A Cursory History of Entertainment

Entertainment did not just emerge from the explosion of online platforms like YouTube and Reddit; entertainment in the form of recreation has been enjoyed by humans for thousands of years. Entertainment can be found in many different media, such as through storytelling, music, games and sports, books, comedy, performance and theater, dance, animals, magic, parades, and fireworks. Only recently has the Internet enabled the exponential development of many of these media.

One of the first forms of social entertainment for humans was storytelling. Stories weren’t just for passing on cultural traditions and history from generation to another: they were fun to tell, and more fun to listen to. People still tell stories in the same way as one of the most classic forms, around a campfire. The earliest storytelling sequences we possess, now committed to writing, described by Richard Kuhns, were originally an oratory from mouth to ear and their force as entertainment derived from the same elements we today enjoy in films and novels (Kuhns 2005).

Many entertainments, including storytelling, music, drama, and sport, have evolved to suit a wide range of personal and cultural preferences. Some sports have developed from necessary survival abilities, such as running and jumping, into competition and entertainment. For example, Spike Carlsen debates that pole vaulting may have came from vaulting over rivers and fortress walls during battle (2009). Gladiatorial combats popular during Roman times are an activity that is a combination of sport, punishment, and entertainment. There was frequent entertainment in high royal courts that included training and support for professional entertainers. Some forms of entertainment are no longer considered acceptable, as eluded to by Peter Gay (2002). It was very popular in Medieval Europe to watch or participate in the public punishment of criminals or traitors. These included but were not limited to hanging, beheading, stoning, and drawing and quartering, which offered a great public spectacle that entertained even the most poor commoners. Children have always played games to entertain themselves; these activities, like hide-and-seek and piggyback riding, which continue to be played today, were pivotal to social growth and learning.

Within the last century, radio, television, and most notably the Internet has allowed for the exponential growth, popularization, and commodification of entertainment through the infinitely rapid transfer and exchange of information. Take a look at how the television revolution transpired.


Tournament before an audience and musicians (14th century). Codex Manesse, fol. 192v.





1. Gay, Peter (2002). Schnitzler’s Century – The making of middle-class culture 1815–1914. New York, London: W.W. Norton & Co. p. 121

2. Carlsen, Spike (2009). A Splintered History of Wood. New York: Harper Perennial. p. 170

3. Kuhns, Richard Francis (2005). Decameron and the Philosophy of Storytelling: Author as Midwife and Pimp. New York; Chichester West Sussex: Columbia University Press. p. 7.


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