Entertainment is Eating the World

The two books that have most influenced my view on where the entertainment industry is headed are Infinite Jest and The Pale King, both by the great David Foster Wallace.

In Infinite Jest he paints a future in which a new form of entertainment has arrived that is so all consuming that the viewer is mesmerised to the point where they cannot tear themselves away from their screen. The viewers typically die of thirst, sitting in their chairs. The book was published in 1996 and pre-dates the mainstreaming of internet delivered entertainment, but in retrospect it felt prescient about where we were headed [1]. 

I was reminded of Infinite Jest today reading Jeffrey Katzenberg’s brilliant MIPCOM speech where he makes two key points:

1. That entertainment is not a zero-sum game - the introduction of new types of media (printing press, film, radio, TV, web etc) creates new demand - basically we’re not even close to saturating humanity’s desire to be entertained

2. That mobile accelerates this because we can now be entertained when we are out and about, “waiting”. Paperback books, magazines in the doctors office, the walkman predate this ‘mobilsation’ but now expanding faster than ever

I think both of these points are true, and if you buy that, exceptional storytellers & entertainers - whether the creators of Breaking Bad or Jonathan Franzen will be valued far more in the future. So too will be new platforms for entertainment. And so will those that amplify the leverage of those great storytellers e.g. CAA.

The counterpoint to this acceleration is provided by The Pale King - a study on boredom. The book questions whether our hunger to be entertained is a distraction mechanism that helps us ignore the unanswerable questions in life that roughly reduce to - what does it all mean. His heroes are the workers in the US tax office and they are realised and dignified by their boredom. All this to say - I share DFW’s concern that a world in which we are more and more entertained is not necessarily a healthy one and I think much good can be done by helping people find that empty space. The counter cyclical investment thesis for entertainment if you like. I think at some point we will be in search of that lost boredom.

[1] - the structure is also weirdly prescient - the endless footnotes feel something like web browsing & hypertext.