“American Fun: Four Centuries of Joyous Revolt,” by John Beckman (Pantheon, 432 pages, in stores)
To many of today’s adolescents, it probably seems as if fun only began with amusement parks, electronic media and modern games, but those of us who are older know better. This book shows that having fun is universal and has been taking place forever.
Author John Beckman begins by picturing what colonists did in the 1600s to relieve the monotony of making a living when it was a more arduous task than today. The struggle for independence from British rule even had its moments; the Boston Tea Party — we now know — was partly for fun.
The early years had games, contests, debates, oratory, dances, music, picnics, spelling bees, political pranks ... Beckman is thorough in hitting all the bases.
One of the book's most enlightening aspects is Beckman's examination of what slaves did in addition to their terrible toil.
Nighttime gave them a chance to shed some woes and enjoy each other's company. They could sing, dance, feast, play games, hold contests and, interestingly enough, get laughter from mimicking their owners.
Not all fun through the years has been wholesome.
Brothels have been present in every generation and so have drinking, gambling and political misdeeds.
Motion pictures have offered pleasure to multitudes for more than 100 years, even in the depths of the “Great Depression” of the ’30s.
Fully explored is the history of that medium as well as that of radio, television and electronic games.
Fun for the rich has often differed from that of the poor.