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Filtering and Entertainment – The Past

January 26, 2014

Previously, we’ve addressed the idea of meaningful ends / in what we do. One reason you have to choose meaningful ends is that our supply of time is relatively fixed, and so we attain single end. The other, of course, is simply that meaningful actions and thoughts are very good both for us as individuals and society – kind-thoughts, altruism/ , being extraordinary/ to become the best people we can – these, all backed up scientific arguments (like with walking/) and principles.

I want to apply this framework to our fixed supply of time, specifically, entertainment. What entertainment is meaningful and will give us the most benefits? And, how do we filter entertainment options? There’s a classic case of Sir Humphrey saying in Yes Minister something like ‘how can I tell that I don’t “need to know” something unless I already know it?’ Basically, we need ways to assess the quality of entertainment so we don’t waste our time with trash, given that we have other ends to pursue.

You all probably already use some principles to judge entertainment, but I’m going to give you more tools. So, we’re going to do address the following matters over coming articles:

  1. Why any entertainment?
  2. Meaningful entertainment – Stories and Themes
  3. Cultural Elitism in Entertainment (this will be our final post, and perhaps a little controversial!)

But today, we’re going to talk about filtering through the past. Let’s begin!


A time marches on, experience accumulates from the past/ . We have our ever greater source of memories, principles and ideas that we can use, if we wish, to form a grand-synthesis/ . That is, I can use the heuristics of the Romantics and computer programmers if I wish, but 50 years ago I couldn’t really use a heuristic such as computer programming. I have more options, but an overload of choices actually complicates many situations… so why would more options be a good thing?

Because only good entertainment is remembered.


Imagine 10 movies come out on Boxing Day one year. 1 is spectacular, 2 pretty good, 2 okay and 5 are trash. At this point its easy for a cynic to say ‘only 30% of Hollywood movies are good. It’s all trash,’ and I sort of agree with them. [1] This holidays I’ve probably watched more black and white movies than movies from the 21st century. Or if not, I’ve definitely seen more from the 50s and 60s than the 21st century. Why do I do that? Because the only movies that exist in the common knowledge are the good ones. In 20 years time are you going to be recommending those trash movies to your children and grandchildren? Of course not! You’ll recommend the movies that endure and stay with you as enjoyable and, possibly, meaningful to you – movies that change your life in some way. You’ll forget about bad movies, not wishing to remember them. Okay, you might remember a particularly bad movie and laugh about it with friends down the track… but that’s the exception to the rule.

Formally, the argument runs something like:

  1. In any time period, both good and bad quality entertainment will be produced
  2. On average, good entertainment will be preserved and remembered more than the bad

Conclusion: A higher percentage of good quality entertainment will routinely be found by looking at the past and the classics.

That doesn’t mean you have to start listening to Gregorian Chants! It doesn’t mean there aren’t good reasons to consume present entertainment. Production standards are higher, it may be difficult to understand particularly old texts – some argue Shakespeare is incomprehensible; personally, I find works from before the 19th century sometimes a bit dated for my comprehension and liking – and new texts may be particularly relevant and engaging to our current times. I urge you to watch Inception and Pan’s Labyrinth, friends! You don’t have to wait 50 years before you watch or listen to something! Though, if you’re strictly interested in entertainment quality – as opposed to the experience of going to a movie, which encompasses much more than the movie itself – then I would suggest waiting a year or two to determine the quality of some items. By then, you’ll be able to tell if it’s any good.

I say to you – make a higher percentage, though not all, of your entertainment from the past. Go read Graham Greene or The Picture of Dorian Gray, watch Yes Minister or Star Trek: The Next Generation, and participate in timeless, well trodden paths to satisfaction like strong bonds with friends, a good game of chess. You see, it doesn’t strictly have to be strictly entertainment either. As with many things, categorising things as entertainment is counterproductive. Many of the best activities are timeless and a mixture of things – partially educational, enjoyable, satisfying, meaningful etc.

So, look to the past for more of your joy, while keeping an eye on the present, for there may not be nothing new under the sun, but there isn’t as much new as we normally think. There is a little bit new under the sun.

[1] – Maybe in the past there 4 or 5 good movies per 10 movies, perhaps because smaller budgets necessarily limited an overemphasis on special effects. Tough to tell. Ultimately, whether there were 2,3 or 4 good movies per 10 doesn’t matter. For every 10 movies we remember from the past something like 7 will be good. That’s important.


From → Foundations

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