Book Report – Amusing Ourselves to Death
Taking an enlightening look at the long-term effects of television and how its transforms out world, Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business alerts us to the dangers of television and offers suggestions to combat against the media. The book is divided into two parts, the first in which Postman discusses how television has transformed American society into a culture that has turned every aspect of life into entertainment. The second half reflects how the television-watching entertainment-minded community has affected the news, politics, religion, and education of our country.
In the foreword to his book, Postman asserts that although Orwell’s prophecy was unsuccessful, Huxley's vision was fulfilled. While Orwell feared there would be those who would ban books, Huxley feared that there would be no one who would want to read one. By carefully examining society, Postman asserted that Huxley’s fears had surfaced and we had indeed become a trivial culture, reduced to passivity and egoism.
Within the first half of the book, Postman explains that the media has taken the role in judging what we see and what we know, although much of it goes without notice. Since it is our media that has determined what our language is comprised of and deals with, our media has become our metaphors, creating the content of our culture. Within the second chapter of the Postman’s critique of society, he displays his intentions for writing the book as showing how our conversations have become nonsense as a result of the shift from reading to television watching. Under the guidance of the printing press, or the “pre-television” era, Americans engaged in intelligent, coherent, meaningful conversation, but after the appearance of television, our conversations have become ridiculous and meaningless. According to Postman, reading fosters reasoning and the actual thought process, utilizing logic and common sense, resulting in intelligent conversation amongst its readers. Therefore, it is not unconceivable to think that the Age of Reason would have resulted during the avid growth of the print culture then in America. Similarly, within the parameters of the legal system, we can see that the print-based culture is far more intellectually superior, where lawyers are more eloquent and capable of impressive argument, whereas in a television-based culture lawyers are somewhat incapable of similar actions. However, Postman does argue that the strong emphasis placed on reading is a result of the time period, one which provided little leisure time and did not have the benefit of electricity.
During the latter part of the first half of the book, Postman concludes that the new technologies that have come about toward the end of the nineteenth century resulted in the downfall of society. Rather than taking the time to read a book, the American culture became infatuated with the speed in which information could be carried and transmitted to others. As a result, television, which came some 40 years later, became a viable medium from which Americans grasped knowledge, as much and as quickly as they could possibly attain.
In part two of his book, Postman illustrates the social consequences of television, where it is used entirely for supplying entertainment to its viewers. “No matter what is being depicted or from what point of view, the overarching presumption is that it is there for our amusement and pleasure.” (87) Despite the fact that television broadcasters attempt to portray the “news” as news, it is all relative to the appeal it has to the viewer. For instance, the public’s view of the truth in the news is based on how attractive the information is, rather than the accuracy of the actual information. Even our printed word during this television-based era is in some form a source of entertainment, with the major publications either pertaining to or modeled after television, with catchy slogans and pictures intended to catch the eye of its reader and entertain as they read it.
Furthermore, Postman asserts that television makes a mockery of religion, mainly Christianity. Unlike the predecessors during the Great Awakening, the “electronic preachers” are “uneducated, provincial, and even bigoted.” By making the television the forum for sacred events held formerly by the church, it has a strong bias toward secularism and providing their viewers with entertainment rather