Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
a book by Neil Postman
(our site's book review)
What happens when media and politics become forms of entertainment? As our world begins to look more and more like Orwell's 1984, Neil's Postman's (author of The Disappearance of Childhood) essential guide to the modern media is more relevant than ever.
"It's unlikely that Trump has ever read Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, but his ascent would not have surprised Postman.”—CNN
Originally published in 1985, 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: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business 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.
“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
Writing, as opposed to television, requires patience, detachment, memory, and reason
Reading was life to people in the older days—seasoned with an occasional phonecall
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 Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business and let Postman prove it to you.
Not only are we not readers or writers, but we have become television and internet zombies
As Postman predicted, we have become a nation buried in triviality, and he wrote the book in 1985 before iPhones and iPads, but the book hits the nail on the head. As far as the TV networks are concerned, the worst thing that TV could possibly do is inspire or provoke you, two emotions that risk you getting off your couch and leaving your living room and missing the commercials—the REAL point of TV. The result is the unreality we find ourselves in, one where nobody can recall the last time they actually DID anything about the information they were given by the television. You realize that the last thing we have to fear is a malicious Orwellian news industry, because what we have is so much worse. We have a media culture incentivized to be as shallow, fabricated and captivating as possible, at the expense of what is actually real or true or meaningful.
TV has become the monster that sucks our brains from our skulls as it dumbs us down and teaches us to be loyal consumers of mostly unhealthy products we do not need, as the corporatocracy hears endless kachiiiiings! in its cash registers. We used to read and think. Now we just stuff our faces with junk as we stuff our minds with junk as we emit an occasional giggle or guffaw or fart, never noticing that we have become mindless sheep seeking the next sensationalistic visual cream puff to baaaa over.
TV has become the monster that sucks our brains from our skulls as it dumbs us down and teaches us to be loyal consumers of mostly unhealthy products we do not need
It's hard to believe now, but in Abraham Lincoln's time, debates took 7 hours or more and the audience stayed and listened. Postman managed to see the future and how developing technology would produce a new generation of nonreaders with short attention spans and insatiable appetites for entertainment.
Tuning in to the talk shows, Postman observes how 'the medium itself discourages reflection,' so it's just a series of cacophonous sound bites full of sound and fury signifying nothing
" . . . television is bringing us speedily to the condition of the residents of Aldous Huxley's 'Brave New World,' who were seduced into happy mindlessness. [See picture below.] Tuning in to the talk shows, . . . [Postman] observes how the medium itself discourages reflection. 'When a television show is in process, it is very nearly impermissible to say, "Let me think about that" or "I don't know" or "What do you mean when you say . . .?" or "From what sources does your information come?" . . . [He calls] on the nation to devote itself to understanding the nature of the beast of television before we are devoured. . . . as Mr. Postman properly keeps reminding us, television's impact is immeasurably more pervasive than anything that has gone before. (Source: BOOKS OF THE TIMES, Walter Goodman, NY Times)
The result of all entertainment/no inspiration is the unreality we find ourselves in, one where nobody can recall the last time they actually DID anything about the information they were given by the television (except buy stuff from ads)
In Marshall McLuhan's Understanding Media, the messages of newscasts are not the news stories themselves, but a change in the public attitude towards crime, or the creation of a climate of fear—in other words, its effect or its unanticipated consequences. Each medium, independent of the content it mediates, has its own intrinsic effects which are its unique message. A Marshall McLuhan message always tells us to look beyond the obvious and seek the non-obvious changes or effects that are enabled, enhanced, accelerated or extended by the new thing. The Medium is the Message could mean to some that the overt message needs to be transcended by its covert meaning to society, otherwise our sound bites are throwaway, recycleable trivia to momentarily titillate or amuse, being more a replacement for real life than an element of real life itself.
McLuhan says "it is only too typical that the 'content' of any medium blinds us to the character of the medium." And it is the character of the medium that is its potency—or meta-message. He reminds us, "Control over change would seem to consist in moving not with it but ahead of it. Anticipation gives the power to deflect and control force." Our cultural sages like Noam Chomsky and Alvin Toffler write in prescient ways that empower us to be proactive, never letting things get out of hand while we are busy amusing ourselves to death.
We don't notice the gradual turning off of our brains so we become mindless sheep seeking the next sensationalistic visual cream puff to baaaa over
That said, one has to realize that TV has replaced the learning and meaning aspects of life that once came from books and newspapers with distractions, amusements, and entertainment, since most people do not like to think, ponder, or learn but rather to have their current beliefs reconfirmed ad infinitum (i.e., political ads) so their mental lives grind to a halt and they wonder why everything they see or hear seems like the same old stuff. Since the content of any medium blinds us to the character of the medium, we don't see ourselves turning into TV zombies before it is too late. We don't notice the gradual turning off of our brains so we become mindless sheep seeking the next sensationalistic visual cream puff to baaaa over.
Read Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business and you will understand why Donald Trump is the President of the U.S.
Seeing McLuhan's "anticipation gives the power to deflect and control force" and the advice to keep moving not with change but ahead of it makes us more than a little embarrassed when we look around, blinking, in 2017, and see that while we were busy amusing ourselves to death, we let a demagogic, narcissistic con artist sneak into the White House and obtain the codes for the nuclear football. Read Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business and you will understand why Donald Trump is the President of the U.S.
While we were walking around with our heads up our asses, we let a demagogic, narcissistic con artist sneak into the White House and obtain the codes for the nuclear football
The result of the dumbing down we experienced—while instead of using our brains we gradually turned them off so we became mindless sheep seeking the next sensationalistic visual cream puff to baaaa over—is that the citizens are walking around with their heads up their butts, knowing nothing, learning nothing, thinking nothing, and greedy oligarchs are rushing to take advantage of our vulnerability. See Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power and Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right.
Bread and circuses is a phrase used to describe the generation of public approval, not through exemplary or excellent public service or public policy, but through diversion, distraction, or the mere satisfaction of the immediate, shallow requirements of a populace, as an offered palliative. This epitomizes what our media and politics give us in 2017 while we are busy amusing ourselves to death.
Bread and circuses is a phrase used to describe the generation of public approval, not through excellent public service or public policy, but through diversion or distraction
Again, why are the powers-that-be glad we have become television and internet zombies in 2017 while we are busy amusing ourselves to death? And why are the powers-that-be glad we've become mindless sheep seeking the next sensationalistic visual cream puff to baaaa over? Because the more the public is distracted, the less the public will notice the wealth of the middle class getting robbed behind the scenes by the corporations and politicians.
The media focuses on a sensationalistic fistfight going on on the deck of THE SHIP OF STATE, so the public will fail to notice the wealth of the middle class getting robbed behind the scenes by the corporations and politicians and oligarchs
Postman makes an interesting comparison of George Orwell's vision of a future where the truth would be concealed from us by a totalitarian regime, and Aldous Huxley's fear that people will come to love their oppression and the technologies that undo their capacities to think. Mr. Postman, like Huxley, fears that what we love has ruined us. Interestingly, the truth IS being concealed from us by a hidden regime. See The Shadow Government and Shadow Elite: How the World's New Power Brokers Undermine Democracy, Government, and the Free Market.
Like George Orwell's vision of the truth being concealed from us by a hidden regime, The Shadow Government is in charge of the USA, and the leaders are just puppets
Like George Orwell's vision of the truth being concealed from us by a hidden regime, The Shadow Government is in charge of the USA, and the leaders are just puppets
While we were busy amusing ourselves to death, we let our country start circling the drain
It would be useful to examine who exactly is saying that the USA is run by a shadow government—besides our website and thousands of other blogs, websites, and ebooks on the Internet, and besides the Constitution Society. Some of the wisest people anywhere are saying it, people such as Bill Moyers, Peter Dale Scott, and Noam Chomsky are saying it, and so is Tom Engelhardt, Mike Lofgren, Michael J. Glennon, James Perloff, Dr. Carroll Quigley, Joseph Plummer, Steven Hiatt, John Perkins, David Korten, Paul Craig Roberts, William Blum and David Ray Griffin, and so are countless Presidents, Vice Presidents, Mayors and Congressmen as well as the head of the FBI. Many see this not as a conspiracy but as a slow degeneration of what used to be an actual democracy (now an oligarchy). See Democracy—an American Delusion.
As one Amazon reviewer (odessafile) sees it, "In George Orwell's book '1984' (written in 1949) his anxiety was that books would be burnt to avoid 'heresies' being spread among the citizens; earlier (1931) Aldous Huxley had written his 'Brave New World', with its thesis that books would not need to be burnt, because no one would read them—we would be 'amusing ourselves to death'. In 2017 it looks as if Huxley made the better bet. Almost unheard of in the publishing of this sort of book, this '20th anniversary edition' of Neil Postman's enduring and far-sighted analysis was published in 2005. The original was written in 1985 when television was the 'enemy', but it is even more relevant today in the age of Twitter, Facebook and the others."
Amusing Ourselves to Death was written in 1985 when television was the 'enemy', but it is even more relevant today in the age of Twitter, Facebook and the others
" . . . rereading Orwell, one is reminded of what Orwell got right about this kind of brute authoritarianism—and that was essentially that it rests on lies told so often, and so repeatedly, that fighting the lie becomes not simply more dangerous but more exhausting than repeating it. Orwell saw, to his credit, that the act of falsifying reality is only secondarily a way of changing perceptions. It is, above all, a way of asserting power. . . . People aren’t meant to believe [a Trump lie]; they’re meant to be intimidated by it." (Source: Orwell’s “1984” and Trump’s America, Adam Gopnik, New Yorker) It does suggest a question: does Trump know his presidency is not a reality show? It further suggests this question: could it be that his presidency transformed regular politics, elections and the presidency itself into a reality show where he—learning on the job as an apprentice—is simply trying to be such an apt contestant that he never hears those dreaded two little words: "You're Fired!"? If he gets himself impeached, will we be saying: "It's not personal—it's just business."?
Postman points out that Aldous Huxley's Brave New World was, like Orwell's 1984, a dystopia. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. A dystopia of oppression is not the same as a dystopia of distraction. George Orwell, in 1984, 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. In 2017, most people don't read—including President Trump. No banning is needed.
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. They are both right. We suffer from information overload, but few of us can distinguish true info from false info, so fake news site are very popular. We are being deprived of information about who runs our government, who decides about wars, and how much misinformation and propaganda is being fed to us via colluding corporatocracy of the mainstream media.
Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Both are quite true.
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."
Huxley's Brave New World is much more like 2017 America than most of us would like to admit. Postman nailed it that Huxley was the better forecaster—his predictions hit way too close to home, but so do many of Orwell's. Huxley's public was oppressed by their addiction to amusement. Orwell's public were oppressed by state control.
How accurate is Orwell's externally imposed oppression? He's part right: We experience externally imposed robbery constantly but it is only oppressive when we become aware of it. Our rights and privacy have been robbed by the Patriot Act, and our wealth is being robbed by the Shadow Government oligarchs who also rob us of our democracy in a subtle enough manner so that we don't notice it. See Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power and Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right.
The U.S.'s ambitions have outgrown its capabilities and resources. And we should never forget that these "ambitions" are NOT those of the American people, nor are they the desires of the bulk of our elected leaders and representatives. They are the sick obsessions of the shadow government neocons—the empire builders who want to have it all (for themselves) AT OUR EXPENSE! And elected leaders and representatives simply lack the courage to represent their constituents and restrain these imperialist wackos from their empire building actions.
The NSA is also developing another tool that Orwell’s Thought Police might have found useful—an artificial intelligence system designed to know what people are thinking
The NSA is monitoring everyone everywhere like Big Brother—good-bye privacy!
Fly #353242252 reporting: Citizen #312,756,972 doesn't seem to be hiding a thing—my conclusion is that she's clean; but just to be sure I think I'll hang around a bit longer!
The U.S. has for the last century been a country more and more dependent on propaganda to pacify its ignorant citizens. From 1915 on, the news the public heard—and later saw—was more and more filtered by shadow government elites and the CIA so that only reports with the elites' blessings got to the masses. See Freedom of the Press—an American Delusion.
No wonder the public seems so confused and nothing ever changes. They're choking on misinformation that comes their way via political manipulation of citizens and via the Culture War!
The public has been drinking the Kool-Aid so long it is sure the propaganda must be true. Most could barely conceive of the idea of how much they've been duped!
American Empire building is mostly a way to pull cash from our wallets that they stick into oligarchs' pockets
Postman ends his book with this fitting observation: Huxley "was trying to tell us that what afflicted the people in Brave New World was not that they were laughing instead of thinking, but that they did not know what they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking."
Postman believed in 1985 that "the computer [is] a vastly overrated technology"! As you can see, his predictions are not necessarily prescient.
However, he says, regarding television: the problem does not reside in what people watch. The problem is in that we watch. The solution must be found in how we watch. Although Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business is well written and makes a lot of good points, we disagree with Postman that Huxley, not Orwell, was right. They both were. But Huxley nailed it a lot more precisely than Orwell. Investigate some of the America and Politics book reviews on this website and you'll see what we mean.