million subscribers. There are now over 200 streaming services, and with thousands of movies and television shows to choose from, it’s no wonder that so many people use them daily. Streaming services are one of the big hitters of entertainment today, but even they pale in comparison to entertainment's most significant accomplishment: social media.

Social media is perhaps the most used, followed, marketed, and addictive form of entertainment today. In 2020 the number of people using social media was around 3.6 billion, and that number is projected to more than double over the next five years. Due to the convenience of having social media on your phone, it's also fast and easy to access, contributing to its addictiveness. More recently, these social media sites have also expanded their reach on entertainment, creating templates like IGTV, where users can make their own videos. IGTV videos have a similar purpose to the streaming platform YouTube. Social media has grown to dominate the world of media and entertainment and is now a billion-dollar industry. Social media companies also create and use algorithms to get you to continue engaging by giving you content you're most likely to enjoy. But with all social media has to offer, the primary concern of recent years is its addictiveness and whether people would be able to quit if necessary. However,  campaigns made to promote social media have left the average user unaware or unconcerned with this issue. 

Video games have been an up and coming form of entertainment over the past century. From the creation of Pong, the first video game made in 1972, these games have become more innovative, leading more people to discover and play them. They also span a wide range of genres, much like television or movies. From action to comedy, mobile games to console, and puzzles to adventures, video games have something for everyone and have over 1 billion games to choose from. Video games have even expanded beyond household games and now have their own sports league and thousands of streamers who livestream the games they play. One major downside to video games is that many times they can get quite expensive. But that hasn’t stopped the gaming community from growing: a study in 2018 found that 72 percent of men ages 18-29 play video games, while 49 percent of women in that age group play video games. These numbers have increased over the past three years, and during the pandemic, the rates reached incredible heights. Some video games released during 2020 sold over 31 million units.

Looking at how entertainment’s role in society has progressed throughout history, it is easy to assume entertainment has become so integrated into our daily lives that it has become as necessary as eating or breathing. Still, no matter how large the numbers might seem, they are incomparable to the 7 billion people worldwide. Many people have been living without entertainment, media, and even electricity for years and have not become dependent on it. Many countries, mainly in Asia, have limited use or completely banned social media altogether. And in places like America, where entertainment exists freely, many small groups of people have made limits for themselves on entertainment, whether the limits were originally created because of entertainment or not. One example of this are Orthodox Jews who, although they are a small part of the world's population, take at least one day a week to live free of entertainment and many other things. However, the Jewish practice of Shabbat predates any form of entertainment. Another example is the Amish, who limit their use of entertainment for traditional reasons as well. For all the people who seek entertainment constantly, there are still many people who don’t.

When deep diving into the history, old and new, of entertainment, it is clear that entertainment itself is a part of society. Even more so with each passing decade as technology advances and expands the realm of possibilities. And regardless of disparities that separate people around the world, entertainment is used as a way to connect people from different races, ethnicities, gender, status and more. Wherever there are people, there is a need for enjoyment and sometimes distraction from the negative aspects of life. Entertainment has and is shown to be the solution for exactly that.


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A Timeline of Entertainment and its Presence in Society Today: Academics
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