161 of 164 people found the following review helpful
A much needed exploration into the philosophy of media,
This review is from: Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (Paperback)
Occasionally one stumbles across a work which perfectly summarizes an era. For example, we hail the muckracker novels, primarily "The Jungle," as a brilliant picture of the late 19th century in America; likewise, any Jonathan Edwards sermon captures the essence of Puritan New England. But Neil Postman, in "Amusing Ourselves to Death," has created not a picture, but an exposition of the state of America today. That it is an expostion, is extremely important.
Postman's thesis in this brief but articulate book consists of two tenets: (1) The form of communication, to some extent, determines (or is biased toward certain types of) content; (2) Television, as our modern-day uber-form of communication, has biases which are destructive toward the rational mind. TV teaches us to expect life to be entertaining, rather than interesting; it teaches us to expect 8-minute durations of anything and everything (anything else is beyond our attention span); it teach us to be suspicious of argument and discussion, and instead to accept facts at face value.
Furthermore - and, by far, the most important discovery Postman makes in this book - TV teaches us to live a decontextualized life. Just as a TV program has nothing to do with anything before or after it, nor the commericals inside it, we learn to view life as a series of unconnected, random events which are entertaining at best, and bear no significance toward any larger picture.
As a culture, America has lost its ability to integrate experiences into a larger whole; and Postman's explaination for part (not all) of this problem's development makes perfect sense. It certainly is true that the vast majority of Americans are perfectly happy not to develop any sort of framework or philosophy; life is simply life, and one doesn't need to consider it.
Even today's elite students, who are certainly able to integrate lessons and perform well academically, have fallen to this malady; as David Brooks pointed out in his searingly accurate article, "The Organization Kid," (Atlantic Monthly, April 2001) top-notch students no longer attempt to build any sort of moral or philosophical structure from their studies; a life lived in a context, makes no sense to the student who has grown up watching the decontextualized television screen.
It is extremely important that today's Americans take a close look at just what effects the television has had on themselves and their children; Postman's work is dead on target. We have moved, as a nation, from those who seek entertainment as a means to an end (most particularly, rest between productive work), to those who seek entertainment as an end in itself. And, as Huxley realized in Brave New World, this is the undoing of Western civilization - a prosaic fade away into an entertained oblivion. Or, as T.S. Eliot put it in "The Hollow Men," "This is the way the world ends/ not with a bang but a whimper."
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Initial post: Mar 12, 2013 5:06:41 PM PDT
Janet Baker says:
Posted on Mar 12, 2013 5:07:19 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Mar 12, 2013 5:07:31 PM PDT]
In reply to an earlier post on May 21, 2013 10:35:16 AM PDT
Fluke Starbucker says:
Wow, she just went all knee-jerk and countered this "inlecshual" book with her political rage and disgust over equality.
White power, Janet!
In reply to an earlier post on Jun 16, 2013 6:39:44 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 16, 2013 6:41:00 PM PDT
Janet, if you're referring to the relativism introduced by leftist postmodernist philosophers, I imagine that Postman would agree that that this had a profound impact on epistemology in America. Ironically, however, conservatives from the 70's onward have used relativism to their own advantage, creating their own tribe-specific versions of truth (e.g., Frank Schaeffer's popular works of revisionist history, Creation Science, Fox News, etc). So, at least thank liberal academics for supplying your tribe with a means of perpetuating truths that are irreconcilable with secular society, but also take some well-earned credit for our country's cultural decline!
Posted on Jun 28, 2013 10:00:09 AM PDT
F. Ramos says:
Very good review of the contents of the book. Postman's books does bring up many important issues in communication that are pretty relevant today even with the internet which is the ultimate form of communication that will ever be achieved - immediate access to others globally.
In reply to an earlier post on Aug 11, 2014 1:18:15 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Aug 11, 2014 1:20:02 PM PDT]
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