Fun Reloaded

Why we Must Recover our Sense of Fun to Enjoy Life

“I want to give a really bad party. I mean it. I want to give a party where there’s a brawl and seductions and people going home with their feelings hurt and women passed out in the cabinet de toilette. You wait and see.” 
— F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night

Remember fun? Evil Knievel jumping 14 Greyhound buses on October 5, 1975 was fun. More recently, Barbie was fairly fun… But the world has recently become less fun.

Google search trends illustrate that something happened over the last decade that put a damper on fun. Since 2012 “panache” has declined by a calamitous 50%. “Sexy” is down 70% since 2015. “Ribald” is down 40% since 2014. “How to tango” is — tragically — down 70% since 2014. “Sailing lesson” is down 70% since 2004. “Tennis lesson” is down more than 50% since 2005. Perhaps most sadly of all, “wedding toast” is down 75% since 2004. Even “fun” itself is down 30% since 2012. 

What’s increased? “Hall monitor”: up 300% since 2004. Meanwhile, men’s testosterone is down 25% in the past twenty years. Hockey fights in the NFL are down by 2/3 since 2002. Comedy has declined as a box office genre from 21% of the US box office in 2008 to 6% in 2022 — even when counting kids’ movies as comedies! And even though Eddie “The Beast” Hall is occasionally taking on two midgets at once in the Octagon, no one is jumping Greyhound buses on motorbikes.

One can feel safetyism coming on like a cold draft.

We have a fun problem. We have left peak fun behind and maybe lost the ability to even understand the importance of fun. It’s not just pajama parties, snappy suits, witty repartee and daredevil stunts, but the crucial link to a broader category of activities that includes: JFK declaring that we would go to the moon; writing a 577,608-word novel with hundreds of footnotes; Inventing flight; Creating Disneyland.

Fun is the Dionysian act of unleashing temporary chaos upon the world — of using what was given to Prometheus — the fire, the passion, the celebration of a momentary spark of genius. Fun is any action intended to temporarily defy mortality, including the self-assertion and lack of fear exemplified by Elon Musk in making electric cars a thing and John Belushi smashing a folk singer’s guitar against a wall in Animal House. (“Sorry,” he smirked).

Over the last decade, a censorious culture has emerged that has created unprecedented self-consciousness in society and even widespread fear and ill will. It has created a culture of looking over one’s shoulder as one’s jokes are scrutinized as and one’s likes are investigated for departures from bien pensant thought. This hall monitor tattle tale culture may feel like something that came from elsewhere, something from North Korea or the Frankfurt School, but perhaps it is mostly from our own past — the Puritans and the McCarthyites.

Attacking people for minor transgressions or for having oversized personalities has become a hit subgenre of journalism. This has a serious component because it threatens people’s livelihoods on account of mislaid jests. These modern inquisitors have become a force that threatens our future, our nation, and our fun. These safetyists and “hall monitors,” who fill our discourse with opprobrium and self-consciousness, represent a group who perhaps were not given the Promethean gift. They lack the ability to unleash a moment of chaos and change upon the world. But they have realized that they can create a sort of junior high star chamber and gain power by spreading rumors about people.

There is great bitterness in not having the gift.

People have always enjoyed having fun in the company of others — dressing up, dancing, and joking around. Venetian masked balls, Roman bacchanals, Truman Capote’s 1966 Black & White Ball, Studio 54… parties aren’t the whole of fun, but they are a synecdoche of fun. Parties give us a window into an era because parties are where societies exhibit themselves. The parties, the daring, the boldness required to launch ambitious endeavors… is all of a piece — it all requires attitude, an attitude of fun, a sort of smirk at the world. A taste for fun is a taste for the future — and American Fun is perhaps the third derivative of the NASDAQ.

We must recover our sense of fun to enjoy life, of course, but also because, as Marc Andreessen said, “it’s time to build.” But we cannot build if our culture is stuck in a neurotic and useless debate about who offended whom and when. We must begin by appreciating the importance of fun and its randomness. We need to build a culture and cultural institutions that restore and protect fun. We should identify the enemies of fun and, at least, stop inviting them to parties. There should be a Fun Digest. Perhaps there should be an annual awards show for Fun. Obviously, there should be an annual Fun Ball.

Enough with the gloomy solipsism and malignant rumor-mongering, the tiptoeing around delicate sensibilities carved out of Tumblr confessions! It’s high time we chuck out the rulebook and throw a party — or perhaps even an America — that F. Scott Fitzgerald would have been proud of.

Roy Price is a former executive. He’s the founder of Amazon Video and Amazon Studios. He can be followed @RoyPrice.

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