Anthony J. Pennings, PhD


What is Entertainment?

Posted on | October 30, 2013 | No Comments

I’m covering entertainment this week in an introduction to digital media class. The assigned textbook, which I generally like, is unsatisfying on this topic. I attribute this to the authors, who come from a journalistic background and probably carry some resentment towards the whole area of entertainment. The mixture of entertainment with news is certainly cause for concern, but what about the upside from injecting more entertainment into our daily information and media practices?

In general, I think we can learn a lot from a more systematic understanding of entertainment. I always thought that “entertainment studies” would be a good interdisciplinary pursuit for academia. Communications, Cultural Studies, English, Film, Media Studies, and Theatre, all broach the subject in various ways. The Australian University of Newcastle has a journal named Popular Entertainment Studies that is currently looking for submissions on entertainment during wartime.

Gaming programs are springing up and perhaps have the most pressing need for work in this area. I grabbed one of my favorites, Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals (2003) by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman for a little “show and tell” today in class. Interesting though, that it does not have the word entertainment in it. I did see the word “entrainment” though which I’m adding to my list of words below related to entertainment:


This list is not meant to be conclusive but hopefully suggestive about the topic. In exploring the roots of the word “entertainment”, I found that it has Greek roots to the words for bowel or intestine through the word enteron. In the Medieval Latin usage intertenere it meant “to hold inside”. In Old French the word entretenir similarly meant to “hold together” or “maintain” as it does in more contemporary French..

Do these older meanings have any bearing on the contemporary connotations of the word entertainment? In English we often use the word entertainment in a phrase such as “entertain an idea” that is closer to the idea of hold rather than in any way to amuse an idea. Although it is not a passive concept either, as it is meant to at least think about the idea and not dismiss it without some consideration. Is entertainment a type of holding one’s attention? Is it a prolonged focus?

I’m intrigued by the more physiological connotations connected to the stomach area. In English medical terminology, “enteral” as in enteral feeding or enteral nutrition refers to tube feedings or the delivery of nutrients directly into the stomach or intestines. Does entertainment have something to do with stomach rather than the head? Is it base rather than cerebral? To the extent that entertainment causes laughter or other emotional reactions, are they enteral reactions? Or does it still have strong cerebral connections?

Will the new emphasis on brain science and the techniques of scanning the brain provide additional insights into the dynamics of entertainment? Funding to solve contemporary social problems such as from ADHD, sports concussion injuries, and long term exposure to stress and injury by combat soldiers are making a number of imaging techniques available such as:

Functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI
Computed tomography (CT) scanning
Positron Emission Tomography (PET)
Magnetoencephalography (MEG)
Near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS)

What can we find out by exploring the activities in the brain that entertainment stimulates? Putting aside the Huxleyan implications which were echoed in Neil Postman‘s Amusing Ourselves to Death; could these techniques suggest ways entertainment might enhance education? Or to suggest ways to enhance the development of economic literacies? How about political discourse? How many people now get their civil information from Jon Stewart on the Comedy Channel’s Daily Show? Like the textbook authors, society is somewhat dismissive of entertainment. Even though its consumption habits may suggest otherwise. Perhaps our society could use a little more “gamification,” a little more entrainment, a bit more challenge in our informational practices.

A good workable definition of entertainment is at Mashable. If I had to write this over, I would start with that. Or I may just write a sequel.



Citation APA (7th Edition)

Pennings, A.J. (2013, Oct 30). What is Entertainment?



AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is a Professor at the Department of Technology and Society, State University of New York, Korea. From 2002-2012 was on the faculty of New York University where he taught comparative political economy, digital economics and traditional macroeconomics. He also taught in Digital Media MBA atSt. Edwards University in Austin, Texas, where he lives when not in the Republic of Korea.


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    Professor at State University of New York (SUNY) Korea since 2016. Moved to Austin, Texas in August 2012 to join the Digital Media Management program at St. Edwards University. Spent the previous decade on the faculty at New York University teaching and researching information systems, digital economics, and strategic communications.

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