The Leader-Post – Mar 7, 1949
Do you go to the cinema? Do you go to football matches? If you do, you are to be pitied. At least, so I gather from a review of a new book on the subject of happiness.
The proportion of unhappy to happy people in the cinemas is reckoned by the author to be 10 to one. And the unhappiness of the vast multitude of cinema-goers is not due, he thinks, to the badness of the films.
It is due to the fact that they use films, in the words of the reviewer, “as a substitute for personal emotional experience.”
I should have thought that most of them used the films chiefly as a means of entertainment—as an extension of the make-believe world of their childhood’s fairy-tales.
They enjoy sitting in comfort in a wonderland of excitement and amusement, and with very many of them the cinema is less a substitute for personal emotional experience than for a stroll in the street or a book or a game of dominoes.
So far as I know, there is no evidence that even those who lose their hearts to film stars are less capable of personal emotional experience on that account.
The chief danger of the cinema seems to me to be that it sets out to make glamor glamorous and persuades many of the innocent young that to achieve glamor is the chief thing in life and that the pursuit of glamor leads — sometime, after many tribulations—to a paradise where everybody lives happily ever after.
Even that is true, however, only of some films. “Odd Man Out” would hardly mislead a girl into anything worse than idealizing a young man who had taken part in an armed robbery of a cash box.
It is possible, however, for a girl to do this and at the same time fall in love with a Sunday-school teacher. The two emotional experiences need not conflict with each other.
For all these reasons I am unconvinced that people who go to cinemas are any unhappier than anybody else.
As regards football crowds, I certainly do not agree that — I again quote the reviewer — they “must be unhappy because they see in the players’ battle an emotional conflict which they themselves are missing.” It seems to me that the emotional conflict is exactly what is shared by the spectators and the players.
What the spectators miss is the physical conflict. And, I confess, as a lifelong spectator, that when I watch the Laocoon struggles of the Rugby field it causes me no pang of unhappiness to know that I am sitting above the battle in a stand.
I wonder why modern psychologists so often refuse to accept the obvious explanation of things. The delight in conflict by proxy has never till our own time been regarded as evidence of unhappiness. Our ancestors experienced it as they read the “Illiad” or “Ivanhoe” as well as when they looked on at games.
Clearly, the reason why we go to football matches is that we delight in strength, speed and skill.
Perhaps, however, the author of the new book regards the spectators at all sports as unhappy people and would think London a happier city if all games were played to empty stands.
I must say it is not my notion of a happy world to turn up at Twickenham for an international between England and Ireland and find no non-players present except myself, the touch judges and the referee.
Let us admit that the author is right in maintaining that the pursuit of pleasure in excess leads, not to happiness, but to unhappiness, and that without unselfish love lasting happiness is impossible.
Let us remember at the same time that it is possible to love a football club and that this is one of the most innocent of pleasures.
Was there ever more unselfish devotion than that which leads hundreds of thousands of human beings to face all perils of the English winter in uncomfortable seats or in no seats at all Saturday after Saturday in order to applaud the Hectors and Achilleses of the modern playing field?
No, if I were searching for evidence of human happiness I should not go to a football ground. There are more miserable ways of enjoying oneself than watching football.