Bread and Circuses

Photo Credit: chiotsrun CC BY-NC 2.0

Photo Credit: chiotsrun CC BY-NC 2.0

I want to believe that stories matter, but where is the line between a good story and mindless entertainment? I’m not sure I know the answer but perhaps it’s a question worth asking.

On today’s episode we look at:

  • academic theories of entertainment
  • the limits on what kind of stories you can tell
  • Werner Herzog’s ideal film school
  • stories vs. real life

Listen to the episode on iTunes


2 thoughts on “Bread and Circuses

  1. Oh man oh man Marc, you really stirred up some thoughts in me on this one! I don’t even know where to start. I guess the thing I feel most strongly about is that I think all stories don’t have to be ‘grounded in real life’. I think you can tell a story set in a distant future or on another planet and it can mean just as much to peoples lives or even say as much about the human race as a story about a real life event. Any story can comment on the fabric of our lives or humanity if told in the right way. I feel like sometimes it takes putting interesting deep characters in unrealistic fantastical situations in order to discover their humanity, or not that you have to but that you can, which I think is so deep and interesting.

    Also, this whole ‘Bread and Circuses’ argument is something I’m struggling with. I think you could make the argument that all entertainment is just a distraction from the problems of real life. I would argue that it’s up to the story tellers to transcend simple ‘entertainment’ and force their audience to re-examine their lives, step outside of the theater (or out of their living rooms) and think about life in a new way. I don’t think that type of story telling is reserved to a certain type of story or film, I think any story is capable of doing this, even big budget hollywood blockbusters. I’m not arguing that those type of stories are being currently made in Hollywood but the potential for a super hero movie to make us think exists and I think has been done on a few occasions, like Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight.

    I’m not sure if you were even arguing against any of these ideas or points of view but as I was listening to this episode these were the ideas that were running through my head and that I was rambling at my screen as I slaved away.

    I can’t remember what your exact question was, but if it was can entertainment be more than just bread and circuses, I say yes! It already means so much more to me and I think what I gain from my film watching experience changes me with each film I see, wether it be the latest James Bond Film or Paul Thomas Anderson masterpiece.

    Thanks for that great episode Marc and keep em coming!

    • Great thoughts, Alrik. Thanks for listening and engaging with me!

      I agree with you about fantastical stories. To me “grounded in real life” is talking more about the real character decisions and real human struggles, not necessarily the setting. Sci-fi or fantasy can be grounded by exploring serious issues allegorically or providing the necessary distance to discuss sensitive topics.

      In terms of transcending simple entertainment, I don’t necessarily find regular entertainment bad. Even middling Hollywood films can be enjoyable if you aren’t expected too much. A film is a film, the result of someone’s hard labor. I guess I’m more worried about entertainment taking the center stage in our culture when perhaps it should be more like a dessert platter than a main course.

      Life is short so if you choose to spend a big chunk of it on a fictional reality, you should be fully aware that is the choice you are making. Most of the time I am totally cool with investing that time in stories, but I want to stop and check every once in a while and make sure that it still the case!

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