The Art of Misdirection

Have you ever heard this conversation?
“I love Robbie Williams.”
“He’s an arrogant idiot.”
“And he’s plug ugly.”
“Hmm, but…”
“And he can’t sing.”
“I know… the thing is, well… I mean, he’s a great entertainer, isn’t he?”

I’ve been thinking recently  about just how valuable entertainment is to us. A book I read once quoted Blaise Pascal, writing:

“I blame equally those who make it their sole business to extol man, and those who take on them to blame him, and those also who attempt to amuse him.”

The author goes on to discuss the dangers of pointing to the grandeur of man without also recognising his weakness and vice versa. However, what struck me was the third option: the evils of simply entertaining the human race.

Mark Powley’s book, “Consumer Detox”, highlights some of the ways we’re influenced by adverts without knowing it. Interestingly, he also notes how the message to “live life to the max”, which some Christians adopt based on a poorly understood passage, can also lead to a damaging consumerist culture and is happily endorsed by the industries who want us to buy products and services to help us apparently get the most out of our time on earth.

But it isn’t just the product placement in TV programmes that gives me the creeps. Sometimes, it’s just… well… entertainment. At all.

Look at the dictionary definition: “…agreeable occupation for the mind, diversion, amusement.” Occupation for the mind? Are we all sure it isn’t occupation of the mind?

Ok, I’m starting to sound like some conspiracy theorist wacko, but stay with me a moment. If we see and acknowledge the powers that try to control our consumerist desires, is it that hard to zoom out a little further and wonder if there might be someone or something trying to keep our attention for other purposes?

“…When the third world wars are less important than the football scores…”                                                                                                                                                                           ~Misty’s Big Adventure, “They’re Controlling Our Minds”


Magician’s call it “loading the elephant”. The moment at which, just before the climax of your act, you have the audience so captivated with the story you’ve woven that you can brazenly perform a secret manoeuvre without them noticing. The work is done – you allow them once again to focus on the box, to reveal… wow, an elephant! How could that possibly have happened?

I’m not saying that watching a bit of telly is a deadly sin, or to go to a musical is to be a satanist. But it’s worth a thought or two: what if X Factor, Corrie, Liverpool winning this season, seeing Take That live, being obsessed with Les Mis… what if these things were diverting your attention? What might your attention be diverted from, that might really really need someone to pay attention to it?

Because wouldn’t it be a shame if we suddenly find humanity in tatters, saying to ourselves, “how could that possibly have happened?”