Generation E :: Part 2 Alphabet Soup

E is for Entertainment


© 2003 David Hughes



Generation X. Generation Y. Generation E?


It seems that nowadays when some new incomprehensible out-of-the-box demographic of society emerges, that the likes of you and I have no hope of figuring out, the great social philosophers of our world turn to the alphabet for help. And why not, when you have twenty-six beautiful letters to choose from? But what does all this generational alphabet soup do for us anyway? Do we really understand Generation X better because we have a label for it? Not really. What does the “X” stand for anyway? And who is Generation X? Nevertheless, not to be outdone by other alphabet wielding cultural commentators, I have chosen the letter “E” for three simple reasons:


1.      E = Entertainment

2.      I have a one letter creativity IQ

3.      The first rule of entertainment is to jump on the bandwagon of trends the public is clamoring for. You loved “X”, so why not “E”? (If you don’t believe me about this rule just flip through your TV Guide and count the number of Reality TV Shows on this week…thank you Survivor).


All kidding aside, let’s get one thing straight…generations look different today than their chronological ancestors. A generation used to be defined as “a body of living beings constituting a single step in the line of descent from an ancestor”[1]. Today a “generation” is defined by its attitudes, values and culture, not by its segment of the ancestral timeline.


We have a generation in western culture today that spans over 50 years and it will continue to grow, never being defined by a specific period of time. It is Generation E, the generation of entertainment. It was birthed in the early 1900’s with the introduction of cinematic film. However, it did not hit its full stride until the 1950’s with the introduction of the television set. Around the same time another entertainment phenomenon took its first steps…Rock & Roll music. It is no coincidence that these two Behemoths of the entertainment industry came into being at the same time. Television made Rock & Roll what it is today. It wasn’t just the new music that was appealing, but the dancing and the images that went with it…and TV propelled those images. Anybody here remember Elvis?


The early 1980’s gave birth to the most powerful medium of music and television: MTV. Rock & Roll was not just about great music, it was about image first and music often took a very back burner-like second. One of the first music videos to be played on MTV was called “Video Killed the Radio Star”. In other words, if you had success as a musician on the radio but were not very attractive, your days of stardom were over…because after all, your image was going to be everything.


However, it was not just the marriage of music and television that impacted our culture. From sitcoms to crime dramas to talk shows, modern day entertainment has radically changed the dynamics of our society. Take a look at some of these stark examples of TV viewing, and consider how they may have affected the values and behavior of society:


  • The average American youth (2-17 years of age) spends approximately 19 hours a week in front of the television[2]. If we do a little math, we can approximate that number to mean that the average American will watch over 69,000 hours worth of television in their lifetime[3]. That’s 7.9 years, or 2,883 days! Yikes! Over 10% of your lifetime will be spent in front of the television. (By the way, this doesn’t include the countless hours spent in movie theaters). Actually, it’s not all that hard to do when you consider it’s less than 3 hours a day. How many of us plop in front of the tube at the end of a long day at work or sit down to watch a couple of games a week? I know I do.


  • Advertising Specialists in studying the typical television viewer have determined that their average attention span is less than one second. That means that in order to keep the attention of those watching TV ads, the images and sounds of the advertisement need to be changing on a second-by-second basis. It used to be that an ad was someone standing with a curtain behind them holding the product and talking about it. Today commercials are like micro-movies. There is even an awards show (the TV commercial “Oscars” if you will) that gives out statues annually to the best TV ads. Oh…and by the way, the average American youth will view 20,000 TV commercials each year[4]! No wonder this is the generation that wants everything for “me”.


  • By the age of 18, the average American youth will have viewed approximately 200,000 acts of violence on television. I am pretty sure that has no affect on society.


  • 54% of 4-6 year olds would rather watch TV than spend time with their father.


  • Americans collectively watch 250 Billion hours of TV annually[5]. If you were to calculate the financial value of that time, based on a minimum wage of $5.25/hour: $1.3 Trillion.


  • 59% of Americans can name all Three Stooges. 17% can name just one of the Supreme Court Justices[6].


These are just a few of the statistics of Generation E. I am curious about how many schools, churches, political groups and businesses have learned to adapt their “product” to a society that is so saturated in an entertainment mindset. In many cases it’s the only way to keep our doors open. Generation E, as a whole, is losing an understanding of the value of education, spirituality, civic responsibility and the rewards of hard work. Entertainment has become the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down.


"The essential [goal] is to excite the spectators. If that means playing Hamlet on a flying trapeze or in an aquarium, you do it." – Orson Wells


One of this generation’s highest priority is in how much a certain thing can entertain them. Any personal long-term benefits that may be provided by that thing come second. Even cars today are selling themselves based on their entertainment features (i.e. quality of stereo, DVD, on-board computing system, etc.). “It is very fuel efficient, great. But can it play my DVD?”


Like it or not, Generation E is not going to be persuaded out of its entertainment lifestyle. Hey, we’re all a part of it anyway. Trying to change the mentality of this generation, to abandon entertainment and the self-gratification it has produced, is like trying to knock down a Weeble-Wobble...“Weeble’s wobble but they don’t fall down.” Try as you might, you may momentarily shake the system, but it will always return to its full and upright position.


Look at what happened on 9-11. Even Hollywood jumped into the fray and raised money for the victims. Every TV Station put its programming on hold and showed coverage of the tragedy. But, apart from news coverage, it didn't last very long before they were “back to our regularly scheduled program," and people were beginning to say “…I need a break…”


So the question that surfaces is this: Where is this generation going?

[1] Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary – 10th Edition

[2] Statistic taken from www.tvturnoff.org; a non-profit organization promoting less TV viewing for youth and adults.

[3] Formula: y(wh) where w = 52 weeks per year; h = 19 hours per week; y = 70 years, the average lifespan of an American.

[4] www.tvturnoff.org; unless otherwise noted, TV statistics cited are from this website.

[5] www.csun.edu/~vceed002/health/docs/tv&health.html