The coronavirus pandemic is causing a lot of industries and sectors of work to reevaluate the core of who they are and what they do—form and function.
I once read about the difference between form and function. The example the author gave was about the railroad companies of the 19th century. If their focus had been on function over form, they would rule the skies in the 21st century.
But we don’t have B&O Airlines, do we? The railroad companies of yesteryear were focused on form, a long train on a track. Their function was transportation.
Remember Netflix in its early years? It was a DVD-by-mail service. You would pick what DVD you wanted to watch, and they would mail it to you. Then you would return it and pick your next DVD.
But when online streaming became more viable, Netflix changed its entire model over to streaming and ditched the form of DVDs. That’s because Netflix chose to prioritize function—entertainment—over form—DVDs or streaming.
Sears is a third example. If they had focused more on their function, they could have been by the turn of the millennium what Amazon has become. Instead, they stuck to their form.
Form and function
What do form and function look like in your work? Are you seeing a clearer delineation between the two during this pandemic?
I am seeing it clearly in the circus and live entertainment industry. We still are artists. Our function remains the same—providing entertainment, joy, laughter, suspense, welcoming and bringing people together, etc.
Though the forms our entertainment takes on during this time look a little different, we still entertain. We deliver our function via video, live streaming and even in person on streets, driveways and small backyard gatherings.
Personally, I lament this shift. I would much prefer to entertain crowds in person. However, I am confident this is only for a season and is contributing to helping keep vulnerable people safe.
Vaudeville—live variety shows—was the form of entertainment in early 20th century America. But then came the moving picture—movies—which drastically reduced the demand for vaudeville. Some of the most talented actors and actresses of early Hollywood came straight out of the vaudeville circuit—Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney and others. The function of entertainment lived on, but in a different form.
There’s also the circus. Ringling may have shut down a few years ago, but the spirit—the function—of the circus lives on and is taking on new forms in the 21st century, such as Cirque du Soleil. Even during the pandemic crisis, circus performers are doing creative things to keep entertaining audiences.
What is your function? How many forms can your function take?
Jesse Joyner is a professional entertainer who communicates the gospel of Jesus Christ through comedy, juggling, unicycling, balancing and audience participation. He performs at camps and churches, as well as numerous other venues throughout the United States. Visit his website for more information. This article is adapted from his newsletter in which it first appeared. The views expressed are those solely of the author.