The Future of Entertainment

Ah, entertainment.  It’s what keeps us entertained and amused in between work and our other required duties.  It brings a smile to our day and a song (or four) to our hearts, to say nothing of that one you just can’t get out of your head.  The world would be a lot a duller if we lacked for entertainment, that goes almost without saying (although I’ll say it anyway).  That’s why it’s such a shame that many forms of entertainment are facing near extinction.

Wait, What?

To understand what I’m rambling about, we’re going to have to take a trip back in time to cover a concept I’ve mentioned already, the Superstar Effect.  Go on, click the link and read up.  I’ll wait.

Look, there's a seat open over there on that bench

If you read through the article (or just assumed I’d include a reminder about the content, which I’m about to do…), you’ll recall that the Superstar Effect is the economic concept that explains how movie stars, musicians, authors and other performers can become, well, superstars.  In a nutshell, the nature of their work and the existence of recording and duplication devices means that it is possible for everyone to enjoy the songs of Katy Perry or the movies of Rupert Everett without the performers having to put any additional work into new performances.  Whether Ms. Perry’s newest CD sells three copies or three million, she’s put the same amount of work into it, and it requires no more time for her to increase her sales.  (Although, if she sells only three copies, her recording company will probably want her to do *something* to try to drive sales.)

Where’s the problem?  Well, easy mass-distribution can be a double-edged sword.  While it makes it easier for record labels, movie producers and book publishers to spread the work of their performers and potentially generate large profits as a result, it also makes it easier for people to make illicit copies and spread books, music, and movies without paying the performers.  The wide-use of personal computers and related devices means that there’s little trouble with acquiring almost any form of media you’d like; without too much difficulty, I’m certain that anyone reading this could easily acquire an illicit copy of any movie, book, or song that they could want.  (Please don’t take this as an invitation to go off and start downloading things illegally; I was making a point, not a suggestion.)

With all of this happening, more than a few commentators have commented on what the future of entertainment will look like.  The views vary from the enforcement of artificial scarcity to keep entertainment companies in business to distopian visions of worlds where nobody has any entertainment.  But I’m actually surprisingly optimistic about what the future of entertainment holds, thanks to

Fanfiction!

Fanfiction, (and related media like fanzines and fanart) in case you’ve managed to cruise the internet without running into any of it, is pretty simple in concept: it’s stories (fiction) that is written by fans of a particular series, book, or movie.  Essentially, fans of say, Star Trek decided that if the TV producers are going to be so unkind as to cancel the series after three seasons, by goodness, they’re going to write stories of their own and share them with fellow fans.

Just as with the pirating of media, the dawning of the internet and other technology has made it much easier to share these stories with other people.  I would likely have never learned about fanfiction if it were not possible for me to check some out from the comfort of my desk.  In fact, if you’d like to see what I’m talking about, you can check out Fanfiction.net,* one of the biggest and most popular fanfiction sites on the web.

*WARNING: Before you start reading, a warning about what you are likely to encounter, so you don’t have a reason to come back and complain that I didn’t give you a proper heads up.  Most fanfiction tends to be written by women, particularly teenage and preteen girls, and as you might expect, is thus usually focused on romantic (and sexual) pairings between characters in a given series (and sometimes between series).  In particular, fanfiction writers are fans of slash pairings, pairings of two (or more…) male characters.  (Remember that mention of Star Trek fanfiction earlier?  Some of the first ‘modern’ fanfiction was stories of Kirk and Spock doing things that Kirk normally did with green women…)  Just a fair warning about what you are likely to find if you do much fanfiction reading.

What Does This Mean About The Future of Entertainment?

Alright, so I’ve amused you, possibly disturbed you, and possibly convinced you to write fanfiction of your own.  But we still haven’t spent too much time considering just what this means for entertainment in general.  So, here it is: people like to create, and they like it when other people enjoy their creations.  Fanfiction writers aren’t doing it to make money (and in fact, depending on how vigorous the copyright holders are about enforcing those copyrights, potentially risk fines or even jail for their stories), they just want to share stories with other people involving the characters, places, and stories that they enjoy, frequently while writing under a pseudonym.

This is why I’m confident that entertainment will continue; there is a strong instinct in humans to share stories and keep our fellow humans entertained.  Now, this is not to say that entertainment will continue to be the mammoth industry that it has become; there’s a good chance that the possibility of piracy will keep entertainment from being nearly as profitable as it has been in the past, and we might, in fact, be in the waning days of giant movie budgets and massive music video performances.  But I’m sure that we’ll continue to find ways to amuse ourselves, and each other.

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