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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, Andrew Postman (Introduction)

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Member:frichadaran
Title:Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
Authors:Neil Postman
Other authors:Andrew Postman (Introduction)
Info:Penguin Books (2005), Edition: Revised, Paperback, 208 pages
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Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman (1985)

  1. 10
    Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (jstamp26)
  2. 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 28 mentions

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A perceptive look at US popular media - predominantly television - dating from 1985, though still relevant more than thirty years later. It takes only a very small adjustment of the imagination to add social media to the analysis, and that analysis still comes up strong.

We are more fortunate in the UK (in that we have the BBC, which by not taking advertising does not have to chase the ratings and the eight-minute attention span to the same degree), but we cannot afford complacency. Much of what is in this book I can see in our own media.

Equally, there are other voices in America who are aware of this problem and work against it. But they are a minority.

Interestingly, I'm re-watching 'Battlestar Galactica' (the re-boot) at the moment. It is a well-crafted show, with good plots (at least, until it got to the point where the show-runners ran out of ideas and began making stuff - especially mystical stuff - up as they went along), an interesting premise and a range of issues. But I notice two things about it: 1) episodes are shorter than their equivalents for 'Star Trek' or 'Babylon 5', reflecting longer advert breaks; and (perhaps more importantly), 2) by the story being set in a non-Earth society, the cultural references that the other shows inserted in the scripts - because Roddenberry and Straczinski are/were themselves educated people who wanted to share that
education - are not present. The earlier shows 'sneaked' references into their stories that would take the inquisitive viewer into a wider world of cultural exposure; but by the opening of the 21st century, a science fiction show like 'Galactica' that was complex and demanding in terms of its narrative no longer felt a need to expand its viewers' consciousnesses as well. Postman's hypothesis wins out in the end, it seems.

We see the eight-minute attention span reflected in documentaries in the UK as well - sometimes even in BBC documentaries that are intended to be sold abroad, as they have to conform to a commercial tv pattern (watching
popular BBC documentary shows, I can often pick out where the adverts will go when the show is re-broadcast on a commercial channel). On completely commercially-originated documentaries, this is reflected in the recapitulation of "the story so far" when the show comes back after the commercial break.

I found the chapter on US tele-evangelism very interesting. It suggests one reason why Islam is mis-represented so much in mainstream media, because (on my reading), the messages of Islam do not suggest ways of making yourself feel good, but in doing the right thing. And that can't be reduced to an eight-minute sound-bite that reinforces other, less spiritual messages that the medium wants to promote at the same time.

I'd like to think that UK audiences are sufficiently sophisticated to spot these sort of issues. (Perhaps one reason why there are segments of the UK political world who decry college and university 'media studies' courses, because those courses enable those who have done them to analyse and deconstruct what they are seeing.) (Hopefully.) In a way, the book has told me nothing I didn't already know, but it put it in a context of the development of US television media. The lessons it gives us are equally important for the digital media age. I see just the same forces working in social media to
say "Look over here at THIS" so as to direct attention away from THAT. My one concern is that the book preaches somewhat to the converted, though by spreading the word, the message can sometimes get to new ears.

Otherwise, we shall end up in the world of 'Fahrenheit 451'; and occasionally, I see the underlying ideology of that world - "books are dangerous because they make you feel your own reactions to what you see, rather than what you are required to feel and think' - trying very hard to break through into our reality.
1 vote RobertDay | Apr 25, 2016 |
This book argues that television has brought profound differences to our culture. Not because of the entertainment as such, but because so much else has become 'made for television'. News in brief snippets, electioneering as showbiz, lots of pictures and fast-moving programmes which we have mostly forgotten by the end of the evening.

The book is dated - it's 23 years old now - and although it does make some excellent, thought-provoking points, I felt that he was perhaps too critical of modern technology, while insisting that the printing press, which also transformed culture, was a good move. Perhaps three and a half stars, since it's given me a lot to think about. ( )
  SueinCyprus | Jan 26, 2016 |
The author begins with a comparison of Orwellian Marshall law and Brave New World's apathetic utopia. He makes the argument that the apathetic utopia is becoming more of a reality as people are consumed by distraction, pleasure, and apathy. I always thought the Brave New World reality sounded pretty good, other than the fact that the the will to progress and overcome situational circumstance is taken away with test tube babies predestined for a life that lacks fundamental choices based on genetics. Postman points out that in 1984 reality, books are banned and information is restricted, but in BNW reality, books don't need to be banned because nobody wants to read them, leaving a society devolved into one that chooses its own ignorance and sheepishness. Choices are taken away, pharmaceuticals are dispersed and civilization is at its pinnacle of efficiency, harmony, and sustainability at the cost of our primitive nature, emotion, free will, and drive.

This book discusses how television is a steady stream of distraction that leads us further and further from fact and reality. News broadcasting showcases only attractive people who spew content intended for entertainment over truth. Ignorance and beauty are the superficial virtues people strive for and emotional reaction has taken the place of informed opinions. This book was published in 2005, so you can't help to notice that the status quo is becoming more extreme all the time. If nothing else, this book will open up a dialog for thought and discussion. ( )
  jasmataz | Sep 11, 2015 |
Although the world Postman writes about is a little dated, the book is still very thought provoking. I would highly recommend this to anyone who is interested in media's effect (and especially television) on society. ( )
  ElOsoBlanco | Jul 15, 2013 |


It's amazing how well this book has stood the test of time. We are still amusing ourselves to death, though now we have a new medium, the Internet. Our world is even more fragmented, more information overload, but the Internet restores typography to an extent, in bite size chunks. I wonder what Postman would had thought of Twitter. ( )
  clmerle | Apr 2, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 43 (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.
 
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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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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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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140094385, Paperback)

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. --Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post Book World.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:07 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Examines the effects of television on American society, arguing that media messages, which were generally coherent, serious, and rational when in print, have become shriveled and absurd due to the medium of television.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 3 descriptions

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