Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest

by

David Foster Wallace

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Infinite Jest can help.
The Entertainment Symbol Icon

The Entertainment is undoubtedly the most important symbol in the novel and reflects the negative and dangerous potential of entertainment. It is the final film made by James Incadenza, and its actual title is Infinite Jest. The fact that it is referred to as “the Entertainment” rather than by its title points to its status as the ultimate form of entertainment—a film so engrossing that it kills its viewers by destroying their willingness to do anything but watch it. The first victim of the Entertainment depicted in the novel is the medical attaché to Saudi Prince Q——, who watches the cartridge after receiving it in the mail by accident. The attaché’s wife and several others die in the same incident, as each person who enters the attaché’s apartment to check on him ends up looking at the film and becoming instantly overpowered by it. Indeed, the Entertainment is so potent that one does not have to spend any significant period of time looking at it. Rather, as soon as one’s eyes catch sight of the screen on which it is playing, there is no hope of looking away. This surreal exaggeration of entertainment’s capacity to totally absorb viewers becomes a way for the novel to explore the negative and dangerous aspects of entertainment in general.

The other key element of the Entertainment lies within the fact that the A.F.R. wants to use it as a terrorist weapon to advance the cause of Québécois separatism. This goal drives several of the novel’s many subplots, as members of the A.F.R. attempt to get hold of the (possibly fictitious) master copy of the Entertainment while government agents, most notably Hugh/Helen Steeply, attempt to thwart the separatists’ plan. The idea that a film could be used as a weapon of mass destruction again emphasizes that while entertainment may seem harmless, it can have a powerful, dangerous effect on people. In some senses, the novel suggests that entertainment is damaging because, like Substances, it has a soporific effect, meaning that it makes people passive, sluggish, and vulnerable to manipulation. This may indicate that the most dangerous forms of entertainment are those that are popular, addictive, and easy to consume. At the same time, it is also important to remember that James Incandenza was known as an avant-garde filmmaker who did not have a mass following. Indeed, his biggest fans tend to be overly-intellectual film scholars. This suggests that entertainment is perhaps no less dangerous even if it is artful and “challenging.”

The Entertainment Quotes in Infinite Jest

The Infinite Jest quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Entertainment. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Back Bay Books edition of Infinite Jest published in 1996.
Chapter 51 Quotes

I couldn't even stand to be in the same room, see him like that. Begging for just even a few seconds - a trailer, a snatch of soundtrack, anything. His eyes wobbling around like some drug-addicted newborn.

Related Characters: Hugh / Helen Steeply (speaker), Rémy Marathe
Related Symbols: The Entertainment, Substances
Page Number: 507
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 69 Quotes

Was amateurish the right word? More like the work of a brilliant optician and technician who was an amateur at any kind of real communication. Technically gorgeous, the work, with lighting and angles planned out to the frame. But oddly hollow, empty, no sense of dramatic towardness - no narrative movement toward a real story; no emotional movement toward an audience.

Related Symbols: The Entertainment
Page Number: 740
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Infinite Jest LitChart as a printable PDF.
Infinite Jest PDF

The Entertainment Symbol Timeline in Infinite Jest

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Entertainment appears in Infinite Jest. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 16
Entertainment Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
...quadruple agent.) Steeply discusses an unmarked cartridge distributed through the mail, which he calls “ the Entertainment .” He notes that the cartridge was received by a Saudi medical attaché in Boston,... (full context)
Entertainment Theme Icon
Reality as Corporate Dystopia Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Steeply accuses A.F.R. of having something to do with the Entertainment , suggesting that the cell wanted to “make an example” out of the attaché. He... (full context)
Chapter 20
Entertainment Theme Icon
Reality as Corporate Dystopia Theme Icon
...Depend Adult Undergarment. Steeply points out that Boston is the home of the creator of the Entertainment , and Marathe replies that it is also the city nearest to the Great Concavity... (full context)
Chapter 41
Entertainment Theme Icon
Reality as Corporate Dystopia Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
...Adult Undergarment. Marathe suggests to Steeply that Canadians are not the real threat, considering that the Entertainment was produced by an American. He points out that the American government knows the country’s... (full context)
Chapter 46
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Reality as Corporate Dystopia Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Again, Marathe asks how A.F.R. could be blamed for harming the U.S. simply by making the Entertainment available. If Americans believe that freedom is so important, then why ban the Entertainment at... (full context)
Chapter 50
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Reality as Corporate Dystopia Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
...by the whole situation. Steeply points out that the experiment is a good analogy for the Entertainment . (full context)
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
...Outcropping Northwest of Tucson AZ U.S.A., Still. Steeply asks if Marathe has ever considered watching The Entertainment . First Marathe confirms that the A.F.R. have a “read-only” copy of the cartridge, and... (full context)
Chapter 51
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
...admits that the Office of Unspecified Services have already lost a couple of people to the Entertainment , people whose curiosity got the better of them and chose to watch it. One... (full context)
Chapter 53
Entertainment Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
...then discuss the myth of the Odalisque, alluding to the similarity between this figure and the Entertainment . Marathe said he has to leave soon, but that it has been good to... (full context)
Chapter 55
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
...the O.U.S., owns a “special metric ruler” with which he measures his penis every morning. The Entertainment has been surfacing in a number of different locations, and each time the O.U.S. dispatches... (full context)
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
...had to be taken to prevent President Gentle from acting on his wish to see the Entertainment himself. The intelligence community as a whole refer to it as “the samizdat.” Technically, the... (full context)
Chapter 62
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
...James’ suicide. He knows that James cast Joelle in a “radical new type of filmed entertainment that supposedly was driving him to a breakdown.” Bain warns Helen that Orin has a... (full context)
Chapter 67
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
...with ease. The A.F.R., meanwhile, are considering two methods of locating James’s master copy of the Entertainment . They could track down James’s family members and Joelle and torture them if necessary,... (full context)
Chapter 68
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
...taken place over the course of multiple days. The A.F.R. believe that if they unleash the Entertainment on the U.S., Canada will not just allow but force Quebec to secede in order... (full context)
Entertainment Theme Icon
DuPlessis had original copies of the Entertainment and appeared to have obtained them via a relative who was an athlete (Orin). Steeply... (full context)
Chapter 69
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
...Unfortunately, in the process two of the team members (Desjardins and Joubet) are lost to the Entertainment . Even more unfortunately, the team soon discovers that the cartridge is read-only. They decide... (full context)
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
...them everything he knew about Joelle’s whereabouts. They have exposed their first “test Subject” to the Entertainment , telling the Subject that he could repeat the film if he agreed to saw... (full context)
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
...or if he should leave immediately and inform the A.F.R. that the master copy of the Entertainment is likely in this very house. Or, perhaps, he should do neither and summon Steeply... (full context)
Chapter 71
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
...okay.) Back in the main narrative, Molly Notkin is being interrogated by O.U.S. operatives about the Entertainment . Molly says that the Entertainment—whose title, “Infinite Jest (V) or (VI)”, is mentioned for... (full context)
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
...also says that Madame Psychosis’s real mother killed herself using a garbage disposal on Thanksgiving. The Entertainment was made using a Bolex H32 with a peculiar lens. Molly explains that Madame Psychosis... (full context)
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
...problems stem from her guilt over James’s suicide, which itself has nothing to do with the Entertainment . She also thinks that Avril planted the bottle of Wild Turkey whisky near James’s... (full context)
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
...to sobriety and spent the last 90 days of its life making a film ( the Entertainment ) that it hoped would be a way to communicate with Hal. (full context)
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
The wraith/James hoped that the Entertainment would be so compelling that it would force Hal out of his anhedonia, like a... (full context)
Chapter 74
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Joelle responds to questions (presumably posed by Hugh/Helen Steeply) about the Entertainment . She describes the only two scenes in which she appears, both of which are... (full context)