Entertainment: Then and Now
The Old Ways
Back in the day, we had many different forms of entertainment, and those all still exist. Just as today, the type of entertainment pursued had a good deal to do with the family’s income. The well-to-do rode horses in horse shows and steeple-chases; they went gallivanting around the world on cruises and tours; they attended parties and balls with those in the same social set. Nothing has changed there.
The less well-off would play cards; board games; attend parades (and this might be a rare opportunity to mingle with or gape at the rich nabobs who might also attend); have picnics; attend church socials; go for walks in the woods; swimming in the lake and so forth.
Not much has changed there, either—all of those activities are still available, yet few of them are actually used anymore. Why is that?
The amusement parks of yesteryear were by today’s standards, fairly ho-hum, with usually a single, wooden-framed roller coaster, bumper cars, a Ferris wheel, tall, tall, bumpy slides and the obligatory cotton candy stands. It was rather a county-fair type of atmosphere, and you could enjoy these permanent carnivals most of the year in some areas, and in the summer and early fall in colder climates.
As time went on, there were added rail cars on a flat track that went into “spooky” dark caverns—great for scaring the pants off your kid sister or sneaking a little smooch with your best guy. The scare factor was pretty tame and very hokey.
In point of fact, many of those rides were more thrilling, by virtue of being much more dangerous, than today’s high-tech amusement park rides. There were no safety bars on roller coasters, there were no seat belts in bumper cars, nor on merry-go-round horses (which modern “precaution” I personally think is a bit much). People fell out of roller coasters, out of bumper cars, and other rides on a regular basis. Splinters were to be had on the big slides, all made of wood, and speaking of wood—the whole place was pretty much built of wood, and fires were not uncommon.
We Think We’ve “Outgrown” the Simple Things
With the advent of the electronic age, we were taught to develop a taste for high-tech amusements and the old parks lost favor. Most of them closed up and are gone; torn down to make way for houses or skyscrapers. For those of us old enough to remember, it started back in the game arcades with fancy electronic pinball machines (as opposed to the original purely mechanical models), Pac Man, Pong, and the like. By today’s standards, even those are indeed rather boring games.
Gamers Are Everywhere!
Once the electronics field started to boom, the advances kept coming at an ever increasing pace, until we now find ourselves with the very latest and greatest toy becoming obsolete in a matter of months.
However, not everyone wanted to sit indoors all day and play electronic games, and the family stories of the good times had at the old parks began to provide a renaissance of the concept. Since the old parks were gone, entirely new ones had to be built, and built they were. Overbuilt, you might say, with every possible kind of thrill and make-believe-reality ride and experience possible. But for the giveaway of wide, paved streets, you might really think you were in the Old West, walking into the swinging-half-door saloon to wet your whistle.
Behind the scenes, though, there is nothing old-fashioned about these parks. They have been engineered to the highest degree, and the safety moguls have bent over backwards with their lawyers to be sure that anyone falling off a ride had to really work hard to manage such a feat. As a result, our modern steel roller coasters that gyrate through twists and turns, inverted, looping sideways and katty-wampus are far safer than the original coaster rides of the late 19th and 20th centuries.
Yes, I’ve just coined a brand-new word. Mall-ertainment. For entertainment today, we head to the nearest shopping mall. There are all kinds of things to do there, from having lunch to seeing a movie to playing in a video arcade. It’s all there—it’s just a matter of degree, depending on the size of the mall.
Now, I want you to think back to your last visit to an amusement park. What did you do, besides ride the rides? Think hard, now…that’s right! You probably went shopping, had lunch, took in a movie on a humongous Imax TM screen, saw some kind of live show, and shopped your butt off in the souvenir shops, which seem to litter every single themed area of each and every park.
Guess what, folks—today’s amusement park is basically a huge shopping mall in disguise!
Then, there are the really big shopping mall/amusement complexes that don’t try to hide the fact that you are “going malling.” One that I’ve been to is the gigantic West Edmonton Mall in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (It was my only trip out of the U.S.)
There is also the similar Great Mall of America, in Bloomington, Minnesota, but I’ve never been to that one, so I cannot speak to its features. It is the second largest mall in North America; the West Edmonton mall is larger. Both are operated by the same corporation.
Granted, when I was in Edmonton, it was back in about 1992, so things may have changed at least a bit. But when I was there, the list of things to do was virtually endless, and the list of things they did not have was very short: there was no contractor’s supply/home improvement store; no gym/fitness center, no bowling alley and no grocery store. Name most anything else, and it is there!
They have more restaurants than I can count, from fast food to fine dining; numerous theaters; a full-scale luxury hotel; an auto dealership; a huge ice rink that is actually the practice rink of the Edmonton Oilers Hockey team; a gigantic indoor water park and in the craziest of oddball pairs to find in the same location, they have both a bingo parlor and a Gideon’s chapel. At least that’s how things were when I visited. There were also a miniature golf course; a “submarine” ride; a dolphin show and a small amusement park within the complex that includes a “death-drop” ride and a 13-story roller coaster!
So, Is This the End?
Have we come to the be-all and end-all of entertainment? What more can there possibly be? Who knows. Will virtual reality go the way of the scenarios suggested in movies such as The Matrix, in which the players are merely hooked up to VR devices, and never move from their chairs, while their brains experience all of the sensations of actual movement—with a few impossible moves tossed in—just for fun.
Life in the Martrix...Is This What We Want?
I Hope Not to See Such a Future
It will be a sad day indeed if that is all we come to; sitting in front of a computer or gaming gizmo for every bit of our entertainment. By then, we’d probably also go to work by VR, and I’m sure they will have developed those “meals in a pill” as well.
To never again venture outside, to smell the grass; see the sky; feel the rain; hear the birds. What a sad and empty life that would be. No, I think we need to keep our entertainment squarely in the zone of full-on reality. Our species is not ready to shed our physical bodies and exist only in the realm of the mind. For now, that stays in the sci-fi stories.
Scrabble is an Old Favorite
An old favorite with sneaky educational bits of reading and spelling tossed in for the younger set. I prefer the board game over the virtual online game, myself.
This one is an on-the-go version so the tiles won't slide off the board!
Let's Go to the Mall!
We can buy some books that don't need plugs or batteries, a board game or two, and take a picnic lunch to the park and feel the sun and the breeze, and interact with other people. Sounds like a winning plan to me!
All photos by Pixabay
© 2012 Liz Elias
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