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Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business Paperback – December 27, 2005
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“I can’t think of a more prophetic, more thoughtful, more necessary – and yes, more entertaining – book about media culture.” –Victor Navasky, National Book Award-winning author of The Art of Controversy
“All I can say about Neil Postman’s brilliant Amusing Ourselves to Death is: Guilty As Charged.” –Matt Groening, Creator of The Simpsons
“As a fervent evangelist of the age of Hollywood, I publicly opposed Neil Postman’s dark picture of our media-saturated future. But time has proved Postman right. He accurately foresaw that the young would inherit a frantically all-consuming media culture of glitz, gossip, and greed.” –Camille Paglia
“A brilliant, powerful, and important book. This is an indictment that Postman has laid down and, so far as I can see, an irrefutable one.” –Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post Book World
About the Author
Neil Postman (1931–2003) was chairman of the Department of Communication Arts at New York University and founder of its Media Ecology program. He wrote more than twenty books.
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Clearly, the people then were different from the people now in terms of mainstream intelligence. The reason, Postman argues, is that the people in Dickens' era were children of "The Age of Typography," and the people today (us) are the children of "The Age of Show Business," or "The Age of Television." Reading was life to people in the older days; watching television is life to us now. And television, however entertaining, cannot be anything but sheer junk because it works through images, sensationalism, and emotional gratification. Writing, on the other hand, requires patience, detachment, memory, and reason. The result is that we are dumber than our ancestors. Incredulous? Pick up the book and let Postman prove it to you.
This book was written in 1985, but don't be fooled; it still wields enormous relevance today -- The chapter titled, "Peek-a-Boo-World" as well as the "Information-to-action-ratio" theory outlined in it are particularly pertinent regarding the modern-day use of the internet, especially with portable laptops, tablets, and cellphones. With those gadgets, we have become, in short, a nation buried in triviality, as Postman predicted. Furthermore, television viewership today has not decreased with the rise of the internet, iphones, and such. On the contrary, studies show that we still watch as much television as before, despite the alarmingly rising rate of electronic use. In this book, Postman focuses on politics, religion, education, and the news. These, he says, are serious topics that are downgraded to mere amusement because television, by design, works by making everything amusing. In effect, we come to expect everything in life to be entertaining when, in actuality, some things must be endured. Again, I urge you to read this book carefully. I've read it four times. It's ideas have allowed me to wean myself away from television and on to typography. Let it have the same effect on you.
In a nutshell - Americans used to be eager to learn and to act on what we learned. We would listen for hours to discourse that was detailed and written, albeit some of it was oratory. We had a desire to "know" about our world and the ideas of others. The idiots of our current would be dismissed as idiots. Dr. Postman's main emphasis is Content and Context. These two ingredients defined intellect, even of the average person. And then came worldwide media which amused and carried bits of information from everywhere, just bits that somehow come to mean nothing but for the moment and then, on to the next. Basically, our brains turned to guacamole and so we are here amusing ourselves to death and sinking fast, not caring to hear anything too detailed. Dr. Postman does a far better job explaining it with two chapters explaining it, applications from our history and what happened to us with specific areas of our everyday life where this tragedy is happening today. In some ways, Dr. Postman will come off as an old fuddy duddy and living in another age. Yet, his points are more than valid for once we were thinkers devouring all we could find and now we are reactors in a rapidly moving world just waiting to be amused. Quoting Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee, "George and Martha, sad, sad, sad!" So, ponder something, reason it out, and remember how to think. Read a book.
1. The chief purpose of mass media news is not to inform, but to sell entertainment. It is actually "News Entertainment."
2. To their own benefit, the highest goal of the majority of "news" providers is to convince you to be a faithful member of their audience.
3. Mass media communicates in images and sound bites. Words, substance, and facts are neither conducive to their purpose nor desirable.
4. The bulk of what passes for "the news" is neither rooted in reality nor relevant to our daily lives.
5. Such "news" providers create their biased views of reality and attempt to convince their audience members to buy into it.
6. Many folks have long ago stopped thinking critically about what is presented as "truth in the media." Instead, they have latched on to a feel-good moral position that negates their personal responsibility to legitimately research history, context, facts, and moral/political/social principles.
Are we willing to do our own homework, or will we remain content to passively receive what is fed to us by commercial "news" providers? Are we naive enough to rely on "truth in the media"?
I pray not!
—Reflections on the book "Amusing Ourselves to Death" by Neil Postman