Monthly Archives: October 2016

Know More About Entertainment

In a world where we find ourselves evermore overwhelmed by-and drawn to-bright images and flashing screens, it is worth asking a few questions about that most important of consumer goods: entertainment. What makes entertainment entertaining? Why do we need it, or do we? What is entertainment, anyway?

These are a few of the questions I set out to answer in a class I taught a year or so ago: Entertainment in America. And while we couldn’t quite come up with satisfactory answers, even after a semester of reading and discussion, I’d like to try to set down a few of the thoughts that came out of that course here. But I don’t want to shove the partial answers I’ve come to down your throat-that’s no fun for anybody. Rather, what I’ll do in the following is offer a list of questions that you might ask yourself, along with a few resources that might be worth looking at as you search for your own answers to these increasingly crucial questions. I’ll also note, from time to time, the conclusions I have tentatively reached regarding these questions.

Are you ready? Here goes…

What is entertainment? (Too obvious, but we’ll come back to it. If you keep this question in mind as you go down the list, you may find a definition beginning to come together. Try it out.) Even if you know it when you see it, does it bother you if you can’t come up with a good definition of what it actually is?

Is there such a thing as “only entertainment”?
Only Entertainment-Bad Religion
That’s Entertainment-The Jam
That’s Entertainment-Judy Garland
When you read the lyrics of The Jam’s and Bad Religion’s songs, and read about the history of the Judy Garland highlights film, what is your sense of the kind of material that makes for entertainment?

Who needs entertainment? What for? When you are entertained, what are you feeling? Read a Dilbert or Doonesbury comic strip, and try to record what happened inside of you while you were looking at the comic. Did you feel happier? A sense of release? The resolving of tension? Was that entertainment? Would you say that reading the comic strip was the same kind of experience as watching a television show? How? How not?

Are some kinds of entertainment better for you than others? Which kinds? Is it better to play internet poker or to watch a video? Try doing each for a little while and record your feelings. Was one more entertaining than the other? How? Why? Did one make you more aggressive? Less likely to do something productive in the world around you? Did either change the way you felt about yourself? How?

One of the things I was struck by while teaching this course was the way entertainment can work as a substitute for action. If I can identify with a character on TV-on a soap opera, for instance-then I get to feel all the feelings that character feels, without having to do the actions that result in those feelings. I get to feel jealous without having a cheating spouse, excited by the intrigue of adultery without being an adulterer, and intimate without ever actually talking to a living human being. In short, I get to feel. Some researchers believe that feelings are the way we human beings experience our world most fully, but is there a price to pay when we feel our emotions in a way that’s disconnected from the physical world around us?

That is, if we get to feel feelings without taking risks, do we start to lose our ability to risk emotion in the “real world”? I don’t have a definite answer to that for you, but I do have one for me. I’ve come to the conclusion that entertainment is-while maybe necessary for emotional and psychological health-definitely a dangerous substance. Like fire. So, for my part, I’ll still watch a film now and then. But I’ll also think afterwards about how watching that film, getting that emotional satisfaction, affects my ability to act in the real world. You might consider doing the same; it actually turns out to be pretty entertaining.

Mainstream Still Exist or is it Buried Under the Web

Taking a historical view, it becomes clear that there was once a linear progression from underground status to mainstream acceptance. With the advent of the Internet, cultural importance is becoming a more democratically bestowed designation, and the mainstream may be a thing of the past.

For at least a century, terms like ‘avant-garde’ and ‘cutting edge’ have been associated with cultural products that lie outside the mainstream. That is, the cutting edge is usually something that most people aren’t interested in. By the time it becomes mainstream―in other words, by the time the majority of people come to know about or appreciate it―the cultural product in question isn’t cutting edge anymore. This is true in almost every medium, including painting and other visual arts, film, music, and literature. The things that have real, lasting cultural importance, are, at first, adopted and endorsed only by a select few.

Becoming Mainstream
Of course, the question that is raised by these considerations―what causes cultural products to rise from obscurity to cultural importance, and eventually, to enter the mainstream? There is an argument to be made that the tastes and whims of influential people and institutions have as much to do with this process as the content of art and media itself. For example, Jean-Michel Basquiat, one of the most famous ‘outsider artists’ in history, rose from obscurity to massive prominence largely thanks to the influence of Andy Warhol and his associates.

The point is even more strikingly made in the example of music. Which musicians become famous has historically been almost entirely up to the record companies. Much mainstream pop and rock music is tailor-made by large record companies to have a high profile and high sales from the start, with little thought to artistic expression or cultural importance. More experimental musicians, however, have to get lucky with record companies in much the same way. Out of 10 culturally relevant musicians, one might get a decent deal with an independent record company, without which, their music would never be heard. Which one of the 10 gets this exposure is, perhaps, the luck of the draw. If the indie band goes on to become hugely influential to future musicians, the role that fortune played in this state of affairs ought not to be overlooked.

Who Decides What’s Important?
To some extent, then, the avant-garde is determined by those who are already part of the mainstream. Record companies, production companies, established artists, and art galleries, all have an important say in what’s cutting edge, so the distinction between the avant-garde and popular opinion is perhaps not so clear cut. In order for creative endeavors to have an effect on culture, someone with the power to impact culture has to get involved.

Underground Promotion
Historically, small-scale promotion of new, exciting media has been important. When a new band or independent filmmaker arises and appeals to trendsetters, these trendsetters spread the word in a number of ways, and this ‘underground’ promotion helps avant-garde artists along the path toward cultural relevance and mass appeal. In the past, if something gained enough of an audience to be noticed by larger institutions, it had as good as succeeded in ‘breaking through’. Today, however, it is becoming less and less clear what a breakthrough act is, what the mainstream is, and whether the concept of mainstream versus avant-garde media retains any relevance at all.

Becoming Famous Online
The most obvious example of the cultural shift that has taken place over the past decades can be seen in the way the Internet has affected the spread of cultural information and media. In the past, a new pop group had to start locally, growing in importance via word of mouth and bootlegging, eventually earning the attention of a large record company and growing in popularity (and, often, decreasing in cultural importance) from there. Now, this process has been almost completely overtaken by online word of mouth. A new band, instead of distributing demo tapes to record companies and radio stations, can put its music on the Internet for all to hear. People anywhere in the world can listen to and respond to the band’s music, vastly increasing the potential increase in popularity via word-of-mouth. Thus, culturally important, experimental musicians can become widely known before they have been noticed by the mainstream. It hardly needs to be said that this places far more importance on the content of the media being distributed online. The support of an established artist is no longer necessary for new artists to become successful. Instead of a cultural hegemony of the influential, we now have a situation where, thanks to technology, culture is becoming more democratic.

The Democratization of Culture
The democratization of culture is, perhaps, killing what was once known as the mainstream. Because institutionalized support is irrelevant, a musician, artist, or even (though to a lesser extent) a filmmaker can become successful and well-known without ever becoming famous in the traditional sense of the word. Instead of culturally important media products rising to the mainstream after slowly gaining acceptance in avant-garde communities, many media communities remain avant-garde. Not only does this eradicate the idea of a strong distinction between cultural relevance and mainstream prominence, it calls into question the future of the mainstream. With a more democratic approach toward culture, the cultural hegemony that established the mainstream in the first place may no longer be necessary.

Should Know The Highest Grossing Broadway Musicals of All Time

Broadway may not be churning hit after hit like Hollywood does, but for these long-time players, their stage outings have been one smooth ride. Here are Broadway’s highest grossing musicals of all time.

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark is the most expensive musical ever made, costing 75 million dollars. On an average, though, each musical is made at a cost of anywhere between 10 to 15 million dollars.
Apart from being a popular tourist attraction in the Big Apple, the Broadway Theater District is also a major revenue generator, throwing up more than $1 billion in ticket sales annually. Broadway shows have withstood competition from all quarters, including the talkies, and have clearly survived it all. Well, more than survived, if the sales figures are anything to go by.

Today, Broadway musicals are all about the glitz and glamor, combined with extravagant visuals and racy music. When it comes to listing the highest earners in recent times, several factors come into play; for instance, the longest running may not always be the highest earning production. Putting this to rest, we’ve complied a list of shows that have ranked high on popularity, and have also set the cash registers ringing.

Highest Grossing Broadway Musicals

The Lion King
Having grossed $853.8 million, The Lion King became the highest grossing musical on Broadway in 2012, edging out The Phantom of the Opera.
Elton John’s music powers the theatrical version of Disney’s The Lion King, just like the original animated film. It officially opened on Broadway at the New Amsterdam Theatre on November 13, 1997. More than 5,000 shows later, it is still going strong, pulling in family audiences and providing wholesome entertainment.

The Phantom of the Opera
The Phantom of the Opera celebrated its 25th anniversary on 26 January, 2013, with its 10,400th performance at the Majestic Theatre.
The longest running show on Broadway is also one of its biggest earners, certainly no surprises there. The Phantom of the Opera is based on Gaston Leroux’s novel, Le Fantôme de l’Opéra. It has been set to tune by Andrew Lloyd Webber, with lyrics by Charles Hart. The play’s worldwide gross earnings amount to $5.6 billion, the highest for any musical. Its Broadway earnings tally up to $845 million, and have been only recently surpassed by the previous musical on our list.

Wicked is currently running to packed houses on Broadway’s huge Gershwin Theatre, commanding an average ticket price of $138.
Wicked is based on a novel that draws inspiration from The Wizard of Oz. The Broadway and West End versions compete with one another, and the shows are known to smash their previous records of highest weekly earnings. The last week of 2012 saw Wicked pull in a cool $2.9 million, making this the highest weekly earning for a Broadway musical.

Cats enjoyed an uninterrupted run on Broadway from 1982 to 2000, earning a whopping $366.4 million from its 7,000+ performances.
Cats ranks only behind The Phantom of the Opera as the longest running musical on Broadway. Another masterpiece by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cats is unique in the sense that it relies entirely on its lyrics set to the musical score, with no dialogs between the songs. The play is based on T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, a personal favorite of Mr. Webber.

Chicago: The Musical
Owing to its minimal production costs, Chicago: The Musical set a record for recovering its cost faster than any other musical.
Chicago’s second run on Broadway proved far more fruitful to the production than its previous outing in the seventies. With the audiences becoming cheekier at the turn of the century, they certainly warmed up to Chicago’s risque theme. It has earned around $380 million from more than 6,000 shows this far.

Les Misérables
This production cost $4.5 million to make, and had notched up more than $4 million in advance ticket sales before its New York premiere in 1987.
Set on Victor Hugo’s novel of the same name, Les Mis is remembered for its heart-wrenching storyline set in 19th century France. A few revivals and a celluloid version later, the audiences are still not tired of watching Les Misérables, seeing that the musical is due to return to Broadway’s Imperial Theatre in 2014.

Mamma Mia!
Mamma Mia! opened on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theatre on 18 October, 2001, and is still running to packed houses.
This hit musical features several hit songs of the pop band ABBA, and has grossed over $2 billion worldwide, a stupendous record to hold. This success prompted a film adaptation which was also a big hit with the audiences.

Beauty and the Beast
Another stellar production from Disney Theatrical, it remains the longest running production at the Palace Theatre and the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.
This fairytale has inspired several school productions due to its enduring storyline. The Beauty and the Beast was also the first Disney musical to be staged on Broadway. The show came to an end on Broadway only when Disney came out with their next musical, The Little Mermaid.

Miss Saigon
Miss Saigon’s most spectacular scene shows the last of the Americans being evacuated from the embassy roof by helicopter, with several Vietnamese watching in despair.
Miss Saigon is based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly, and is an ill-fated love story which sees a Vietnamese woman abandoned by her American lover. It opened on Broadway Theatre on 11 April, 1991, and closed on 28 January, 2001, after 4,092 performances.

The Producers
The Producers broke the record for the largest single day box-office ticket sales in theatre history, gathering over $3.5 million.
This humorous musical is based on the 1968 film that featured Mel Brooks. It ran on Broadway from 2001 to 2007, winning a record-breaking 12 Tony awards. The Producers garnered a neat sum of around $290 million from its 2,502 performances on Broadway.

These were some sterling Broadway musicals that have offered unmatched entertainment to theater patrons for several years now, and it is only justified that they’ve ended up making the kind of money they have.