Choose Your Entertainment Carefully (and Watch What It's Doing to You)
As popular entertainment continues its downward spiral, we worry about how the sex and violence are affecting teenagers and children.
In comparison, the entertainment popular in Jane Austen's day seems pretty harmless to us.
But she was concerned about it--not so much for children, and not in a This-trash-must-be-censored! kind of way.
She believed that adults needed to watch out for the powerful ways that our entertainment affects us.
It's hard for us, living after the triumph of the "art for art's sake" theory, to see novels and poetry as things that have (and were meant to have) an effect on our moral and emotional lives, that will inevitably shape our choices and thus the trajectory of our lives.
But that's how people saw art back then.
And weren't they actually more realistic about it than we are?
After all, advertisers pay for "product placement" in movies because they know people are impelled to imitate what we see in our fiction.
That's a major theme of Jane Austen's own writing--from the crazy Romantics in Love and Friendship who reduce their lives to charred rubble by acting out the struck-by-lightning style of love they've picked up from the fiction they've read, through Catherine Morland trying to living in a Gothic novel, to Sir Edward Denham setting out to be just as wicked and interesting as the villain of Richardson's Clarissa.
That's why it's interesting to notice that the very same Romantic memes that concerned Jane Austen in the novels and poetry of her day are still going strong 200 years later. This instance is a few years old, but possibly you all can help me with more recent examples. Nicolas Cage in Moonstruck: "Love don't make things nice--it ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. . . . We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die." (Whatever he's looking for, it isn't happiness.)
This is pretty much the exact same view of love as you get in, say, Byron, whose "impassioned descriptions of hopeless agony" Anne Elliot thought Captain Benwick should read only in moderation.
Is Romanticism in our entertainment messing up people's real lives?