Humanity and entertainment are inseparable. From the earliest creations such as the cave
paintings in the Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave (Fagan, 1996) to its more contemporary
counterparts, entertainment has been a lifelong companion of humanity due to the power and
depth it possesses. What could not be expressed nor released through mere words or rhetoric
gained depth and meaning via image and sound. Accordingly, as humanity progressed and
the needs of individuals diversified, the forms of entertainment transformed as well. Among
these branches of entertainment, some believe in the concept of hierarchy between these
different forms of entertainment. Some label classical arts as the ‘haute couture’: the
exemplary forms of culture and frame the entire field of entertainment into a dichotomy
between ‘high’ and ‘low’ (Palais Galliera, 2020). This is highly problematic due to the
subjective natures of entertainment. However, what makes the problem worse are recent
government actions that force individuals to subsidise entertainment handpicked by the
government. Ergo, to highlight the dire consequences of unilateral government subsidies on
entertainment is the purpose of this paper. Prior to examining the crux of the essay, one must
gain understanding towards what gives entertainment its inherent values.
Primarily, entertainment has value when subjective tastes for entertainment are accredited.
People discern what type of entertainment best accomplishes their desired goals e.g.
relaxation, relief or escape only because individuals acquire subjective standards specifically
designed to cater their own preferences. For instance, people choose to spend their time
playing video games or listening to Chopin because people deem these to be their optimal
way of releasing endorphins. They do not choose to entertain themselves by working day and
night because they know for certain that engaging in such behaviour will simply result in the
escalation of stress levels. Therefore, due to the inclination of people to make decisions that
they best empathise and associate with, preferences are a product of experience and empirical
reasoning. To illustrate, given that a person has a taste for classical music, the fiat here is that
the individual is familiar with the concept: he or she knows what it is and enjoys the form of
entertainment to an extent that one is willing to invest a portion of their time into the practice.
In other words, preference is posteriori: since it is simply impossible for an individual to gain
preference regarding the issue without understanding what it really is, only through empirical
reasoning individuals are able to form their opinions. Occasionally, directly experiencing
something may not be available. In such cases, deductive reasoning complements the voided
palettes of our minds. In other words, people form thoughts about an issue through empirical
reasoning and deduction. They associate previous experiences and propositions with
unfamiliar events in order to recall similar emotions. This way, individuals apply themselves
into situations which they have never directly experienced. It is through reasoning and
observation these individuals gain insight towards inexperienced events by putting
themselves into a given context and spot the correlating patterns between experiences.
Moreover, not only do individuals form preferences based on independent empirical
observation, the experience individuals undergo are also influenced by society or the
zeitgeist: the spirit of the age. This is why often times the prevalent idea of that society best
represents the wants and needs of the people as well as impacting the directions of thought of
individuals. Ergo, the so-called ‘popular culture’ of the time depicts the fundamental
ideologies of the era more than any other form of art or entertainment. Take the 1990s for instance. The decade was an era of rapid technological, economic progress with relatively meagre attention on its ethical, humanitarian implications. Hence, support towards post-modernism: anti-establishment ideologies and subversion grew rapidly (McKee, 2017). It was then, the English rock band Radiohead published its album ‘OK Computer’ as a warning towards the emerging cold world (Petrusich, 2017). Evidently, entertainment mirrors society by portraying the relevant social phenomena of the era. However, society changes. Points of view shift through the accumulation of experience and when these perspectives demand a new interpretation of society, paradigms shift. During this process, the ‘choice of the era’ that best satisfies a specific criterion for entertainment to be regarded as ‘entertaining’ changes, making entertainment subjective to the experiences acquired by individuals from society and their own lives (Berstein, 1992). This means that it is inevitable for entertainment, which reflects society, to change correspondingly. In other words, entertainment is subjective to societal fluctuation. Ergo, the role experience plays in the formation of personal preference is exactly why the definition of ‘good’ is extremely subjective.
Given the inevitably subjective nature of entertainment, governments monolithically subsidising specific forms of entertainment is principally unjustifiable. It is simply wrong for the government to unilaterally judge the value of entertainment according to its own standards. Rather, entertainment must revolve around the peoples’ subjective standards. The direct cause of this is because determining which form of entertainment best satisfies oneself can vary based on individuals. There is no fixed answer towards what makes entertainment ‘entertaining’. Regardless of a few government officials’ notions, if people find certain forms of entertainment preferable over others and decide to subsidise them, these decisions deserve to be respected. The government does not have the authority to proclaim these decisions as ‘foolish investments’ and take the reins in the decision-making process because the concept of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ for entertainment is in its grey area (Tanner, 2020). In fact, it is even unconstitutional for the state to force individuals to take a specific stance and coerce them into expressing their involuntary support towards the subject. Borrowing the words of Thomas Jefferson, “to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical” (Founders Online, 2020).
More importantly, what makes the problem worse, is the fact that a ‘one size fits all’ solution
does not apply to the standards of judging entertainment because it ignores the subjectivity of
entertainment. As elaborated, the choice of entertainment is a product of the people’s
preferences fuelled by different experiences. Since the set of experience individuals undergo
differ drastically, individual preference will consequently have discrepancies as well. This
implies that there is no absolute standard to defining what entertainment is. Rather, the
standards of entertainment are constituted by how people perceive entertainment from the
scope of their individual preference and priority setting. Ultimately, this leads to a world in
which the most effective entertainment is determined based on completely subjective
individual standards. However, the moment governments unify the yardstick of evaluating
entertainment, the government fails to acknowledge the existence of multi-faceted views
How is this done? When governments decide to subsidise a designated form of entertainment,
declaring that one entertainment was ‘more’ worthy of receiving funding than the other.
Although superficially funding may seem nothing more than giving out money, beneath the
surface, the act of subsidising is a symbolic expression of support towards a certain cause. In
case of subsidies organisational subsidies provided by the government, subsidies represent the federal government’s support of the organisation’s actions. Likewise, subsidies towards a form of entertainment show the will to make a contribution. When such support is provided by the government to endorse a particular branch of entertainment, this alludes to the existence of a hierarchy between entertainment. By doing so, the government paints a social narrative in which the form of entertainment that receives subsidies are government-approved, civilized forms of entertainment while others are not. Mostly, they establish this hierarchy in a way that operas and ballet come first, whilst graphic novels and heavy metal come last. The problem here is that the government lays out these standards as if they are ironclad and normative when in reality, they are only one of the many possible ways of evaluating entertainment. These ideas are simply a perspective which deserves respect, but not the right to supersede any other preferences others possess. In fact, entertainment is not a discussion between distinguishing which form of entertainment is good and bad; it is about discovering and deciding through which practice one can maximize happiness. This is only possible when governments accredit the presence of subjective standards by not interfering in individual’s decision-making process. Thus, these are the reasons why governments monolithically determining which entertainment to subsidize based on their own standards are unaligned with the inherently subjective natures of entertainment.
On the contrary, advocates of forced government subsidies on entertainment argue that
subsidies provide an increased range of choice. The reasoning for the argument is as follows:
if entertainment industries receive subsidies, they will use these funding to produce more of
their entertainment. This would then increase the exposure of different forms of
entertainment, increasing options available to the public (Throsby, 2012). What critics do not
seem to understand, however, is the actual feasibility of these policies. Rather than increasing
public exposure of unknown forms of entertainment, the de facto beneficiaries of these
policies will more likely to be entertainment that the majority enjoy. This is because
structurally, there is less motivation for the government to subsidize controversial forms of
entertainment primarily due to the lack of political capital. Politicians know that subsidizing
forms of entertainment that may offend some people will have a negative impact on
themselves, which is why increasing exposure of avant-garde artworks is realistically
infeasible. Recent instances in the United States’ National Endowment of Arts, an institution
founded to subsidise entertainment industries especially in regard to artwork, have validated
this claim (Knight, 1991). Ever since its establishment, the NEA was renowned for its overly
selective funding of art programs based on the government’s political interests. Evidently, the
policy cannot promote the intended goals as increasing exposure towards unconventional
entertainment is extremely rare in reality.
In addition, if one carefully examines the intended purposes of this policy, one can find out
that the policy’s ultimate goal is to provide individuals with entertainment that cater to their
own preferences which is done by increasing the variety of choices. However, a government
dictated standard of entertainment is not necessary to achieve this purpose. What can be
done, is to implement a demand-side solution. This specifically targets subsidizing consumers
of entertainment rather than its creators. By improving the accessibility of individuals to
enjoy and discover the realms of entertainment, governments can help people manifest their
own preferences. In the cases of Brazil’s ‘Cultural Sharing Project’ which offered
‘opportunities of cultural enjoyment for culturally marginalized people’, the program is proven to have enriched the cultural lives of marginalized individuals who previously lacked
cultural experience (UNESCO: Cultural Sharing Project, 2018). Through similar policy
implementations which aid individuals who lack the capability to choose a certain form of
entertainment, governments can give them the opportunity to seek out for things that best
match their preferences. The distinction here is the fact that while forced subsidies coerce
individuals into a direction set based on the appetites of a few government officials, the latter
offers a way in which the state mobilize individuals to shape their own opinions and practice
their subjective standards in real life. Both solutions may achieve the initial goal, but the
demand-side solution achieves it in a more sustainable and justified way that does not go
against the inherent individuality of entertainment. Thus, the claims suggested by proponents of the theory are flawed first because of its inefficiency to cope with the problem at hand and second, due to the presence of a more effective alternative which does not infringe upon the subjective values entertainment upholds. Throughout the passage, it has been clearly established that entertainment is nothing but an ocean devoid of any water when individuality is absent. Ergo, when governments forcefully determine which entertainment to subsidies regardless of the peoples’ decisions, the
government is doing nothing but demolishing the unique relationship between entertainment
and subjectivity. When this unique characteristic is lost, nothing will remain but a homogeneous cluster of creations what we used to call entertainment.
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