The Entertainment


With the exhaustion and the injury (healing nicely, btw, for those interested), I’ve spent the last few days in a kind of curious adventure, speaking personally for myself.

I divide all human activities into three groups. The first, Sleep, is one of those it seems inconsequential until it’s not kind of deals. If you’re sufficiently sheltered from the wind and the elements and are tired enough, it’s mostly an automatic thing that kicks in, including at times when you wish it wouldn’t. But obviously psychological stress, worries, anxieties, panicking and other things can interrupt it and torture you and generally promote a kind of low-level insanity that the Stalin-era KGB and many others have used to great effect. But generally speaking, while sleep is important and health-promoting and vitally essential, it’s pretty much a function of biology.

The second category of human activity is what I call Creating, which sounds kind of high-brow and inspirational and invokes images of painting landscapes or composing sweeping orchestral pieces but from my point of view also includes doing just about anything that involves the expenditure of effort. In other words, I categorize washing dishes, mopping floors and sorting through a jar of loose change to see how much money you actually have sitting around the house and doing nothing as Creating as well. If you have to use your muscles and willpower to do it, it’s Creating. It is re-arranging the molecules of reality around you, and that goes for getting that stubborn lint out of the crack of your kitchen chair as well as for hammering out a literary masterpiece.

The last category is what I call The Entertainment. It’s a sort of strange beast, this third and final category, because depending on the person or the society, this can either be the apotheosis of human endeavor or else something rarely engaged in, as odd and strangely obsessive of an activity as collecting and organizing stamps. There’s nothing actually wrong with stamp collecting and the magnifying glasses and the tweezers and all the rest but it’s a little weird unless you’re an enthusiast yourself and then your passion for it is, from your perspective, self-explanatory.

The Entertainment comes in many forms, including back to Ancient Days of Yore, with amphitheater performances of Sophocles’ now-lost masterpieces to the infamous Roman circuses to bear baiting and throwing cats in the fire and all kinds of other formerly delightful to people then but now banned and abhorrent to people now kind of spectacles, which live in on some minor fashion with bullfighting and running with bulls in Spain, both of which are quite intense, let me tell you, as someone who has personally witnessed and been Entertained by it.

Nowadays the Entertainment has different forms, from the minute-by-minute “fix” from Twitter or the hour by hour “dose” from Facebook, online websites of every description, magazines, blogs, 9GAG et al one-panel comics, digitized video of every description from 3-second shots of boobs or kittens to movies that last multiple hours to multi-season all-at-once marathon viewing of TV shows, et al. Whether via tablet computer, laptop, mobile phone, giant computer monitor on a desk to actual face to face interfacing with concerts, shows, performances, sports matches, dancing, telling jokes on a stage to the more refined and sophisticated ballet, opera and quote unquote theater with a capital T, as in intoning Shakespeare and his Merry Wives et al, or more likely Ionescu around these parts, the Entertainment is all around us.

In the course of what’s “ordinary” in my life, I do far too little of the first and third and a whole heck of a lot of the second. That’s neither a boast nor some kind of judgement on anyone else’s lifestyle, anymore than my preference for chocolate ice cream (when I eat ice cream – it’s not one of my favorite foods) somehow precluding vanilla or strawberry or Rocky Road or any of the other 50+ possible flavors providing commensurate satisfaction to someone else. It’s just the bent of my nature that I find something deflating and energy sapping about Entertainments, much like how I used to love playing soccer (football) with unbridled enthusiasm but find watching other people play it a colossal bore.

But when your right arm is as weak as a kitten’s and you badly need to catch up on Sleep and via the intervention of light and noise and a slightly psychotic cat loudly announcing fresh kills and the occasional toneless but maddeningly invasive whistling by a construction worker next door, you can’t sleep forever. And it isn’t exactly like I just ran a marathon or something so a couple of full nights’ worth plus a daytime nap pretty much tops up the tanks, so to speak.

What I was left doing with the rest of my time was being Entertained, via the wide variety of gadgetry at my disposal, having always been fascinated with gadgetry, especially if it’s encased in shiny silver metal, plus the weather being particularly warm and amenable to outdoor activities, and friends returning home from The Summer Vacation with tales to tell of same, means quite a lot of Entertaining all at once, a surfeit of passivity, being Entertained seemingly without end, anon.

Besides explaining my recent absence and low volume of output, I am relating all of this to you for more reasons than the quote unquote standard writer’s trick of using an alphabet of 26 letters and a handful of logograms and grammatical symbols to allow you to peep voyeuristically into my brain and way of thinking. It was during this period of enforced rest and the vast consumption of The Entertainment that I felt the glimmering of an insight into this country where I live, and more importantly the people who inhabit it and make it the place that it is, beyond the mountains and rivers and decaying old palatial buildings that are just monstrously old and constantly make you wonder what life must’ve been like back when rich aristocrats actually inhabited them.

Last week the owner(s) of “U” Cluj, the soccer (football) team here in town, made a promise or a threat, depending on your perspective, to move the entire team and operations clear across the country to the nominally delightful town of Buzau. And hundreds of fans and supporters, in an attempt to display their sentiments of feeling bereft and betrayed, held a little demonstration downtown, sitting on the ground in the pedestrian-only area of Bulevardul Eroilor whilst singing team songs and wearing team colors and making sure everything was well-documented and recorded and publicized in the media, both their displeasure as well as their gesture of protest.

2012 has been an interesting year here in Romania, and particularly Unicorn City, with all kinds of triumphs and defeats and reversals and unexpected victories and renovations and jobs leaving and jobs creating and all the rest of it. And as I sat there, in effect being Entertained by the “U” Cluj protest, I did a brief quote unquote back of the envelope calculation about all of the protests or public gatherings for a specific purpose, what Romanians often call the “miting”, which sounds like the English word “meeting” but doesn’t mean the same thing at all, that I’ve seen over the course of this calendar year, fairly easy for me to do as I pass through the central square pretty much every single day.

In terms of protests, by far the largest number of people involved for any one single event was an anti-ACTA demonstration in January. That is to say, the largest number of full-time residents of this city, in terms of something primarily political. The largest numbers concerning something primarily political came from the pro-Basescu rally in late July (I forget the date but I filmed it and it’s somewhere here in the archives) but wild exaggerations and dispersals from the USL notwithstanding, there truly were a lot of people bused in and paid or exhorted to attend and wave banners, which isn’t a secret or something as large signs saying they’re from Mures county or wherever pretty much proves.

But in terms of absolute numbers, as in counting bodies packed into a downtown venue for a specific purpose, by far the largest crowds came during a few musical concerts held this summer. Several “big name” bands and musicians came to play for some festivals and the number of sweaty bodies, not to mention jittery pre-teens wearing black t-shirts and experimenting with make-up for the first time congregating around the corner store while the bravest male member of their bunch boldly goes in to buy some beers and smokes blows away the participation in any of the protests by a “country mile”. Which I guess in fairness to Romania and Europe and the civilized world I should amend to a country kilometer.

Therefore eyeballing the whole thing we come up with the following list in ascending order reflecting the number of people in the streets for a specific reason:

1) Summer music festivals
2) pro-Basescu rally
3) anti-ACTA protest
4) resignation of Raed Arafat protest
5) TIFF open-air screening of movies
6) “U” Cluj moving to Buzau protest
7) anti-Basescu/PDL protests
8) Couple of union rallies
9) anti-USL/anti-Ponta protests
10) general anti-all politicians protest

Now it’s possible that people were protesting ACTA because they wanted unrestricted access to be able to edit Wikipedia and other such things but I think if we’re being candid and honest with each other as good friends should do it was mostly about a gut-wrenching fear that ACTA would allow politicians to restrict and throttle and severely limit access to internet-based Entertainment, in all the forms that people enjoy.

If we remove the protests about Raed Arafat resigning and hold to my analysis of the anti-ACTA rally, you can clearly see that the majority of these mass public actions all have to do with the Entertainment. Whether watching a movie outdoors or a sports match or downloading a TV show, pretty much the determining factor for getting people in this city off of their sofas and into the streets has to do with Entertainment, either being delighted by it or else protesting something that would threaten or remove access to it.

The last four on my list above, by the way, reflect 50 people or less, especially the last two which might have been a couple dozen at best. At one point there were just slightly fewer television reporters than protesters themselves and several passers-by came over to film the activities to post online, thus finding the protest itself to be Entertainment.

And that’s Romania in a nutshell – a country that is deeply and heavily invested in the Entertainment. I think this explains a lot, including why Click! and Can-Can are so widely read and why the vast majority of Facebook and Twitter and blog posts by Romanians tend to be superficial, fluffy Entertainment for other Romanians to consume. It’s also why outdoor cafes and quote unquote terraces are always so crowded and why even in the depth of winter all but the very poorest of Romanians flock there to spend untold number of hours gassing around and having a laugh with their friends. Whether high-tech or as old-fashioned as sitting on the ubiquitous wooden benches that exists in every village, Romanians love the Entertainment.

Even politics here is Entertainment, with over half a dozen (I’ve long since lost count) 24-hour news channels not to mention multiple, lengthy news shows on other channels, endless parades of talking heads opining and gesticulating and dissecting what is professional-grade buffoonery and circus chicanery from pimping and prostitution to “magic violent flames” to obdurate plagiarism to bald-face lying and other surreal hornswoggling on a literally daily basis.

Understanding the depth of Romanians’ love for Entertainment also explains the myriad of holidays, festivals and celebrations which proceed almost without pause throughout the calendar year, every week in town another themed party, another religious event, another half or full day off from work, another reason to load up the grocery cart with meat and beer to prepare for yet another gut-busting feast and party at home. It also explains the length and intensity of parties for “formal” occasions, whether the mandatory New Years’ Revelion that requires not just enthusiasm for food and drink but outright Olympic levels of stamina, to baptism celebrations to the all-nighters that are obligatory for weddings and school graduations.

It also goes a long way to explaining the tenacity by which a large segment of the Romanian populations clings to Orthodox Christianity, with its priests and sub-priests and acolytes and helpers all wearing elaborate and fanciful clothing and outfits and wielding gold staffs and the thousands of churches with ornate silver icons and colorful stained glass windows and/or paintings inside the walls explaining in lush details various allegories or stories from the Bible right down to literally gem-studded gold-encased Bibles themselves, used especially by the senior members of the clergy.

My picture above is a little sarcastic in nature but on the face of it, it’s obvious that centuries before the first emancipated black man in America started rapping or talking about “bling”, Orthodox priests cornered the market on being “pimped out”.

Outside of a few exclusive enclaves in Moscow or Monaco or at a few luxury ski resorts in Switzerland there’s nowhere else where you will never see such an ostentatious display of wealth and precious gems like at an Orthodox church. And if you’re a believer, you get a full dose of the Entertainment (so to speak), with lengthy multiple-hour ceremonies complete with lots of theatrical components and waving of crosses and swinging of censers and chanting in multiple harmony. And on top of that there are multiple pilgrimages, special holidays, special saints to be praised and worshipped on certain days, etc, etc, including festivals made up out of whole cloth, that is to say not based on anything in the Bible whatsoever, but simply included on the yearly calendar based on centuries of tradition, August 15 being a particularly notable example.

Add to this the low-level of daily Entertainment like gossiping about family members, coworkers, friends and neighbors, plus investing money you Don’t Really Have in flashy gadgetry such as iPads or expensive mobile telephones or expensive brand-name clothes and accessories to sipping brand-name coffees sold at prices that leave a more rational person flabbergasted in disbelief, your average Romanian is almost obsessively engaged in Entertainment around the clock.

I’ve already written before about spending time at the local courthouse, waiting for the former mayor to make his appearance, providing footage for the evening news so as to provide Entertainment for the viewers at home, and how all of us together, being in this little exclusive “in group” of journalists (which temporarily included me), started talking and joking and ribbing each other and making sarcastic and funny quips and went and bought food and shared it and otherwise made a little party out of it. So even the designated Providers of Entertainment went about having a little Entertainment amongst themselves while on standby in the courthouse, itself a former palace and the imposing and ostentatious former home of a rich aristocrat in some bygone era.

Teachers josh around with one another, likewise students in every grade from young childhood right straight on through to the university level. Work colleagues are always joking and futzing around and goofing off and passing the time in Entertainment far more than they ever are buckled down with the grim sobriety of a more work-fixated culture like in Germany or Japan or in some parts of the United States. Even the aforementioned construction workers next door spend a statistically significant amount of time gossiping and chitchatting and general morale boosting goofing around, providing me an endless stream of information as to what the quote unquote average person in these parts is thinking about.

And on and on it goes, from the low-cost amble and stroll through the parks and riding bicycles to the more expensive multi-week vacations in resorts foreign and domestic, and you begin to realize that the vast majority of effort, time and money being spent in this country by Romanians is going towards being Entertained.

And when you understand that, a whole host of other things suddenly becomes clear, such as the blatant turning of blind eyes towards corruption and injustice, the pitiful inability for most people to master a personal budget, the inflated price of clothes and electronic goods, the endless coffees and beers out in town, the high-adrenaline patriotism of watching the Olympic Games and the far biggest consternation and general upset this year being about the USL’s hijacking of the ICR (Romanian Cultural Institute), which provided Romanian-flavored Entertainment to the outside world.

Whereas a crippling national debt, an undeniable brain drain and dwindling population, a hideously corrupt and inefficient government at all levels, the previously executed and proposed selling off of nearly every natural resource and a systematic failure of nearly the entire educational system is something that’s shrugged off, complained about bitterly but for a short time and then accepted wearily, stoically endured with widespread apathy and anyway far better choices exist to stash these problems way in the back of the old mental closet, so to speak, and a funny pirated TV episode or a bottle of uncle’s good tuica or passing a few hours laughing with your friends or dancing at the club awaits.

In the end, Romania’s greatest problems will never get addressed because, simply put, they just aren’t very good Entertainment at all. And all of Barroso’s and Viviane Reding’s worrying and fretting are pretty much a total buzzkill, which is why they’re pretty much ignored.

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4 Responses »

  1. Interesting view on things Sam.. I propose you start educating the public through game shows… instead of “Deal or no deal” we could have “Budget or no budget?” where the host names three projects that involved dilapidation of public funds and the contestant gets to guess who was the mastermind and what they did with the stolen money.

  2. yep….entertainment…what would expect from a latin nation….cut off from the real tv for more than 20 years? our parents need to catch up on this shit u don t get it? I really think you shoul not bring religion into topic mocking it like that. You dont understand religion at all and in romania it really is important like it or not.All that kept the swarms invading us for centuries was religion.(if you know how to look at it). people around here dont believe in something if they religious leaders being righteous or not. we are not that naive to confuse things when regular people fail to act up and stop believing in something just because a priest drives a mercedes or anything. Unless you are FREEMASON(or atheist) you would have to understand what im saying. So whats next SAM? a rebellion you want from us? or you should tell us romanians about lets say… the FEMA camps in AMerica? or i could come up with so maaaany topics…tell us about democracy in the States. IS it still legal to fart in America? are they doing it right over there Sam? i think you will not answer my post in anyway.

  3. eu, It is still legal to fart in america, as long as you don’t have a cigarette in your hand. But of course may happen that someone will sue you, for upsetting their “perfect” bubble of a world.

  4. I’m not Orthodox and personally I don’t have any reason whatsoever to praise the Romanian Orthodox Church, on the contrary, as this institution isn’t very much forgiving towards the sheep that left the flock and sought greener pastures elsewhere, thus becoming “heretics”. However, my personal reasons notwithstanding, I have to admit that Orthodoxy played a very important part in keeping us together and our national identity (as much as it is) intact. Many people used and still use to say the Romanian is Orthodox or not Romanian at all (or something along the lines) and, albeit neither I do fit this pattern nor I consider it (historically or otherwise) true, I believe there may be some grains of truth hidden among loads of propaganda. The truth is somewhere betwixt and between and, whilst the ROC could be accused of many things, I’ve to be fair and admit that Orthodoxy had and still have its good parts.

    As for Romania’s greatest problems…well, you’ve to admit at your turn that such problems are unlikely to be quickly solved using solely “democratic” means. There will always be some perfectly legal trick or loophole to be used and the guilty party to slip through the justice’s (purposefully or not) soapy fingers. Not to say that in the end (and it may well be the very End) such problems couldn’t be adressed and corrected, but this takes time. A lot of time. And speaking about Barroso and Reding’s worrying over Romania’s greatest problems, among which you mentioned the selling off of every natural resource….you wouldn’t suspect that the main beneficiaries of this deal are Cuba or Venezuela, would you? Not to mention that reading Mrs. Reding’s statements for Euronews, I got the impression I was hearing a medieval theoretician of the monarchy’s divine right: “democracy is a good that should be preserved at any cost.” Even at the cost of the will of the people. “We have to respect what the Constitutional Court says”; ergo, if we don’t know how many people elligible to vote are there and we don’t really know whether the threshold we saw fit to establish was reached or not, then traian basescu must return to its office. Well, I wonder, if Mr. Zegrean would one day write that Romania should be blown up (understandable, as the man has some eyesight issues), what would the righteous Mrs. Reding say? And what if, once the deed done, the next day would be innocently issued an amendament: “Ooops. Sorry, boys, I wanted only to say that Romania should already blow up and do something about those leeches! “ Impossible? Not anymore, I’d say. By the way, I’d also like to know how should be labeled, according to Mrs. Reding, a “parliamentary coup d’etat” aided and abetted by 7,4 million people? Popular coup d’etat, perhaps?

    As for what Mr. Barroso and Mrs. Reding taught me, it’s that it takes a thief to know another and the communist propaganda about the Western imperialism might have been not quite a lie. My personal conclusion (feel free to crucify me for this) is that I‘d take any day a honest tyranny over a hypocrite democracy.

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