Consigned To History: The Concept of Shared Entertainment


More than half of British homes no longer have a dining table.

While I hate having my predictions proved correct, it does now seem that the future of western entertainment will be in the home, not the cinema. Netflix has announced its slate of 70 major motion pictures, more than any studio slate could ever offer, and Warners and Disney have already abandoned cinemas for streaming.

Exhibitors were safe in the knowledge that no-one could replicate the sensation of film. Digital technology and improvements in home systems levelled the playing field, and the idea of shared entertainment has now faded. Families don’t even eat together. More than half of British homes no longer have a dining table.

Part of the appeal of shared entertainment was clearly the audience itself. In Edwardian London theatres, boxes sometimes had telephones connecting them. Audiences were less raucous than they had been in the 19th century (nobody threw a dead cat on the stage anymore) but they would still hiss and boo a poor performance.

The 20th century phased out smoking and rowdiness and opinions in theatres and cinemas, encouraging silence and stillness. Lockdown has returned a certain amount of shared experience to the home, but when we can’t agree on a programme out come our separate devices. Debate is discouraged.

It seems likely that in the future people will be discussing last night’s TV drama rather than last week’s tentpole film. The market is organically dividing itself by demographics once more; TV segments for all, chain cinemas for the young and indie cinemas for older, more discerning audiences.

I’ve just finished my stint of watching Bafta films, and am ready to vote. What’s interesting this year is that without a qualifying run in cinemas the floodgates have been thrown open. As there were no tentpoles released other than ‘Tenet’ and ‘Wonder Woman 85’ the number of world films and documentaries has risen. The result is an embarrassment of riches.

The real surprise, though, is the number of quality Netflix movies in the running. Initial fears that it would become just another trash service seem unfounded, at least at the moment. Check out ‘White Tiger’ and ‘I Care A Lot’.

Experts keep saying that cinema has risen above challenges before, but this time it’s not facing outside competition; the change has come from within. The biggest film in the world right now is ‘Demon Slayer: Infinity Train’, a shrieking Japanese fantasy anime that won’t make a jot of sense to anyone who has not read its 20-plus books. As the box office crown passes to the other side of the world, Japanese cinemas at least are booming.

18 comments on “Consigned To History: The Concept of Shared Entertainment”

  1. Liz Thompson says:

    The problem with dining tables isn’t actual eating of meals. I have a 6 foot long dining table. On it reposes at least 20 file folders in a heap, a sewing machine, a printer/scanner, a lamp, 4 assorted stationery items containers (I refuse to have untamed rubber bands and paper clips strewn across the floor), a small book/document extending rack (fully extended), my iPad, landline telephone (mobile in handbag), keyboard for aforementioned iPad, bowl of fruit (left over from Christmas. Lord knows why I buy it, it always ends up in the bin). These are the normal table-load. Additionally and temporarily there are the case with a screwdriver for every purpose from NASA level engineering to installing a coat hook, 2 plate holders waiting to be fixed to the wall (with screws, not supplied), a tealight in holder, a candle in a tin (and no, I don’t know why I bought it either), my knitting (ongoing project destined to outlast Covid 19, and quite possibly the 21st century), and last, but not least, 5 boxes of chocolate biscuits and liqueurs left over from Christmas, but with dates that allow me to save them for Easter.
    Do I make myself clear on the dining table issue?

  2. Cornelia Appleyard says:

    Mine usually has a couple of cats as well.

  3. Frances says:

    I am not sure I could live without a dining room table. Like Liz, mine holds everything I need during the day. At the moment: a thick medical file, a box of 50 essential oils for a diffuser (xmas present), large Filofax, small Filofax, notebook, laptop, phone and charger, kindle, tissues, pill box, container with pens/scissors/small magnifying glass, paper napkin holder. one placemat for actual dining, small tray with too many things to mention, reading glasses. It is a bit empty as I tidied it yesterday. No desk has ever been as good as this table. Every chair around it also has necessary items. I do live alone so I don’t have to share it.

    As for films online, I am all for it. As a solo, I haven’t gone into an actual cinema for years. I struggle to find anything I want to look at except the news on the telly. So Netflix is where I watch films. The telly is in the dining room with a clear view from the table! I will note the films you mention and have a look, thanks.

  4. Peter T says:

    We must be a very old fashioned couple, living in a past that most have forgotten. Our dining room table is used only for eating and looking at. Of course, we also eat at the kitchen table and from trays seated in front of the family shared entertainment centre (aka biggest TV we could afford). The dining room table is treated with the greatest respect. Together with its associated furniture, it’s the most expensive thing, apart from houses, that we’ve ever bought. That includes all my cars, though I don’t have as many as Jeremy Clarkson. Projects, of which there are many and very slow moving, have their spaces, none of which are the dining room table. Must ask LOML what she thinks of resting a fuel injected, big valve 3.4 XK6 on the dining room table or maybe not?

  5. m says:

    I’m sure for most families it’s a question of money. I was well into my 30’s before I could afford to live somewhere which had space for a table for eating. I could have found a quality table for free from various recycling schemes but I’d have had no where to put it.

    I think the idea of living in a house where there’s a whole room purely for the purpose of eating is beyond a lot of people’s grasp.

  6. Daren Murray says:

    Loving this, ‘what’s on your dining table’ thread. I raise you six lovely Orla Keilly placemats to place my dinner on 🙂

  7. Ian Luck says:

    We got rid of our table years ago – after dad died, we never used it for meals. It held books, partially made model kits, washing baskets – anything but food. I generally eat standing up in the kitchen, on my own – Not many sensible people are up and about at 05:45 most mornings – and I eat at work. My feelings of hunger very, very rarely coincide with anyone else at home.

  8. Peter T says:

    I used to attend the cinema a lot in the very distant past, always in company, and mainly to see arty or classic films, late night specials. The Arts Cinema, the Central, the Rex have all been variously repurposed: bingo halls, strip joints, squatters, car parks, generalized ruination. Yikes, the last times we went to the pictures are also approaching the distant past, ‘La vita e bella’ and ‘Goldeneye’, the latter with a deafening audio, which might be why we stopped going.

  9. Bonnie Ferguson says:

    I am laughing while reading the post and comments. After 3 years without a dining room table I just bought a new small dining set for four. I live alone and needed some where to eat as well as work in projects. When I moved from large 2 bedroom apt to smaller one bed, I sold my 90″ table and chairs. The move came about b/c I could no longer afford apt after retirement, so senior housing for me (supported by state of California.)

  10. Richard says:

    Very true in our house; wife and I on separate screens in the lounge, teenagers in their rooms. We do still all eat at the kitchen table though. Other tables kept for best.
    Oddly, we all watch quite dull stuff related to our hobbies when we do this. When we watch something together, it’s usually high-concept and mind-bendingly complicated. Or Paddington 2.

  11. Helen Martin says:

    Perhaps I’ll stop feeling so guilty about the fact that it is difficult to have breakfast with my husband at the table (we don’t have a separate dining room) due to the proliferation of pens, ink for same, recent mail, magazines, letter knife, blood pressure monitor, medication bottles, and a plastic milk carton with the year’s paperwork. There is room for one place mat. That table was inherited and has been known to seat 14, although it is certainly not extended right now.
    The problem is that it contains a considerable horizontal surface. Ironing boards and beds (not in use) are the same, as are stoves until you start cooking and counter tops until you lose your temper.

  12. Liz Thompson says:

    Yes Helen, horizontal surfaces are a trial and a temptation. “I’ll just put it here for the time being” is the route to chaos. The only route OUT of that chaos that I’ve identified, is to put it all on the table. Thus, it is a contained chaos.

  13. Helen Martin says:

    It’s more of a temptation than ever because we’re not going to have dinner guests any time soon, are we?

  14. admin says:

    So, dining tables now, is it? I’m sitting in my chemo chair trying not to pull the drip out laughing.

  15. Diane Worth says:

    We eat at the dining table every evening. We have a teenage son who has just starting working, we are retired, and the chats over dinner are the best time of the day. The chess board is set up at one end, and quite often father and son will continue the conversation over a game. A far cry from when I was a child, when dinner was a fraught and enforced silence affair, my father never being too far away to clip one of us round the ear.

  16. Nick says:

    Our dining table saw a lot of use in 2020. When the first lockdown happened, my colleagues and I were all issued with laptops and monitors and instructed to work from home. The only place I could set up shop with all the attached paperwork was the dining room table, where I reigned unchallenged from the end of March to mid-December. Then, I was told, it was apparently needed for Christmas dinner, so I’ve been banished to the bedroom.

    Selfish bastards!

  17. chazza says:

    Dining tables are good for operating on….

  18. Helen Martin says:

    You have no idea how thrilled we are that we gave you that moment of laughter, Chris.

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