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Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse…
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Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (original 1985; edition 2005)

by Neil Postman (Autor), Andrew Postman (Einleitung)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
4,261531,962 (4.15)31
In this eloquent and persuasive book, Neil Postman examines the deep and broad effects of television culture on the manner in which we conduct our public affairs, on how "entertainment values" have corrupted the very way we think. As politics, news, religion, education, and commerce are given expression less and less in the form of printed or spoken words, they are rapidly being reshaped and staged to suit the requirements of television. And because television is a visual medium, whose images are most pleasurably apprehended when they are fast-moving and dynamic, discourse on television takes the form of entertainment. Television has little tolerance for argument, hypothesis, or explanation it demands performing art. Mr. Postman argues that public discourse, the advancing of arguments in logical order for the public good-once the hallmark of American culture-is being converted from exposition and explanation to entertainment.… (more)
Member:Grobiewan
Title:Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
Authors:Neil Postman (Autor)
Other authors:Andrew Postman (Einleitung)
Info:Penguin Books (2005), Edition: Anniversary, 208 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:
Tags:to-read

Work details

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman (1985)

  1. 40
    Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (jstamp26)
  2. 00
    Anathem by Neal Stephenson (themulhern)
    themulhern: Stephenson himself remarked that Anathem was a book about how people don't read books anymore. Moreover, there is a delightfully satirical sequence in which the characters are discussing serious things over food at a rest stop, and the narrator is repeatedly distracted by images on the speelies that are incoherent yet commanding. Later, the protagonist realizes that one of these images was relevant, and there is another bit of satire.… (more)
  3. 00
    The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom by Yochai Benkler (chiudrele)
    chiudrele: Explains how today's world of internet is different from the old world of television. Society is not merely consuming information and culture, it can also participate in creation of it.
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» See also 31 mentions

English (52)  Dutch (1)  All languages (53)
Showing 1-5 of 52 (next | show all)
Bailed at 22%.
  joyblue | Sep 18, 2020 |
Written in the mid 80's 'Amusing Our Selves to Death' remains a damning indictment of what a runaway entertainment mindset has done to American culture. Things are not better, if anything, things are worse. Celebrity culture has taken over the web and the websites of most major newspapers. What to do? Kill your TV. There are tools now so that you can pick and choose what you want to see. Also limit your time online. Read, listen to music, go to a concert, get outside, Join a book club. Don't let Hollywood rent space in your head.
( )
2 vote Steve_Walker | Sep 13, 2020 |
Postman's acerbic wit and insight are rhetorical devices that made reading Amusing Ourselves to Death and enjoyable, rather than so heady of an endeavor. His insights have aged well, particularly the epistomology of decontextualized knowledge, and the underlying bias inherent in technology.
  b.masonjudy | Apr 3, 2020 |




If Herbert Marcuse was alive today, he would’ve concluded that Trump is a creation of the fraudulent ‘Culture Industry’ that perpetually dupes addict consumers by conjuring up prefabricated fantasies about the endless promise of the ‘American Dream’.
Theodor Adorno first coined the phrase “Culture Industry”. Adorno warned of a western Culture Industry that blurred the distinction between truth and fiction, between the commercial and the political.

Neil Postman, prophetically predicted the internet, memes, fox news, and the ascent of trump - and his ilks around the world - in 1985. The goal of American propaganda is to manufacture consent by way of mass distraction. The problem is, everyone is suddenly too comfortable to revolt against oppression of any kind. People are distracted by virtually every aspect of the mass culture. Trump is clearly a product of a mass media age. In the words of one biographer, we are seeing, “Donald Trump playing Donald Trump”, while a psychologist has observed: “Trump seems supremely cognizant of the fact that he is always acting”.
The way he speaks and lies and bombards voters — this is a way of controlling people, especially people who don't have a [sense] of history. The same thing happened with Brexit/Boris in the U.K, and Modi in India. Mass media allows for a kind of collective hypnosis, and to some extent that is what we’re seeing. Trump as the ultimate predator, with the access to an amplified medium, seduced enough voters to win because he was able to manipulate the images people watch within today’s electronic Plato’s Cave. There are many more intricate determinants here, but I really think it’s much easier to understand the rise of Hitler than of Trump.

We are buried under dense ignorance which is disguised as 'Information', confused by entertainment masquerading as 'News', distracted by a procession of lies and outrages and controversies, and inured to misbehavior and corruption that would’ve consumed past administrations.
Most importantly, we have lost control of our attention!

Cultural degradation can come either through the state tyranny, or through more insidious alien means that the public does not even identify; with the latter - the public loses its autonomy, maturity, and history, without even realizing it. Worse, they somehow celebrate the very cause of those degradation.
We are all, as Huxley says someplace, Great Abbreviators, meaning that none of us has the wit to know the whole truth, the time to tell it if we believed we did, or an audience so gullible as to accept it. In almost every aspect of our daily lives, from politics to business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons who understand the mental processes, social patterns and the psychology of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind. We're governed, our minds molded, tastes formed, and our ideas suggested, largely by people you've never heard of. Unfortunately, people take extreme stance with things like this, and collectively ignorance prevails. However, it wasn't like that always. Now it quickly becomes a Red pill and Blue pill thing.

A while ago I was watching debate on Youtube, a public intellectual was talking about Trump and all the political unrest. He said that he is horrified at Trump, that he is a catastrophe, but he is a result of some process; and this process is the disintegration, the failure of the Left. He said that he hoped with Trump, everyone will be shocked, horrified with this horror, and something will finally happen.
"This disgusting, filthy, imbecile, callous, vain man had to come, because the left needed a shake." - He said.
He was a pessimist, but he was hoping for a revolution of a kind.
I don’t agree with him completely. I mean I do hope that it happens, but I don’t think Trump’s rise will lead to an actual substantive rebellion, or even a revolution in consciousness. Trump is just a negation. He is a TV show for a country transfixed by spectacle. There’s no predictive data on how a revolution would look like - if it happens, and I’m being a skeptical optimist here - in this age of Mass media.
But then again, Terry Pratchett wrote somewhere,
“Here's some advice, boy. Don't put your trust in revolutions.
They always come around again. That's why they're called revolutions.”


It feels Neil Postman is specifically speaking about us, right now, but this was published in 1985:

“When Orwell wrote in his famous essay “The Politics of the English Language” that politics has become a matter of “defending the indefensible,” he was assuming that politics would remain a distinct, although corrupted, mode of discourse. His contempt was aimed at those politicians who would use sophisticated versions of the age-old arts of double-think, propaganda and deceit. That the defense of the indefensible would be conducted as a form of amusement did not occur to him. He feared the politician as deceiver, not as entertainer.

But it is much later in the game now, and ignorance of the score is inexcusable. To be unaware that a technology comes equipped with a program for social change, to maintain that technology is neutral, to make the assumption that technology is always a friend to culture is, at this late hour, stupidity plain and simple.

The concept of truth is intimately linked to the biases of forms of expression. Truth does
not, and never has, come unadorned. It must appear in its proper clothing or it is not acknowledged, which is a way of saying that "truth" is a kind of cultural prejudice. Each culture conceives of it as being most authentically expressed in certain symbolic forms that another culture may regard as trivial or irrelevant."



Enter Memes. Classic, Dank, Rage, Shit-posts, and so on. They are dark, and funny - but Postman was deeply suspicious of 'Jokes' themselves, especially when they come with an agenda. The swift narratives established by them, can be highly destructive and manipulative. Algorithms on social media is highly optimized for emotions with hundreds of data points, inconceivable for an average man (voter)
Memes also fuel the expansion of The Overton Window.
Jokes, with their charms and their appealing self-effacement and their plausible deniability are helping people to do the messy work of democracy: to engage, to argue, and to run for the presidency of the United States, electing a - wait for it - joke.

“Everything in our background has prepared us to know and resist a prison when the gates begin to close around us . . .
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 discourse dissolves into giggles?
What is the antidote to a culture's being drained by laughter?”



An article from NewYorker with the title ‘How Jokes Won the Election.’
Here is a really good critical report on Media Manipulation (2019)


“We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn’t, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.

But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell’s dark vision, there was another - slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us.

This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right."


( )
3 vote iSatyajeet | Mar 29, 2020 |
I read - listened to - this twice, back to back.

It's about television, the drug of the nation.

It's about how western society's systems are transmogrifying into television - schools, churches, politics, entertainment of course, the crappy media, even our social interactions, and now the internet's content: all moulded by, and into, television.

It's about how the western "thinking" world has become television, we are only allowed to think what is on television, most of us are guided through life by images and stories on television, any victims not on television (are ignored by other media, and) do not exist.

Television. ( )
  GirlMeetsTractor | Mar 22, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 52 (next | show all)
The dismal message of this landmark book is that, while we've kept our eye out for Orwell's world all along, we have smoothly moved into living in Huxley's. Through our own compliance, our implicit assent, and our endless desire to be entertained, we have allowed the television to behave as our soma and let happen unto us what, were it made an explicit part of the social contract, we would never have accepted. Orwell was a cartoon, while Huxley is our reality—and we don't even know it.
 
A lucid and very funny jeremiad about how public discourse has been degraded.
added by ArrowStead | editMother Jones
 
He starts where Marshall McLuhan left off, constructing his arguments with the resources of a scholar and the wit of a raconteur.
added by ArrowStead | editChristian Science Monitor
 
A brilliant, powerful and important book...This is a brutal indictment Postman has laid down and, so far as I can see, an irrefutable one.
added by ArrowStead | editWashington Post Book World, Jonathan Yardley
 
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We were keeping our eye on 1984.
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You may get a sense of what is meant by context-free information by asking yourself the following question: How often does it occur that information provided you on morning radio or television, or in the morning newspaper, causes you to alter your plans for the day, or to take some action you would not otherwise have taken, or provides insight into some problem you are required to solve?
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In this eloquent and persuasive book, Neil Postman examines the deep and broad effects of television culture on the manner in which we conduct our public affairs, on how "entertainment values" have corrupted the very way we think. As politics, news, religion, education, and commerce are given expression less and less in the form of printed or spoken words, they are rapidly being reshaped and staged to suit the requirements of television. And because television is a visual medium, whose images are most pleasurably apprehended when they are fast-moving and dynamic, discourse on television takes the form of entertainment. Television has little tolerance for argument, hypothesis, or explanation it demands performing art. Mr. Postman argues that public discourse, the advancing of arguments in logical order for the public good-once the hallmark of American culture-is being converted from exposition and explanation to entertainment.

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Neil Postman’s groundbreaking polemic about the corrosive effects of television on our politics and public discourse has been hailed as a twenty-first-century book published in the twentieth century. Now, with television joined by more sophisticated electronic media—from the Internet to cell phones to DVDs—it has taken on even greater significance. Amusing Ourselves to Death is a prophetic look at what happens when politics, journalism, education, and even religion become subject to the demands of entertainment. It is also a blueprint for regaining control of our media, so that they can serve our highest goals.
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