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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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Top customer reviews
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.
Postman’s writing might seem offensive to some, but in reality, he is striving to telling it as it is. He identifies that we as a culture thrive off of the desire to be entertained. The way we communicate reflects such desires. On page 13 Postman writes: “What I mean to point out here is that the introduction into a culture of a technique such as writing or a clock is not merely an extension of man’s power to bind time but a transformation of his way of thinking-and, of course, of the content of his culture.” Every detail of our lives is a product of the way we progressively think and respond. He then moves on to what he calls “Media as Epistemology,” referring to the ways we use media to gain or interpret knowledge. He references Frye, Jesus, and Socrates as influential figures who have influenced our understanding of truth. Postman speaks very metaphorically throughout his text, which for some, might make him hard to follow.
The book doesn’t jump straight into a narrative about television, as the title might suggest. Postman takes about half the book to build up to those thoughts and instead starts out the early chapters with the original uses of the printed word. The slow progression to his main point seems long, but in a lot of ways crucial to the point he is trying to make. An enjoyable result of this book is that instead of simply bashing an entire aspect of our culture, he describes it in detail and points out factual components from beginning to end. From the Age of Exposition to the Age of Show Business, Postman describes the evolution between these stages with great quantities of truth. Weaved throughout his writings, Postman offers warnings and awareness that he hopes for the reader to grasp and understand. On page 113 Postman states: “It has been demonstrated many times that a culture can survive misinformation and false opinion. It has not yet been demonstrated whether a culture can survive if it takes the measure of the world in twenty-two minutes. Or if the value of its news is determined by the number of laughs it provides.” These kind of statements point at the weaknesses of media’s role in our society. Postman frequently uses these type of comments to drive his point home.
With all of that being said, Postman's statements were truthful, but I felt that the book aired more on the side of negativity. I would have liked to hear him touch on the different positive products of electronics and the impacting changes technology has made on our culture as well. Laced with personal bias I think it’s beneficial for Postman to make us more aware, I’m just not the most supportive of the way he goes about doing it.
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Postman wrote this before the soaring rise in personal computing and the...Read more