When I was a lot younger, I lived to go to the local convenience store. Of course, it wasn’t called a convenience store at the time – it was a “Dairy Bar” – a combination convenience store/ice cream shop/laundromat/bottle recycling depot run by a crusty gent who made sure that the shelves were filled with what made him money. Nothing wrong with that, and in a small prairie town, the Dairy Bar proved to be not only an entrepreneur’s invention, it also was a community gathering place and entertainment hotspot.
What can I say? It was a really small town.
Every week, the owner made sure that there were fresh comic books on the spinner racks. Batman, Spider-Man, Captain Canuck, Scooby-Doo, Richie Rich and Casper the Friendly Ghost, and who knows how many other comics. And then there were the paperbacks that he brought in that I noticed when I was old enough to start digging into them – I must have been maybe 10 years old at that time. Star Trek novels, horror novels, movie adaptations, Conan, and later Executioner and science fiction novels, as well as Starlog and Famous Monsters of Filmland magazines. I must have spent a fortune at the Dairy Bar on books, comics, magazines, and video rentals – never mind the arcade games and candy that were in there. For a kid growing up in the Canadian prairies, this was like Disneyland available every single day, for less than a dollar.
A few years ago, I ran into the old owner. He remembered me as one of his best customers, even long after he had sold the place and gone off to enjoy a belated retirement, and he confessed that the Dairy Bar, had once been the small town’s movie theatre. Providing entertainment, it seems, was in that building’s DNA.
Sadly, the new owners had not done as well. They stripped the shelves, carrying only the “convenience items” and eschewing anything resembling entertainment. Videos were long gone, as were the books and the comics. Magazines? There were a few, but the racks sat mostly empty, a sad legacy for the years of reading pleasure that they had once provided.
Not even looking at the place through a rosy glow of nostalgia could make that dying husk of a store seem anything like what it once was. No longer a community gathering place, this one-time entertainment hotspot has been converted into a place waiting to be shuttered.
We can draw some parallels to the fate of the Dairy Bar and the North American entertainment sector. Books and publishing have been taken over by the literati snobs who demand craft for craft’s sake, while they ignore the purpose books are written – to be read and to entertain. Movies and television have fallen into the death grip of celebrity/reality/paparazzi voyeurism fighting with endless procedurals/sitcoms/award-bait for viewer’s eyeballs. Radio has abandoned the field to classic-rock-retreads mashed with autotune hell and scattered pockets of bloviation masquerading as talk radio. And let’s not even talk about the fanboy disaster that is the modern comics industry.
If you have been thinking that there’s something wrong with entertainment these days, you’re not alone.
Entertainment has stopped being…entertaining.
Entertainment is the lifeblood of culture, and without entertainment, culture dies.
There are still hints of a heartbeat out there in the culture, a culture that refuses to simply lay down and die. Independent web series, self-publishing, indie comic books, web comics, the new pulp movement, fan films, human wave SF, among others – all the torches picked up by individuals who want to be entertained and, finding nothing worthwhile out there, have instead started to create the entertainment that they want. They have remembered the first, and only commandment of media.
And their commandment is also my commandment: “First I shall entertain.”
Every work created is made for an audience – even if that audience is just the creator himself. It is the audience that ultimately judges the creation by giving over their time and treasure to experience it. And if the creator has failed to give them value in return, then the audience is not shy about letting him know it.
Now, I have been writing and creating a long time. There are a lot of notebooks and computer files that I have filled over the years, all in the desire to tell stories that I enjoy. I create the stories that I want to hear and see, and I’m more than happy to have other people come along for the ride.
Saddle up. We’re going to get entertained.