My daughter’s class is learning about medieval history, and as we chatted about what life was like in those times, it struck me that the value society places on entertainers has been turned on its head.

Back then, they had gladiators who were pretty much slaves, and if they performed well, they got to live.  They also had minstrels and jesters, the best of which got to live in the castle as part of the King’s entourage.  None of these were aspirational roles, and I am guessing that parents back in that day would be discouraging their children from such careers.

Fast forward to today, and some of our highest paid citizens are entertainers. In place of gladiators, minstrels and jesters, we have prize fighters, rock stars and comedians.  They have our attention and often even our respect, and many of us aspire to be like them.

As my daughter remarked, “They entertained the rich back then, now they are the rich.”

What, if anything, does this shift say about our society?  Are we more civilized – no one dies to entertain us?  Does it simply reflect the economic reality that we have more leisure now, and the technology for performers to reach bigger and more targeted audiences?

And is there something inherently unsustainable about a society that ascribes less monetary value to teachers and scientists versus entertainers?

Then again, maybe it’s not about the money…