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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.
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
Beyond the momentarily fulfillment, this book is nothing more than a summary of concepts expressed better in books this very text refers to. This book no doubt deserves a high rating for the brevity of the message the author puts forward and the number of texts that the author references to further research on this topic. Otherwise, everything that this book talks about is obvious, especially to anyone who has objectively observed the ascent of media in our everyday life. This book at best presents quips and quotes to summarize the thoughts that hitherto might have simmered in a mind such as ‘How television staged the world becomes the model for how the world is to be staged,’ or ‘Television is our culture’s principle mode of knowing itself,’ but those that were not succinctly expressed. All that this book does is present an aha moment, something on the lines of ‘I knew it!’ Otherwise, any serious explorer of this topic should start with 1984 by George Orwell or Brave New World by Aldous Huxley instead of picking up this text.
Finally, this book builds its arguments on examples with a little reference to research. It presents opinions derived from observation; observation of elections, religion, advertisement, schools and news. While a large portion of population may actually be affected by these examples, this book fails to talk about the valuable side of mass media. At best it presents half the picture, the picture that’s dark. Not to say that it’s wrong, a reader should exert caution and exhibit judgement in jumping to conclusions.