Notes on Entertainment
Entertainment Weekly has always been my favorite tabloid. Even with the high quality of analysis for all things low-brow that Slate and Gawker now provide, EW still has its place. I think that’s because EW covers the entertainment industry in its own terms. This, as opposed to in human terms, the way that other publications do, which can be interesting, but often leads to feelings of disappointment in and detachment from our culture. For Entertainment, the subject of entertainment leads to entertainment.
Entertainment Weekly lies somewhere between dead-pan tabloids that understand entertainment as people, the hyper-intelligence of the blogosphere that understands entertainment as text, and the serious critics who look to entertainment to understand American culture-at-large.
But life according to Entertainment Weekly runs on the industry’s own set of rules. For example, the EW year has only two seasons: summer and oscar. The dialogue in EW is directed less at audiences than back at the industry itself. When it comes to TV, the message is not what we can learn from the series, but what we can learn about the network and how the show should improve if it wants to win an Emmy. This week’s interview with Robert Pattinson could easily be a taped session with his career counselor. EW reviews judge movies, books, and CDs, on the criteria of their entertainment value.
We sometimes consume media looking for more, or for something else entirely–pleasure, understanding, knowledge– but in most cases judging by any of these criteria will lead to overpraise or unnecessary outrage. Reading a book you love for personal reasons can lead to pleasure. Listening to your boyfriend’s favorite album can lead to understanding. A period film about life aboard a whaling ship might lead to knowledge. But these experiences are incidental and not expected of media that we know for fact (though we like to will ourselves into a state of suspended disbelief) are expertly calculated to sell, sometimes based on literal algorithms where executives quantify the appeal of actor combinations and plot sequences. The industry that spends and makes billions owes us entertainment, and we deserve to be outraged if it does not deliver that.
On the back-cover of EW, the entertainment world appears as a bullseye with labeled darts representing either hits or a misses. There is only room for one hit a week, and this seems about right, even with today’s frenetic pace of media production. Where New York Magazine sees varying degrees of brilliance or dispicability, EW sees a hit or a miss. The formula is straightforward enough: entertainment breeds entertainment, no more, no less.
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