The Cost of Entertainment

Why we watch so much television today is a question that will have many and multi-faceted answers. But in his book Media Unlimited, Todd Giltin offers solid statistical evidence for at least one of the answers. Here is a small table outlining the cost for a general laborer to enjoy the entertainment of that day, given as a proportion of his daily wage.

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18th century (theater) More than a full day’s wage
Early 19th century (theater) 1/3
1840s-50s A little less than 1/3 (25¢)
1870 (minstrel, variety shows) 1/6 (still 25¢)
1880s (melodrama, vaudeville) 1/13 (10¢)
1910 (nickelodeon) 1/40 (10¢)
1920 (movie theater) less than 1/40 (10¢)
1960s (television) 1/360 (amortizing cost of $200 black-and-white set)
1998 (cable television) 1/100 (amortizing cost of $300 color set plus basic cable

I guess this help explains the fact that the average American currently watches in excess of four hours per day!