Amusing Ourselves to Death

amusingourselvestodeath

Posted by Shelbi

“Everything in our background has prepared us to know and resist a prison when the gates begin to close around us. We take arms against such a sea of troubles, buttressed by the spirit of Milton, Voltaire, Jefferson…But what if there are no cries of anguish to be heard? Who is prepared to take arms against a sea of amusements? To whom do we complain, and when, and in what tone of voice, when serious culture dissolves into giggles? What is the antidote to a culture’s being drained by laughter?”

Amusing Ourselves to Death was written in 1985, but reading it is like reading something published yesterday. Before the internet or cell phones, Neil Postman (who died in 2003) wrote this powerful book as a warning against…television.

“The problem is not that television presents us with entertaining subject matter, but that all subject matter is presented as entertaining.” -Chap. 6

When George Orwell wrote the book 1984 in the 1940’s, he prophesied oppressive government that would conceal truth and hide information. When Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World in 1931, he predicted the opposite: “There would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.” Instead of being deceived about the real state of things, which Orwell feared, people would be given so much trivial information so quickly that important things would drown in a sea of irrelevance. Instead of being held captive kicking and screaming, they would love their oppression and adore what undoes their ability to think.

As the author states in the preface to Amusing Ourselves to Death, “This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.”

Exploring and analyzing not only television but also the “Age of Show Business” in general, this book shows how completely our culture has been taken in by the lies “entertainment is the highest good” and “we exist solely to be amused”.

I especially liked chapter 9, called “Reach Out and Elect Someone”, which is about how politicians put themselves forward as sources of amusement to better their chances of being elected; and also chapter 7, which is titled “Now…This”.

There is no murder so brutal, no earthquake so devastating, no political blunder so costly–for that matter, no ball score so tantalizing or weather report so threatening–that it cannot be erased from our minds by a newscaster saying, “Now…this.” The newscaster means that you have thought long enough on the previous matter (approximately 45 seconds), that you must not be morbidly preoccupied with it (let us say, for 90 seconds), and that you must now give your attention to another fragment of news or a commercial. -Chap. 7

Amusing Ourselves to Death alerts us to the real danger of this state of affairs, and offers helpful suggestions as to how not only resist the current “media onslaught”, but also recognize the ways we’re unconsciously letting media shape our lives.

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