Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

by Neil Postman

Before we hand over politics, education, religion, and journalism to the show business demands of the television age, we must recognize the ways in which the media shape our lives and the ways we can, in turn, shape them to serve out highest goals.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Nonfiction
  • Rating: 4.17
  • Pages: 184
  • Publish Date: December 27th 2005 by Penguin Books
  • Isbn10: 014303653X
  • Isbn13: 9780143036531

What People Think about "Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business"

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right. Both of my daughters have had to read Huxley and Orwell in high school. Anyway, both of my daughters have told me that when their teachers asked the class about Huxleys Brave New World which of the two worlds available in that book they would choose to live in, virtually everyone picked the brave new world with drugs and pneumatic women. This book could easily have been a manifesto calling on all Americans to unplug their television sets and, in true rock star fashion, throw them out of the window. About a year ago, I guess, I read a book called Fooled by Randomness which advised people to not read newspapers every day for financial information as the daily swings in the stock market were essentially random and therefore meaningless and so the explanations for these swings provided by the newspapers were only more so. But what is really interesting is how the telegraph turned news into something that was no longer local or of immediate relevance to the lives of those reading it, but rather into a series of facts. He talks about people in the United States learning of Queen Adelaides whooping cough Ive never studied media studies, but I think it would be a very worthwhile thing to do, particularly if students of media studies look at the effect various media print, television, telegraph, internet have on what content is to be presented. He makes the interesting point that you can come to a program (any program) on television without any prerequisite knowledge. He points out that this is true of any and every program on television even educational programs like Cosmos The issues with television presenting us with a passive interaction with the world are only one part of the problem; this issue of context free, prerequisite free information is at least as troubling. His discussion of the effect on us of news segments lasting only 30 seconds (virtually despite the importance of the item) and the fact that it is impossible to focus on any particular news item for more than the allotted 30 seconds due to the fact that no sooner have you become aware of it than the next one is upon you crowding it out, means the news on television ends up a series of items of trivia which have no direct importance to the lives of anyone watching it. But he makes some very interesting points, not just about the fact that religion on television rarely quotes Jesus as saying things about rich men, camels or eyes of needles (which I can only assume was added by some Commie to the Bible over the actual text which obviously said Jesus wants you to be rich).

What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.' The modern era is an age of endless information and entertainment. Neil Postmans Amusing Ourselves to Death takes a look at our infatuation with television and technology and examines how the changes in the ways we receive our information affects our public discourse and society. Through an analyzation of historic American society juxtaposed with modern examples of politics, education, religion and general society, Postman examines alterations in American culture through our shift from print based media to visual based media.It is my intention to show that a great media-metaphor shift has taken place in America, with the result that the content of much of our public discourse has become dangerous nonsense.We do not measure a culture by its output of undisguised trivialities but by what it claims as significant. Therein is our problem, for television is at its most trivial and, therefore, most dangerous when its aspirations are high, when it presents itself as a carrier of important cultural conversations.Postman alters Canadian media philosopher

I read books. All of my friends read books. I guess what I'm saying is that, even though your analysis may have been spot on, it still left me with one major question unanswered.

The Internet has been a massive disruptive force to all other forms of media which came before it, including books, news, music, film, and of course, Television. However, I might argue that there is not only a quantitative, but a qualitative difference in the mass use of television and the Internet. Even if you do prefer television, it is possible to find a more specific thing which is catered to your tastes, instead of one which is blandly popular to the masses and broadcast in prime-time.

I think this was my introduction to Postman and I read this book in a day; it's 163 pages. Yes, I like to read, but even so back then with two little kids, I rarely read that much in month much less a day! Like many parents, I suppose, I figured, 'what was the harm?' Not after I read this book.

Plus, there was this: "Sorry, but we have to cut you short to go to a commercial break." Postman's point in Amusing Ourselves to Death is that the TV has turned public discourse into little more than entertainment. Politics, news, and religion all turn into mere amusement when they're on the TV. That stuff is there to make the news feel like an action movie, and it's reason enough to turn that channel off. After all, wrestling with real ideas requires real thinking, and the point of the TV is to help you stop thinking and be amused. To this quote and many others from the book, I say, True enough: "How often does it occur that information provided you on morning radio or television, or in the morning newspaper, causes you to alter your plans for the day, or to take some action you would not otherwise have taken, or provides insight into some problem you are required to solve?

Visual media, in particular, television, is bad. The medium of the written word, BY ITS NATURE, is one that involves logical argument, expository meaning and truth. Accordign to him, the medium of television is visual and does not support logic, exposition or truth. The ascendance of television has displaced writing and is creating a culture that is focused on entertainment rather than meaning and that is a bad thing. 3. He alludes to the past several times, in particular, to Plato, in arguments where he attempts to talk about the importance of writing. He does mention literary works a few times and seems to think they are "good" things, but it must be clear to most people that if literature is "true" it is not true in the same way that a logical argument is true. Yet we know most of television is more like literature than like logical argument, leaving aside news talk TV which seems to have very mixed motives. This is a good opening for a semiological discussion of how we "naturalize" television and what that means about us as a culture, but Postman does not do a semiological analysis. I think it is very difficult to suggest (as he tries) that the medium of television in itself cannot be meaningful or educational or "portray truth." On the other hand, it is clear that, from the beginning, television has been promoted and used to generate revenue and over its life, these economic motives have drastically influenced the character and quality of what is on TV. This could have been a good argument on his part, but it is NOT an argument about how television as a medium, cannot provide meaning. The book that needed to be written (and it may already be out there) is one about how the medium of television works and how we have limited its value because of our profit motives.

The author also described information overload. You can see that the trends the author described have grown even more pronounced with the advent of the Internet. Public society has indeed been changed by that technological advance, but I think we now have a greater ability to narrow our focus, and to filter out information that is meaningless to us.

Neil Postman, an important American educator, media theorist and cultural critic was probably best known for his popular 1985 book, Amusing Ourselves to Death.