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

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Television has conditioned us to tolerate visually entertaining material measured out in spoonfuls of time to the detriment of rational public discourse and reasoned public affairs In this elouent persua As I sit down to write this President Trump has jus

review ä PDF, DOC, TXT or eBook Ï Neil Postman

On 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 goa If someone held a gun to my head and asked for a pr Sign of the Green Dragon to Undeath and Taxes the show business demands of A Short History of Reconstruction the Abingdon Square television age we must recognize 1968 in Europe: A History of Protest and Activism, 1956-1977 the ways in which The Memoirs Of Wladimir Krzyzanowski the media shape our lives and Black Activism: Racial Revolution in the United States, 1954-1970 the ways we can in Top of the World turn shape A Single Man them The Bright Boy to serve out highest goa If someone held a gun Dane: A Christmas Wish to my head and asked for a pr

Neil Postman Ï 4 Read

Sive book Neil Postman alerts us to the real and present dangers of this state of affairs and offers compelling suggestions as to how to withstand the media onslaught Before we hand over politics educati Well yes Mr Postman You're undoubtedly right in muc Ham on Rye to Opstand van de engelen the real and present dangers of Ten Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed this state of affairs and offers compelling suggestions as Ten Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed to how Lump Lump and the Blanket of Dreams: Inspired by Navajo Culture and Folklore to withstand Mountain Windsong: A Novel of the Trail of Tears the media onslaught Before we hand over politics educati Well yes Mr Postman You're undoubtedly right in muc


10 thoughts on “Amusing Ourselves to Death Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

  1. says:

    This really is a book that needs to be read I’m going to start with the uote that got me to read this book “We were keeping our eye on 1984 When the year came and the prophecy didn't thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves The roots of liberal democracy had held Wherever else the terror had happened we at least had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell's dark vision there was another slightly older slightly less well known eually chilling Aldous Huxley's Brave New World Contrary to common belief even among the educated Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression But in Huxley's vision no Big Brother is reuired to deprive people of their autonomy maturity and history As he saw it people will come to love their oppression to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think 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 Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance Orwell feared we would become a captive culture Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture preoccupied with some euivalent of the feelies the orgy porgy and the centrifugal bumblepuppy As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions In 1984 Huxley added people are controlled by inflicting pain In Brave New World they are controlled by inflicting pleasure In short Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us 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 I didn’t read either of them when I was in high school which now I think about it is very strange Anyway both of my daughters have told me that when their teachers asked the class about Huxley’s 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 I guess that is hardly surprising except of course that Huxley’s point does seem to be that one should at least uestion a world in which we amuse ourselves to the point of being incapable of thinkingThis 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 But that isn’t what is being called for here Postman’s objective is seemingly much modest although it is interesting to note even this modest objective is no where near having been achieved He wants people to reflect on how the new technologies of media presentation particularly television are fundamentally changing what we take to be ‘news’ and what we take to be ‘informed debate’ particularly informed political debate For example we may live in an age where a black man can become president but do you imagine for a minute that an overweight man of any colour could?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 so This has had me thinking about the value of most of what I read in newspapers now In fact I’m finding it increasingly hard to read newspapers This book is set to make this problem of mine even worseHe gives a fascinating account of the development of news since the telegraph and how the telegraph in particular changed the world Yes there are all of the standard points about the telegraph as a boon – it made the world a much smaller place and helped create the global village 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 ueen Adelaide’s whooping coughI’ve 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 presentedNaturally there is uite a bit of discussion on the fact and the implications of the fact that television is a ‘visual’ medium What is interesting is that it is a medium that gets viewers to see the world as essentially chaotic discontinuous and without context or history He makes the interesting point that you can come to a program any program on television without any prereuisite knowledge Now think about that for a moment Days of Our Lives can run for decades and yet you can start watching it for the first time tomorrow and there will be virtually no ‘costs’ to you for doing so 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 prereuisite free information is at least as troublingHe also talks about Lincoln having debates that lasted and were attended and listened to by interested voters for seven hours – three hours a piece for each side to present their case and an hour’s rebuttal by the side that went first In a world where the sound bite is the ‘reasoned argument of choice’ of our politicians talk of an era where people expected sustained logical discussion on a topic seems almost bizarre We think about a world where anyone would spend seven hours of their own time listening to political debates as incomprehensible In a world at least a hundred times complex and frightening than Lincoln’s – you know they didn’t even have nuclear weapons way back then – the fact we are not even prepared to send seven minutes on issues of real import is very troublingHis 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 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 His discussion of religious television is worth the cost of the book alone You might expect coming from me that I mean he is an atheist He isn’t But he makes some very interesting points not just about the fact that religion on television rarely uotes 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’ But he also points out that a religious experience reuires you to step out of the profane world and enter a world that is in at least some sense holy However television reuires and perhaps does not even allow any such transition to transcendence I think this is a fascinating idea He also points out that televangelists are actually the stars of these shows and God is just someone that gets constantly mentioned but is never actually present God’s absence is particularly evident given that this is a medium dominated by images It is hard not to agree with Postman that given the second commandment about not making graven images televangelism is probably blasphemous as it is Billy Graham Oral Roberts and Co making graven images of themselves – that is after all the central point of the mediumThis book is a uick read but no less important for that In one of his previous books Teaching as a Subversive Activity he says one of the main objectives of teaching is to provide students with a bullshit detector His own detector is highly tuned sensitive and virtually unfailing


  2. says:

    As I sit down to write this President Trump has just described Frederick Douglass as someone who has done a terrific job that is being recognized by and people February 1 2017Frederick Douglass was an African American abolitionist writer and reformer who died in 1895 Apparently the President of the United States has no idea who Frederick Douglass was since he is referring to Douglass in the present tense I have been struggling to understand how Trump got elected Not just because I disagree with his political views but because he is uite frankly woefully uneducated Not only is he woefully uneducated but he apparently also has no desire to educate himself now that he is President not even with intelligence briefings What happened? How has this country gone from Founding Fathers who were intellectual giants including Jefferson Hamilton and Madison to someone who literally cannot be bothered to read a book? And why exactly does so much of this country find this to be a perfectly acceptable state of affairs?Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death offers a deeply compelling thesis as to how and why America has slouched so pitifully towards ignorance As he puts it We might even say that America was founded by intellectuals from which it has taken us two centuries and a communications revolution to recover Postman argues that in the early America of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the printed word had a monopoly on discourse attention and intellect because that was all people had Most Americans never even laid eyes on their leaders they knew them only by their printed words That is to say Americans only knew their leaders by their public positions their arguments and their knowledge as codified by the printed wordToday we don't know our leaders by their words so much as by their faces thanks to the modern monopoly of visual media the television and internet In early America participation in public life reuired the capacity to negotiate the printed word and mature citizenship was not conceivable without sophisticated literacy Now? Who cares As long as you look good on TV and can speak in easy to understand 30 second sound bites you're good In fact Postman writes modern public discourse does not and really cannot appeal to the public's reason as it did in early America because the disjointed nature of television does not allow for such a sustained level of discussion Can you imagine a modern American cheerfully listening to a presidential debate for between 5 to 7 hours as they did in Lincoln's time? Can you imagine them doing it in person without pictures of any kind? Visual media has transformed us from a typographical and deeply literate society to one in which we are dazzled by a constant stream of flashing pictures and music that instructs us how to feel There needn't be much coherence in this visual world because we are endlessly entertained by it and it is so adept at eliciting our emotions Visual media has such a monopoly in modern America that many Americans don't end up voting for leaders whose knowledge and reasoning appeal to them but for those who make them feel a certain way This book was written in 1985 so obviously it didn't discuss the most recent US presidential election Its theories however were easily extended It explained to me at least why so many Trump voters cannot articulate the political philosophies that convinced them to vote for him but rather they point out how he made them feel Trump never even fully articulated any of his political philosophies during the campaign But people had seen him be a successful business man on a reality TV show in which he hired and fired people even celebrities he obviously has lots of money and his stump speeches appealed to their feelings of dissatisfaction with how the world had treated them so they felt he must be a good leader who understood them Many of Trump's voters also didn't trust Hillary although I rarely heard it explained why The explanations I did hear almost always had less to do with her political philosophies and everything to do with their feelings about her A far cry from the intellectual discourse of eighteenth and nineteenth century AmericaThis was one of the most fascinating and illuminating books I have read in years I believe it gave me an understanding of current events that I desperately wanted and neededFive massive stars An all time favorite Most highly recommended


  3. says:

    ‘ 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'The modern era is an age of endless information and entertainment Media looks to the public for what they want and then sells it back to them wrapped up in the most irresistible packaging they can create and we eat it up However if entertainment is what we desire most and if everything we receive must compete for our attention what happens to the so called serious information we need? Does religion education politics and any other form of society get turned into entertainment as well? Like the deadly cartridge in Infinite Jest are we letting ourselves be destroyed by what entertains us what gives us pleasure? Neil Postman’s 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 ‘ Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us’ Postman writes ‘ Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us This book is about the possibility that Huxley was right’ 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 nonsenseWe 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 Marshall McLuhan’s aphorism ‘ The media is the message’ to his often repeated ‘ the media is the metaphor’ idea simply meaning that the media offers us a metaphor of our own reality and that everything we see through it pulls with it a large array of implied context and framing of information that is controlled by those who deliver it Everything we view has been spun even if unintentionally to reflect some believed context of our culture Postman argues that ‘ in every tool we create an idea is embedded that goes beyond the function of the thing itself’ and the unspoken content of media is captured in our minds and grows into our culture through our actions It has resonance in our culture ‘ Definitions of truth are derived at least in part from the character of the media of communication through which information is conveyed’ For example we see a character on television that we like and we try and be like that character in our own lives ¹ All news information is somehow framed in a certain light as is anything we receive through television and broadcast companies ‘ The weight assigned to any form of truth telling is a function of the influence of media of communication’ Postman compares the modern era with the times when all information was print based ‘ To exist was to exist in print’ This section was extremely interesting especially for any lover of books and the written word as it emphasizes the power of print in an era where the author and the philosopher were rock stars Postman relying heavily on Tocueville’s Democracy in America shows staggering statistics of literacy rates ‘ between 1640 and 1700 the literacy rate for males in Massachusetts and Connecticut was somewhere between 89 percent and 95 percent uite possible the highest concentration of literate males to be found anywhere in the world at that time’ emphasis on the importance of education and a look at how heady works such as Paine’s Common Sense were top sellers and widely read ‘ Common Sense sold than 100000 copies by March of the same year In 1985 a book would have to sell eight million copies in two months to match the proportion of the population Paine’s book attracted’ He shows how people would sit through eight hour political debates and how the language in political discussions was written at a much higher education level than those of today yet still understood by most literate Americans In short Postman attempts to show that the average person in the 1700’s had a better grasp of language and utilized it for sophisticated purposes than people of today Through his idea that a change in media creates a change in culture Postman tackles several different subjects through the course of the second half of his book Politics religion and education are shown as having succumbed to the temptation of being made into entertainment Postman argues that visual media makes the image important to its receiver than the actual message and that television is a passive activity instead of an activity like reading that reuires some work and thought by the reader His look at politics argues that a print based mind when asked to think about a politician would focus on his words and political beliefsplatform whereas a visual media mind would focus on the person’s appearance and charisma He supports this with a reflection on the NixonKennedy debates where those who listened to the debate on the radio fingered Nixon as the clear winner but television viewers placed Kennedy as the clear winner Kennedy was young handsome and charismatic while Nixon’s image having been recovering for an illness and opposed to the idea of wearing any make up made him seem haggard and unfriendly ‘As Xenophanes remarked twenty five centuries ago men always make their gods in their own image But to this television politics has added a new wrinkle Those who would be gods refashion themselves into images the viewers would have them be’ For religion Postman argues that televised evangelicals bastardize religious beliefs they remove all the spiritual transcendence theology and ritual and place the preacher as the focus ‘ God comes out as second banana’ As I have just completed an extensive presentation and essay on this chapter I will spare you most of the details but it highlights that religion of television is aimed at the wallet than the soul focused on celebrity status of preachers and guests than holiness and gives people what they want instead of what religion is about what people need Essentially Postman argues that television gives messages that are trivial and these shows get high ratings ‘ Or rather because their messages are trivial the shows have high ratings’ Even shows bent on education ultimately teach children that they love television not that they love learning most want to cuddle Elmo not letters and numbers as well as offer a flawed attempt at education focusing on reading as sounding out letters instead of reading being the understanding of words and their order to form a sentence that purveys a message What makes shows work is the ‘stickiness factor’ this is from another book we are discussing for this class Gladwell’s The Tipping Point How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference focusing on the characters music and sounds that catch attention and make us remember Postman also shows how news broadcasts in order to compete must offer a level of entertainment and become nothing beyond flashy visuals effects sounds music and beautiful talking mouths that spin us a storyPostman shows how televised media creates what he calls the ‘peek a boo world’’ A world where now this event now that pops into view for a moment then vanishes again It is a world without much coherence or sense; a world that does not ask us indeed does not permit us to do anything; a world that is like the child’s game of peek a boo entirely self containedalso endlessly entertaining’We are bombarded by information at all times in a three prong attack on the epistemology of our time Irrelevance impotence and incoherence Information may be cathartic but usually most of what we hear doesn’t really relate to our personal lives other than something to talk about we can’t do much of anything about the information and has no context to our lives To further discussion on context Postman cites Susan Sontag’s work On Photography where she writes ‘the point of photography is to isolate the image from context so as to make them visible in a different way all borders seem arbitrary Anything can be separatedall that is nessesary is to fram the subject differently’ Television as discussed earlier frames everything in some manner and gives us only a pseudo context or a doctored context to make us think a certain way Television focuses us on the image so than the informationThis book read for class is an interesting investigation into our obsession with entertainment and the effects of television in our world While it was written in 1985 Postman’s message is still poignant today It must be taken with a grain of salt however and while it is well written Postman’s insistence on ‘this is what I want to saynot say’ is a bit unnecessary and seems as if he is unsure of the reader’s ability to follow along Also he does occasionally imply causation when what really exists is correlation but if anything has been learned through this book the reader already recognizes that any information received has been fixed towards reinforcing the message desired by the deliverer Some of the material is rather outdated however and it should be noted that this reflects Postman's 1985 and our modern day is a bit different better in some ways and worse in others I wish Postman would have gone into society outside of television as well and how that has changed such as how products like even books and music are geared towards the easy message and pure entertainment as opposed to higher artistic standards There could have been a great chapter examining how this stems from television or perhaps this is all stemming from a human desire to do what is uick easy and painless and Postman's television arguments are actually an extension of that Who knows There's a book for someone to write in there somewhere All that said Amusing Ourselves to Death is a very thought provoking book that will make the reader hyper aware of television and its effects in their lives This is a must for any fans of David Foster Wallace as well The book is best served alongside other mediaculture criticisms especially Gladwell’s Tipping Point and having studied it for a course made it all the interesting ‘ For in the end Huxley was trying to tell us that what afflicted the people in Brave New World was not that they were laughing instead of thinking but that they did not know what they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking’355¹ In the class for which this book was assigned we discussed how shows like Friends and Seinfeld were different from most previous shows as they focused on a circle of friends instead of a family and instead of family morals much of the plot focuses on the characters moving through sexual partners which would then imply to impressionable viewers that this is the type of behavior that makes one ‘cool’ like a person on tv This is a terribly juvenile and seemingly old person ornery and prude example now that I see it written down but you get the general idea For a interesting example of think of how that classic Claymation Santa Claus is Coming to Town hides pro hippy it was 1970 anti establishment and potentially pro communist? sentiments in a children’s film' Television in other words is transforming our culture into one vast arena for show business'There is an excellent interview with Postman discussing the ideas in this book hereOr a wonderful PBS documentary we watched in class highlighting Postman’s ideas Literacy Lost


  4. says:

    Well yes Mr Postman You're undoubtedly right in much of your analysis And I suppose it was prescient of you to be so right way back in 1985 when you wrote this bookBut having said that I'm not sure what else to add Here we are in 2009 Arnold Schwarzenegger is governor of the state I live in But the republic hasn't fallen The barbarians are just an annoyance not a threat Newspapers may be undergoing a steep decline but it would be premature to declare this a complete tragedy I read books All of my friends read books Hell I've even co authored a scholarly monographBut guess what? I also have a subscription to Entertainment Weekly I was stricken at the death of Max George Clooney's potbellied pig and probably the living creature who spent most time in bed with George when you think about it My favorite television show last year was America's Most Smartest Top Model I have a PhD in mathematical statistics I love The Tool AcademyI guess what I'm saying is that even though your analysis may have been spot on it still left me with one major uestion unansweredSo what?


  5. says:

    Amusing Ourselves to Death Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business Neil Postman Amusing Ourselves to Death Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business 1985 is a book by educator Neil Postman The book's origins lay in a talk Postman gave to the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1984 He was participating in a panel on George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty Four and the contemporary world In the introduction to his book Postman said that the contemporary world was better reflected by Aldous Huxley's Brave New World whose public was oppressed by their addiction to amusement than by Orwell's work where they were oppressed by state control Postman distinguishes the Orwellian vision of the future in which totalitarian governments seize individual rights from that offered by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World where people medicate themselves into bliss thereby voluntarily sacrificing their rights Drawing an analogy with the latter scenario Postman sees television's entertainment value as a present day soma the fictitious pleasure drug in Brave New World by means of which the citizens' rights are exchanged for consumers' entertainment تاریخ نخستین خوانش روز شانزدهم ماه آگوست سال 2012 میلادیعنوان زندگی در عیش ، مردن در خوشی؛ نویسنده نیل پستمن؛ مترجم صادق طباطبایی؛ تهران، اطلاعات، 1391؛ در 351 ص؛ نویسنده در این کتاب به دنبال روشن ساختن و تبیین کیفیت بهره گیری و استفاده قدرتهای بزرگ و وابسته به کانونهای اقتصادی و سیاسی جهان برای سلطه فرهنگی بر جوامع بشری است نویسنده باور دارد که رسانه های بصری به ویژه ماهواره و تلویزیون با برنامه های تفریحی و طربزای خود، عامل انهدام فکر و اعوجاج اندیشه در مجموعه عناصر فرهنگ بشری است ؛ هر نویسنده نظری دارد، این نیز دیدگاه ایشان است ا شربیانی


  6. says:

    You there Are you finding it difficult to make it through this sentence without glancing at social media? Take a moment to consider this book Have you while under the enormous strain of way too much speed found your attention flitting about in a hellish staccato rhythm of non comprehending but acutely paranoid foveal saccades? Breathe Follow these linesHere's the skinny This prescient book bemoans the corrosive effects of television specifically infotainment on public discourse It was originally published in 1985 and largely concerns the idiot box but the concepts extrapolate just fine into our age of compact idiot screens where long form personal conversations have been replaced by character limits where talking heads compress complex information into facile morsels and concentration is a difficult resolution than getting in shape Postman suggests that Huxley's dystopian vision bludgeoned its nearest competitor Orwell's to death with a cathode ray and played an infectious advertising jingle over it's archaic corpse Why control the content of books when no one is reading them? Why would people struggle with difficult material when pure pleasure is a button press away?Hell you may find that you're already skimming this review because you're anxious to see that raccoon eating an avocado I can't blame you because that's pretty awesome and maybe you can send me a link Hey Enough of thatThe author is actually pretty careful to point out that he has no problem with entertainment as entertainment It's the entertainment with pretensions of intelligently informing public conversation that gets his goat why is it always a goat? But the message dovetails nicely with my tirade against nefarious attention grabbing technologies so I'm going to continue to co opt his thoughtfulness in my future rantsNeil you were a prophet and I'm glad you didn't have to see it all reach critical mass Dear reader exercise your vanishing powers of concentration before they've atrophied beyond repairDon't skim this bookI just looked up the origins of the phrase to get someone's goat Wow Technology isn't all bad


  7. says:

    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 I had two nearly hyperactive okay yes they were girls kids of four and five I only mention this so you know just how big an impression this book made on me at the time Up until then I freuently resorted to letting the kids 'do' videos several hours a day not that they would ever sit still for them they just had them playing in the background Like many parents I suppose I figured 'what was the harm?' Not after I read this book I also stopped watching the news and stopped despairing over the world situation We shut off the TV Period Life got much uieter around our home In fact we reclaimed our home Postman shows you chapter by chapter how the media runs our lives and how our 'professional entertainers' are the least amusing people in our countryI cannot stress strongly enough how profoundly grateful I am for this book for showing me and teaching me all it did when it did There's no doubt in my mind that it's because of changes we made in our home then that our daughters are the good students and strong readers they are todayThanks NeilPS And I love the cover picture There are better sources for finding out what is actually going on in the world than the nightly network news I'm not advocating dropping out of society andor becoming a total recluse


  8. says:

    Disappointing Read it if you have to it is considered to be an important book for media folks but otherwise just read the following and skip the book Mr Postman is obviously a well read person and the book claims the values logic and argument but his arguments are off kilter This is especially disappointing because the topic is important and he is a good writer in the classic sense of being able to put interesting sentences togetherHis thesis is Some ways of truth telling are better than others The written word is good 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 thingUseful points first 1 He was a student of Marshall McLuhan and therefore understands how the medium of communication inherently informs the type of communications available 2 He discusses the Orwellian and Huxleyian views of the future saying that in the USA we have not descended into a totalitarian controlled Orwellian world of communication but rather drugged ourselves with meaningless entertainment in the Huxleyian Brave New World of willing submission3 He starts an interesting discussion of newpapers and the telegraph and illustrated news and advertising that is intended to support his argument on the transition from textual distanced to visual immediate mediaConfusions on his part1 He has an amazing belief that text is the vehicle of truth Certainly text leaving aside clearly artistic texts can portray logical arguments but that does not mean these arguments are true In the post Derridean world we might even uestion if these arguments can ever be purely true 2 He seems to believe that visual information can only entertain and not have meaning in particular not the rigorous propositional truth laden meaning he is so fond of That is odd as most people would gladly and willingly talk about how particular images captured the truth of a situation This does not deny that images can be manipulated but it is an odd argument to suggest that somehow writing is NOT manipulated and images ARE manipulated Writing by its very nature is the manipulation of text to support one's views3 He alludes to the past several times in particular to Plato in arguments where he attempts to talk about the importance of writing This is very dangerous ground especially if you read Plato's Phaedrus where Plato condemns writing The entire debate between Socrates and the Sophists is about how to SPEAK the truth not how to write the truth Using Plato to defend writing is a bad idea4 Similarly he seems to think that writing is some amazingly democratic medium when in fact until very recently the only folks who were well read were the rich and the religious Universities in Europe first were originally religious schools teaching doctrine and whatever did not conflict with doctrine The first folks who owned books were the rich The spread of literacy and the spread of low cost books and then newspapers had almost the same effect on writing as television has had A lot of writing became for the masses and therefore less intellectual5 He seems to be very interested in the notion of truth in writing however he does not ever seem to talk about the truth of literature 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 He does not reconcile this anywhere in his discussion of television or writing Yet we know most of television is like literature than like logical argument leaving aside news talk TV which seems to have very mixed motives Most TV is fiction and most folks know that Most factual TV is tinged with the slant of the talking head giving us the information and most people know that as well That is no different than polemical political writing and many modern thinkers believe that all writing is at heart political Is this where I should compare Hitler's Mein Kampf and Thomas Paine's The Age of Reason which are both polemical and political and neither is factualWhat he should have said1 He mentions Roland Barthes and he mentions Marshall McLuhan These are useful folks to mention Barthes talks about how culture naturalizes artifacts of human creation so that they seem to be like the phsyical universe and taken for granted 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 He instead rants about how the medium of television prevents any meaning and only supplies entertainment2 In a few places he suggests a Marxist analysis of television the role that the ECONOMICS of television have played in making it what it is today This should have been the CENTER of his argument 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 uality of what is on TV Until the advent of cable and talk TV we were driving very narrowly toward the most generic most revenue generating television shows Traditional TV catered to the masses and progressively evolved to get the largest audience possible Unfortunately the larger audience is statistically less educated and less interested in topics they cannot comprehend and so much of television dumbed down 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 It is an argument about how the television industry has gone for the bucks and how the american government has supported that and the results of thatCOnsclusions This is not the right book 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 It would then talk about how this has been partially moderated by the growth of cable TV with its myriad of channels and choices but how this has also started to be watered down to have mass appeal Then it would likely close with the web and the notion of YOUTUBE and other visual media on the web where you can look at and listen to movies made by people outside the commercial industry you can learn to play guitar you can look at stupid dog tricks and the list goes on The advent of nearly unlimited bandwidth has made it very easy to provide a multitude of both meaningful and useless content on the web This has challenged television and ultimately has made television and movie folks work harder to create some some better stuff This book might even suggest how Japanese Manga fit into this new media world and how there a small but growing number of manga that are educational This is the book Postman should have written but did not


  9. says:

    If someone held a gun to my head and asked for a precise and concise definition of irony it could happen I would say only this Neil Postman died two days before Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor thus narrowly missing out on the single best example of what he was screaming about all those years ago This book was foundational for me Postman delivers a passioned polemic about the entertain at any cost ethos of our current culture and how the irrestible siren song of triviality is dangerous to our democracy than any demagogue's propaganda Here he is in an interview describing television as the great destroyer of context “Television is a medium which lacks a because What I mean by this is that language has embedded in it all these becauses This happened because that happened Television doesn’t have a because How many people when seeing a newscast about say a serious earthuake or an airplane crash will actually start to cry or grow silent at the tragedies of life? Most of us don’t because right after the story about the airplane crash there’s going to be a thing for Burger King or if not that a story about the World Series or some other event that would basically imply ‘don’t take this story about the airplane crash too seriously it’s just something to amuse you for the moment’ So I think that goes a long way toward promoting the idea that there is no order anyplace not only in the universe not on the planet not on your continent not even in your home or your town”


  10. says:

    This book is about the possibility that Huxley not Orwell was right Neil PostmanIn 1854 Stephen A Douglas presented a three hour speech against Abraham Lincoln's ideas and in return on that same night Lincoln responded with a three hour argument of his own The surprise? People actually stayed long enough to hear both men outContrast that with the Republican debate that happened last night 8 candidates were forced to answer leading disjointed uestions in 30 seconds or less And they were given little if no time to respond directly to another candidate Plus there was this Sorry but we have to cut you short to go to a commercial breakPostman's point in Amusing Ourselves to Death is that the TV has turned public discourse into little than entertainment Politics news and religion all turn into mere amusement when they're on the TV Postman's point might be summed up best by Ronald Reagan Politics is just like show businessIf anything everything Postman critiued about American society in 1985 has been amplified in 2011 We are disjointed and fragmented than ever Political TV is like entertainment than ever Every time I see a clip from FOX News there's a banner across the bottom blaring ALERT ALERT ALERT—not to mention all the other flotsam streaming across the screen That stuff is there to make the news feel like an action movie and it's reason enough to turn that channel offPostman argues that all this fast paced disjointed news makes us think only of the now We think we're informed when in reality we know just enough to have an emotion about who won last night's debate The talking heads don't wrestle with history and substantial ideas you can't do that if you're constantly interrupted by commercials; the talking heads just hack at hackneyed phrases and parroted arguments After all wrestling with real ideas reuires real thinking and the point of the TV is to help you stop thinking and be amused To this uote 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 reuired to solve? What steps do you plan to take to reduce the conflict in the Middle East? Or the rates of inflation crime and unemployment? What are your plans for preserving the environment or reducing the risk of nuclear war? What do you plan to do about NATO OPEC the CIA affirmative action and the monstrous treatment of the Baha'is in Iran? I shall take the liberty of answering for you You plan to do nothing about themThe solution? Read In a book there are no commercial breaks You can wrestle deep with an idea for three hours at a time and come away with real knowledge


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