The games people play: Revisiting Leisure

– by Samuel Thambusamy

The dawn of leisure culture

There is a fascination for leisure activities. The higher levels of stress at workplace make leisure activities a necessary evil. People are just looking for get-away solutions. With increasing automation at the workplace, monotony of the task and the pressure to perform, we all go through a cultural crisis of purpose. And yet, despite being tired – tensed and torn we continue work in order to live and live in order to work, which only accentuates the crisis of purpose. It is against this background that we need to understand the dawn and the rise of today’s leisure culture. The mushrooming of multiplexes, shopping malls, Family Entertainment Zones (FEZ), and fast food eat-outs and the patronage they seem to enjoy point to the fact that we are terribly in need of ‘an escape’ from the boredom of work, if not the drudgery of life itself.

The challenge of leisure culture

In a world of dis (stress) leisure seems to be a real blessing. But unfortunately, the very blessing has become a ‘challenge’ or may be if William Bogan is right, it may prove to be a curse. William Bogan contends, “Leisure may prove to be a curse rather than a blessing, unless education teaches a flippant world that leisure is not synonymous for entertainment”. Has Leisure has become synonymous with entertainment? Listen to the words of Alan Bloom, the author of the book The Closing of the American Mind (1987): “Any notion of the serious life of leisure, as well as men’s taste and capacity to live it has disappeared. Leisure has become entertainment”. While there is nothing wrong with leisure itself, unfortunately leisure has been taken to be synonymous with entertainment, and that to me presents the biggest challenge to our generation.

Re-visiting Leisure- culture Shifts

There have been three significant shifts in the arena of leisure that calls our immediate attention.

Obsession with sex and violence

Firstly, the games people play betrays our obsession with sex and violence. Not surprisingly, the various forms of entertainment involve explicit sex and violence. Be it movies, music videos, music channels or computer games there’s an extra dose of sex and violence. We are constantly fed with body images that incite sensual pleasure and bloodshed that incite violence. Directors say that their job is to offer titillation because there is a demand for it out there.

Fascination with the unreal

Secondly, the games people play betrays our fascination for the unreal. The normal is boring and people are looking for new experiences that would give some significance to their lives. Jacques Chardonne contends that the finest amusements are the most pointless ones. And yet, at a psychological level, amusements serve to create a sense of excitement, potency and significance that is otherwise missing in most people’s daily lives. This would explain why amusement parks are teeming with people. Horror movies, Psycho-thrillers do very well at the box office. Computer games give us a simulated experience of that which is unreal.

Boredom with work

Thirdly, the games people play betrays our boredom with work. People are desperate for a break and are constantly looking out for get-away destinations or solutions. Amusement parks, Family Entertainment Zones, Theme parks, Tourist destinations are teeming with highly successful people wanting to get away from work. We view ourselves as machines fulfilling the assigned task and wait for the weekends to regain our humanness. Today, we are led to believe that it is the games that we play that make us essentially human and give our lives ultimate significance.

The assault on the human person

These three shifts point one thing seems to emerge very clearly: an assault on the human person. The human person is stripped is slowly stripped of dignity because of the games we choose to play for leisure. Now, should be concerned about this. Firstly, we ourselves are in need of a theology of entertainment. Seriously. The absence is causing havoc. Secondly, the blurring of lines between leisure and entertainment, the legitimacy now accorded to pleasure pursuits, and not to mention the downward trend of entertainment itself should push us into a critical faith engagement with the issues concerning leisure. Thirdly, as we mistake ‘entertainment’ for leisure we are slowly robbed of ‘the quality of life’ and ‘human dignity’ that God has promised us., which should really shock us Irwin Edman’s comments are perceptive. He, so rightly, reminds us that the best test of the quality of civilization is the quality of its leisure”. The need of the hour is to revisit ‘ the games people play’ in the name of leisure, ‘evaluate’ it through the prism of faith and more importantly redeem it from the cruel clutches of the zeitgeist.

Redeeming leisure

Herman Melville contends, “They talk of dignity of work. But, the dignity is in leisure”. The concept of Leisure has been confused, changed and corrupted. We need to redeem leisure that has been confused, changed and corrupted. We forget that God wants us to laugh, to enjoy, to be ourselves and to rest. Historically, we have lacked a theology of leisure and this despite the fact that God had instituted ‘rest’. We need to closely examine leisure and understand it. It is said that we usually fear what we don’t understand. And this needs to be our starting point if we are to redeem ‘leisure’ which was originally a gift to be enjoyed – Samuel Thambusamy


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