Why is that we get caught up with stories about celebrities even when they have nothing to do with our lives? Why do we spend hours on video games or reading pulp fiction? The activity temporarily assumed a profound significance and the outside world began to fade. Although we are likely to enjoy these experiences in the realm of entertainment, we rarely think about what effect they might be having on us. Precisely because it is so pervasive, entertainment is difficult to understand and even to talk about.
Peter Stromberg's Caught In Play: How Entertainment Works on You addresses these issues. A recent review of the book in Publishers Weekly describes it as a meta-narrative about being "caught up" in the entertainment world and finds that "Reading this smart commentary on the grand spectrum of entertainment is an addictive experience, a sharp example of the very phenomenon it illuminates."
Caught in Play looks closely at how we engage entertainment and at the ideas and practices it creates and sustains. Even Recent research in cognitive neuroscience and psychology is beginning to clarify some of this. Our brains, we are discovering, are hard wired to automatically imitate what we observe because of a system of specialized neurons called mirror neurons. When we watch a movie or a T.V. show, we become caught up in it and sometimes mimic what we see. As Stromberg's work reveals, entertainment tells us more about ourselves than we are willing to acknowledge: values of
pleasure, self-indulgence, and consumption.
So the next time you're being entertained, think about it: Are you getting caught up?