Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business - Amusing Ourselves to Death

By Neil Postman

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Readers` Reviews

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
ireanna
Postman's book is a harsh diatribe against the television industry and its effects on intellectual discourse in the United States. Postman argues that television, especially when compared to the written word, cannot foster deep, rational thought in its viewers, because it requires absolute passivity from them. Television can only be about entertainment, and its cultural dominance, Postman argues, has had negative effects on education, politics, and religion.

The first half the book dedicated to Postman's updating of the famous Marshall McLuhan postulate, "the medium is the message." Postman agrees, but takes it even further, stating in chapter one that "the medium is the metaphor." What he means by this is that our language -- how we communicate -- is only a metaphor for reality. We describe as best as we can what we see and know, but our method of communication circumscribes how and what we can actually communicate. Postman argues that whichever mode of communication we chose to communicate with -- be it oral, written, or televisual -- each comes with its own set of limitations. That is to say, "the form excludes the content." Some ideas simply can't be expressed by certain forms, which should be obvious to anybody who has tried to write a sarcastic email without the appropriate smiley face at the end.

Postman then guides the reader through a history of communication, laying out eras where oral, print, or visual communicative forms were culturally dominant. For Postman, the print era (or "age of typography"), which he dates roughly from the Reformation to the 19th century, is when rational argument reached its pinnacle. The form of the written word, Postman argues, requires the marshalling of evidence and the presentation of that evidence in a logical order on behalf of the writer, and patience and discernment on the part of the reader. Only in the printed word could complicated truths be clearly and rationally conveyed. During the 19th century, when print had reached hegemony in communications, rational thought was most most valued. A striking example that Postman provides is the Lincoln-Douglas debates. While these were certainly public spectacles (usually held at state or county faires), Postman presents them as if they were dueling long-form essays. In one particular debate (Peoria, October 16, 1854), Stephen Douglas went first for three hours, after which Lincoln suggested everyone go home to have dinner and come back in the evening. They did, and when they returned they were treated to another four hours of oratory, starting with Lincoln's rebuttal of Douglas. This sounds more like a paper session at an academic conference than a political debate, which is Postman's point exactly. Lincoln and Douglas did in fact write their speeches out, to make sure they made sense, though neither man was insensitive to audience response. In this era -- the era defined by typography as the leading communicative form -- major public figures, be they politicians, preachers, or activists, were expected to be able to make a long, rational, public argument, and the people were willing to listen to it. They weren't bored into a catatonic state by long speeches at all, Postman says, but rather interacted with the orators to encourage them, or challenge them to stay on point.

In the modern (television) age, however, things are different. Following the maxim "the form excludes the content," political discourse is no longer about rational argument, says Postman, but about entertainment and appearance. People get bored if television images are too static, so change has to happen, and frequently. There's no time to lay out a rational argument, but no matter, the passive audience doesn't want long, convoluted logic anyway. Television makes its viewers demand constant stimuli, so if things take too long, people just tune out. Debates rarely last even 90 minutes (poor Stephen Douglas), and politicos are lucky to get five minutes on a particular question. Not that they're expected to give a logical answer, anyway. In fact, they can repeat catchphrases as much as they want ("lockbox!" "it's hard work!") as long as they don't look bored (Bush 1992), condescending (Gore 2000), or annoyed (Bush 2004). Who really remembers what was said at the debates in the last presidential campaign anyway? Indeed, did those commenting on the debates immediately following ever really analyze what was being said? In rare cases, such as on PBS, you'd get issue analysis, but for the most part television political commentary was limited to "how did the candidate come across to voters?" "Did he appear honest? Likeable?" Postman says that we're no longer in the Age of Typography, but rather in the Age of Show Business. Television's rules control how we communicate today, even if we aren't on television ourselves.

Take, for example, religion. Postman spends a chapter on religious discourse in the modern era, basically laying into television preachers. Postman (who was Jewish) found some televangelists intelligent, others insulting and emotionally manipulative, but, above everything else, they were all entertainers. There was very little theological depth compared to say, Jonathan Edwards or even Charles Finney. Postman comes to two conclusions about religion on television:

The first is that on television, religion, like everything else, is presented, quite simply and without apology, as an entertainment. Everything that makes religion a historic, profound, and sacred human activity is stripped away; there is no ritual, no dogma, no tradition, no theology, and above all, no sense of spiritual transcendence. On these shows, the preacher is tops. God comes out as a second banana. The second conclusion is that this fact has more to do with the bias of television than with the deficiencies of these electronic preachers...

The point is that in the Age of Show Business, nothing escapes becoming entertainment. Postman reserves special scorn for the way education and news are handled by television. The news chapter is specially informative. Our news programs (even the "serious" news shows), he says, are basically entertainment, because they have music introducing ideas and pretty people ("talking hairdos") telling the stories. News items are stripped from local context, commodified, and given to the viewer in bit-sized chunks, separated by the "now.... this!" phenomenon, which serves to make the viewer dismiss it all as meaningless candy he or she can do nothing about. The "now... this!" phenomenon can be tried on any news broadcast. Tonight, for example, and update on the Iraq will be followed by ("now.... this!") Britney Spears' latest escapades. Postman says this serves to reduce it all to meaningless trivia.

Amusing Ourselves to Death is definitely a polemic. Postman starts off the book with a comparision of George Orwell's 1984 with Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, stating that the point of his book is exploring the possibility that Huxley's dystopia was correct. Unlike 1984, where people are controlled by violence and pain, Huxley presented a world where people are controlled by giving them every pleasure they want. For Postman, television is the device that controls us by entertainment and pleasure. Is Postman provocative? You bet. But he does raise important questions about our uncritical acceptance of what we see on television, and our easy adoption of any new technology that comes down the pipe. Amusing Ourselves is a book that should be read and discussed by as many people as possible.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
hanna thornberg
Read Chapter 53 of the Book of Isaiah in the Bible, compare it to the life and ministry of Jesus, and you'll likely see some parallels. There's something to be said about the benefit of hindsight, seeing a prophetic work lived out with uncanny accuracy.

I felt the same way as I read Amusing Ourselves To Death by Neil Postman.

First published in 1985, then released with a new introduction in 2005, Postman's prophetic words warned of the effects that popular media (which at the time was pretty much television) would have on our culture.

Though written before the age of the Internet, cell phones, DVDs, HDTVs and iPods, it's amazing to see how Postman's thoughts have become even more relevant today.

He often refers to Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, in which society falls not to outward oppression, but to its own distractions and passivity.

Postman argues, "Forms of media favor particular kinds of content and therefore are capable of taking command of a culture."

He continues, "A great media-metaphor shift has taken place in America, with the result that the content of much of our public discourse has become dangerous nonsense."

Like it or not, I found it impossible not to agree.

We're being duped. Willingly even. Almost unknowingly.

Look around and you'll see it everywhere.

Politics. Religion. News. Sports. Education. Commerce.

These days, image trumps substance.

There is no easy cure. And as Postman aptly notes, "not everyone believes a cure is needed."

But for those who've ever had a nagging feeling that society is headed sideways and can't quite figure out why...

For those who prefer a painful reality over blissful ignorance...

For those who feel called to more in life than simply drowning in a "sea of amusements"...

This is required reading.

Not necessarily an easy read. Not always a comfortable read. But oh so vital.

Just like with Isaiah 53 and Jesus, hold the prophetic words of Amusing Ourselves To Death next to our Information Age society, and the parallels are undeniable.

It's up to us what we do with it.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
michael sheppard
Originally posted at the LibertarianChristians Blog:

Neil Postman is a cultural observer and critic, educator, and communications critic at New York University. His well-known book Amusing Ourselves to Death gives us a chilling reminder of how much the media we use on a regular basis affect our thought patterns. In particular, Postman's main concern is the effect of television on public discourse. It is not the entertainment value of television that concerns him so much as the elevation of television as a primary conveyor of what is considered "the truth." He was keenly aware of the power of the media to influence at a basic level how people think and feel about the world around them. Considering how much we as libertarians criticize the mainstream media for capitulating to the State at every turn - whether the left or the right - Postman helps us get behind the medium itself to understand the epistemology. We can then see that while Orwell's 1984 is still of great concern, perhaps the even greater danger is the Huxleyan vision from Brave New World:

"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."

*The Medium is the Metaphor*

Part 1 of the book is a fascinating exposition of epistemology - how we come to know what we know. The media we use is an integral part of the equation. Media helps build the structures of thought, and thus thought communication. Postman writes:

"When Galileo remarked that the language of nature is written in mathematics, he meant it only as a metaphor. Nature itself does not speak. Neither do our minds or our bodies or, more to the point of this book, our bodies politic. Our conversations about nature and about ourselves are conducted in whatever `languages' we find it possible and convenient to employ. We do not see nature or intelligence or human motivation or ideology as `it' but only as our languages are. And our languages are our media. Our media are our metaphors. Our metaphors create the content of our culture."

The "bias" of a medium upon a culture is unseen yet deeply felt. Nowhere is the difference more clearly seen than between typography and television. In a culture characterized by print, thought processes will tend to organize themselves into a similar linear and logical order that is seen on the pages of books. Proper use and expression of words becomes the norm. This was the state of America during the founding era and lasted, for all intents and purposes, until the late 20th century. It was the culture enriched by the likes of Jonathan Edwards, Thomas Paine, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain. Postman explains how widely available print media constructed the culture of America.

*"And Now . . . This"*

Television, as a different medium, changes the metaphor. Postman says, "Television has achieved the status of `meta-medium' - an instrument that directs not only our knowledge of the world, but our knowledge of ways of knowing as well." It is no longer a pseudo-mystery but is in the background of everywhere we go and everything we see.

And thus, we come to Postman's primary criticism of how television is used and what it affects negatively: in religion, in education, and in news and politics. Most of the Christians I routinely interact with understand his criticism of religion distinctly well. The so-called "televangelist" movement certainly diminishes the depth of theological discourse throughout Christendom. It is presented primarily as entertainment, losing what makes religion a historic, profound, and sacred human activity. Instead of spiritual transcendence, the preacher is tops. "God comes out as second banana." (Given, this is not universally the case but it is certainly the right characterization.)

The educationists can be heard praising the television medium as "the future of education" just as often today as when Postman wrote initially in 1985. "We face the rapid dissolution of the assumptions of an education organized around the slow-moving printed word, and the equally rapid emergence of a new education based on the speed-of-light electronic image." Postman's harshest criticism is reserved for those who would dumb us down in deference to the lowest common denominator.

I know of no libertarian that does not clearly see the vacuous nature of television news programs. Moreover, this flows straight into the political arena. There was once a time when the President of the United States could walk down the street without people recognizing him, simply because no one knew what the president looked like. Now, however, "looking presidential" is just as important, perhaps more important, as knowing the Constitution or having good ideology. This is the power of television: to put the superficial and unimportant into the forefront.

*Culture is Dead! Long Live Culture!*

Neil Postman can almost come off as a Luddite by the end of Amusing Ourselves to Death, but his criticism should still be heeded. It is not simply that Postman despises the very pixels of your new 42 inch LCD panel. On the contrary, he admits that as entertainment it is excellent and quite fun. I don't think he is even saying that no serious message can ever be conveyed through television or a movie (or else he would be throwing all theatre out the window as well). No, the main message is a warning that serious messages are easily lost within the medium, and there is great danger when matters of utmost seriousness are couched as mere entertainment.

Amusing Ourselves to Death truly helped coalesce many disjointed thoughts in my own mind about the usefulness, or lack thereof, of the television medium. I cannot recommend this book highly enough to those of you who observe culture with a watchful eye, and wish to respond accordingly to a trend that we intuitively understand to be negative in the long run.
Whales and Dolphins! (Wild Kratts) (Step into Reading) :: A Delightfully Awkward Journey Across the Alaskan Tundra :: and Unexpected Love in the Azores - Finding Joy :: A Thru-Hiking Adventure on the Appalachian Trail - Balancing on Blue :: One-a-Day Inspirational Quotes for a Happy YOU (The Happiness 365 Inspirational Series Book 1)
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
sam owens
Read this book years ago. Recommended in a college course on speech communications I took, taught by Pres. Reagan's speech coach. This book proves its insight when we read it again in the new communications landscape in which we find ourselves. We need to rise above gullibility, and pull apart in order to see beyond, looking from outside the fishbowl we are in. Postman, as an intellectual and a writer, has numerous gems of historical knowledge sprinkled throughout this engaging book - many thoughts are sparked. Action point: take time outside of media - and he tells you why!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
amy mcpherson
With all of the sources of literature available to us NPs exposition of what seems to be happening regarding our experience of literacy as it seems to be dying amid the golden age of available texts - this book is a must read for those trying to cope with young students who no longer know how to read books. Don't blame the teachers, don't blame the students, don't blame the parents, but blame instead the very wealth of available material so that instead of an Orwellian utopia we instead have a Brave New World. But knowing this does not enable us to beat the march of the Internet and media back so that the business of thinking and dealing with long dull but necessary evenings once again becomes the habit of young students. Did I say this right? Brandy makes me sleepy and sloppy.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
katie fuerstneau
This guy was a prophet, TV has created a generation of idiots who have absolutely no capacity of analysis whatsoever. Instropection is gone, people do not meditate or reflect on anything. The internet and things like Twitter or Facebook had made it worse, this generation has a world of information in the palm of their hand and yet their thought process for discourse and rational thinking is very deficient, things like reality TV are an insult to us rational minds. Fantastic when he said that as Aldous Huxley saw it “People will come to love their oppression and adore the technologies that undo their capacity to think”
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
linda kerr
Hail the Yahoo! dot com homepage, which is everything that this book warns us about. Trivial celebrity reportage, gossip on which weight-loss diet works best, the latest in reality TV shows, and more fodder for the masses on Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, The Pope, etc, interspersed with news of the latest airplane crash, or mass shooting to come along. A quick, if somewhat sad and depressing read. Read this pamphlet at your own risk!

Orwell warned us that someday in the future the government will try and control us, tell us what we can say and do, tell us what we can't say and do. Huxley warned that the government won't need to control us, because the media will have already found a way. That's what this book is about, and I'm afraid Huxley is right.

Four stars because of the overly academic style of prose, but then again, this isn't supposed to be entertainment, is it? Rick says check it out.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
sara walker
We who work with young people today sometimes sense the acute need for cross-cultural communication! While they live in the same nation, speak the same language (granted some latitude), and apparently embrace many of the same values as their elders, today's youths clearly live in a distinct milieu. As with any culture, the first step to establishing the dialogue basic to both teaching and preaching. involves understanding it as well as possible.
Several studies have been published during the past few years which serve a useful sources, opening pathways for us older folks to pursue in our hunt for insights into "youth culture." First, we must understand its language, its mode of communication. In the opinion of Neil Postman, the educator who three decades ago published Teaching as a Subversive Activity, television has become our era's truly subversive, mind-molding medium. It's today's lingua franca. Thus he argues, in Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (New York: Penguin Books, c. 1985), that the electronic media, particularly TV, have degraded American culture. Speaking "as plainly as" possible, Postman analyzes and laments what he judges "the most significant American cultural fact of" our times, "the decline of the Age of Typography and the ascendancy of the Age of Television." This development absolutely alters "the content of politics, religion, education, and anything else that comprises public business" for they must conform, like athletic contests breaking for commercials, to TV's dicta (p. 8).
TV's triumph consummates what began a century ago, when the print-based culture, basic to reflective thought and exposition, began to caving in to "the Age of Show Business," (p. 63), wherein electronic-powered media (e.g. telegraphed "news" and photographed "pictures"), shifted folks' attention from substance to style, from realities embedded in first-hand experiences to images and distractions transported from afar. In the process, an addictive drug, "entertainment," began insisting that politics, education, and religion be packaged in visually attractive ways. The "image" became more than pre-eminent--it effectively displaced reality!
In Postman's opinion, what we know about ourselves comes primarily from TV. Consequently, "how television stages the world becomes the model for how the world is properly to be staged" (p. 92), and "in courtrooms, classrooms, operating rooms, board rooms, churches and even airplanes, Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other" (p. 92). TV's deleterious impact clearly appears when religion turns electronic. TV always entertains, so religious programs must also entertain. Consequently, religion becomes entertaining rather than enchanting. This is a critical distinction, for Postman insists religion should usher us into sacred realms of reality through deep, being-level enchantments. When we're entertained, we're simply diverted by yet another "show." Inevitably, TV sermons are "not anything like the Sermon on the Mount" and televangelists exude "good cheer" while promoting affluence" (p. 121), as does the rest of TV. But the tube can't tolerate calls for self-denial or self-sacrifice.
Education, too, suffers the corrupting waves of the electronic media. Postman, a professor of education, worries that teaching degenerates to "an Amusing Activity" rather than a genuinely educative process. Apart from sleeping, watching TV consumes more of America's children's time than any other activity! It's emerged as the main source of young people's ideas and ideals; more than anything else, it provides the ethical instruction embraced by this nation's young people. Packaged in a vacuum without prerequisites or traditions, focused on platitudes rather than perplexities, committed to simple story-telling rather than reasoned exposition, TV certainly "teaches"--and it teaches powerfully that media-molded youngsters cannot cope with traditional ways of learning, reading, thinking, communicating.
* * * * * * * * * *
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
sean lucas
Neil Postman posits that the medium of communication has value inherent and intrinsic in itself. Postman argues that the medium conveys shades of meaning that are not spelled out in any intentional communication. Sometimes the medium can convey meaning wholly independent of the message itself. The concept that the medium has value and meaning that is both dependant and independent of the communication conveyed is supremely logical.

After exploring the power of a metaphor Postman explains why the medium is like a metaphor. (Postman, 1985 p.13)"...the introduction into a culture of a technique such as writing or a clock is not merely an extension of man's power to bind time but a transformation of his way of thinking - and, of course, of the content of his culture". The technique, or the medium, transforms the very mindset or pattern of thinking by itself without any other variables like message added.

There have been other communications theorists who have put forward the concept that the medium had a value independent of the message. Most notable in my mind of these theorists is Marshall McLuhan. McLuhan took the value of the medium to heights that Postman does not attempt. McLuhan proposed and argued that the medium was in itself the message. McLuhan argued that inherent meaning of the medium was so great and overbearing that the message that was conveyed was by nature the result of the medium rather then any intent on the part of the communicator.

Postman position is in great contrast to McLuhan regardless of its similarities. Similar between the two theorists is recognition that the medium has value and meaning independent of the message itself. Also similar is the concept that medium changes the culture and the individual mindset. (McLuhan 1964, p.151)"The electric light is pure information. It is a medium without a message." Postman argues a very similar thought when says (Postman, 1985 p.11)"In Munford's great book Technics and Civilization, he show how, beginning in the fourteenth century, the clock made us into time-keepers, and then times-savers, and now times-servers." Both philosophers argue the medium conveys a message. The difference is that McLuhan argues that the medium is the primary message Postman argues that understanding the meaning and message inherent in the medium allows us to control the message.

The example of the message just being a byproduct of the medium with the metaphor of the robber and the meat, we know that McLuhan saw the stated message secondary to the medium itself. Postman on the other hand argued that the medium was important and gave meaning to the message it was more in the sense of a metaphor and could actually aid in the understanding of the message rather then hinder the message.

Postman argued further that although it was not natural with work the medium and the message can be partners rather then a either or equation. (Postman, 1985 p.14)"And yet, such digging becomes easier if we start from the assumption that in every tool we create, an idea is embedded that goes beyond the function of the thing itself."
The view of the medium that Postman offers us is by far and away the most hopeful that I have found thus far. If we can by understanding the medium clearly communicate our message then we have a clear roadmap in determining our own life and decisions. A message of personal control through knowledge and work is far more personally fulfilling then trying to realize that we have little or no impact on a situation.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jessica johnson
A while back I was exiting an airplane after an international flight on a 747, and as I walked down the aisle I took a long look at about 300 small televisions embedded into the seatbacks of every single seat. This, I thought, was a graphic metaphor of the all-pervasive power and presence of media in our lives. Neil Postman's classic work is one of my all time favorite books, and now it nears its twentieth anniversary. Its cover shows a family of four seated on a sofa and watching television. When you look closely, you see that the artist has depicted them with no heads.

Postman's book is about far more than television, but consider these insidious statistics (compiled by TV-Free America):

* Number of TV sets in the average U.S. household: 2.24

* Percentage of U.S. homes with three or more TV sets: 66

* Number of hours per day that TV is on in an average U.S. home: 6 hours, 47 minutes

* Number of minutes per week that parents spend in meaningful conversation with their children: 3.5

* Number of minutes per week that the average child watches television: 1,680

* Hours per year the average American youth spends in school: 900 hours

* Hours per year the average American youth watches television: 1500

* Number of murders seen on TV by the time an average child finishes elementary school: 8,000

* Number of violent acts seen on TV by age 18: 200,000

* Number of 30-second TV commercials seen in a year by an average child: 20,000

* Number of TV commercials seen by the average person by age 65: 2 million

The contemporaries George Orwell (1903-1950) and Aldous Huxley (1899-1963) both warned of the death of culture, but in very different ways. In his book 1984 (1949) Orwell warned of external oppressors, whereas in Brave New World (1932) Huxley warned that we would not only choose but love our own poison. Orwell warned about totalitarians who would ban books; Huxley warned about the day no one could care to read a book. Orwell feared those who would inflict pain and torture, Huxley those who would enslave us with pleasure and distractions. "In short," writes Postman, "Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us. This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right" (p. viii).
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
kelsy
Wow. All I can say is, read this. If what he says about television is was true in 1984 how much so in 2017 with the advent of cable, a 24-hour news cycle, and the internet? I felt like a historian whose discovered the catalyst for a failed culture. The rancor of our politics, the filth and dribble on Facebook, Twitter, Snap, etc, #alternativefacts, can all be traced to a culture that's amused itself to death. We've lost our patience for patience. I'll step down from the soapbox, but do yourself a favor and read this book!
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
john lisle
Amused to Death1984 (Signet Classics)Brave New World

I was introduced to this book via Roger Waters' excellent 1992 album Amused to Death, which was inspired by Neil Postman's work here. Postman is not arguing that television itself is bad, rather he's considering the fact that not everything is fit for television, namely -- news, politics, education, and religion. He introduces the concept that, unlike George Orwell's 1984 (Signet Classics) where "big brother" is telling us what we can do, a more likely scenario that may play out in our culture is that of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World where television has become our Soma. It is a very interesting read, and considering it was written approximately 25 years ago, many of the common things found on television today (reality TV, talking heads on CNN & Fox, etc.) were being discussed in their infancy stages in Postman's book. Postman takes us through the age of the founding fathers and how we went from a literary culture to an image culture. It is very eye-opening to read how news and politics took place 200 years ago compared to today. Highly recommend.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
natron 7
Neil Postman may have written this book in the mid '80's well before the Internet and social media, but he clearly had his thumb on a problem we are all now living with that has only gotten worse due to our information overload. In the western world, we where so worried about Orwell's 1984 vision of the future we failed to see that Aldous Huxley's Brave New World was much closer to the mark. When one looks at the dysfunction we are engulfed in today one can see Postman's point, Postman effectively points out that we are so overwhelmed with non contextual and unsubstantiated information that it becomes useless to us as a tool for making rational decisions about our lives and we become reactionary as a result. He says we as a society desire entertainment before truth. One may not agree with Postman but he does present a good case for his argument in this book.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
david smith
Although George Orwell's 1984 is a masterpiece and a literary classic (and quite possibly my favorite book of all time), Postman here expounds on a fact that is all-too-often overlooked: the "Brave New World" of our present modern society more closely resembles the one described in Aldous Huxley's book of the same name than in Orwell's classic. Orwell propesied that we would be beaten down by what we hate; Huxley by what we love. This is exactly what television does. And the sad thing is, most of us don't even know it. This is a book that should be required reading in our present "Age of Show Business", as Postman so succulently puts it. This book is our long-needed wake-up call. Granted, it is somewhat outdated: being published in the mid-80's, it doesn't take into account the advent of the internet (and Postman was clearly wrong about the observations he makes in the book about the potential of the computer.) Nevertheless, this is a real and biting commentary on our present brain-dead society. Aside from shortening our attention spans, zapping our leisure time, and feeding us dumbed-down information in tiny little bite-sized 30-second news segments, television is also doing another thing, something that many of do not realize: it's chainging the very way we think and live our lives. We now live in the Age of Television. It is indisputable. We not only want our education to be entertaining, we expect it - one might even say we REQUIRE it. Aside from any intellectual pretensions which this may bypass, it is degrading our minds to the detriment. Postman hits home when he states in his book that Americans are the most entertained people in the Western World, and the least well-informed. We are led to believe by television news segments (packaged as entertainment, just like the latest sitcom or drama) that we are learning something, when, in fact, we are merely being distracted. As Huxley set forth in Brave New World, the worst form of tyranny (or the best, for the despot) is where you submit to it voluntarily - and you don't even know it's happening. Such is the reality of television. He also points out the fact, which some other reviewers here have failed to notice, that merely turning off the TV does not solve the problem. It has already taken its toll; we are already in its grip. What difference does it make to the TV society as a whole if one solitary person turns their set off? It already affects the way we think and live every day - one might even say it CONTROLS it. This is a very serious proposition, which many of us would take care to notice. The argument seems irrefutable, and there also seems to be no solution. About the only way one can think of us escaping from this predicament is if everyone turns off their TV (you see? - it has gotten to the point where we can't even say the whole word, anymore), reads this book, and wakes up.
As a side note, I became aware of this book through Roger Waters album Amused To Death, which was in part inspired by this book. I believe this album to be a musical masterpiece, and reccomend it to anyone who enjoys this book.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
alex ioana
Neil Postman was a media ecologist. Las Vegas is entirely devoted to entertainment. Journalists spend more time with blow dryers than with scripts. Economics is less science than performance art.
There has been a media metaphor shift. Epistemology is concerned with the origins and nature of knowledge. Television is a philosophy of rhetoric. A metaphor of generative force has resonance, acquires universal significance. Truth is a kind of cultural prejudice. The author asserts that public discourse has changed.
The settlers of America were dedicated and skillful readers. Knowledge was made manifest through the printed page. Reading was not an elitist activity. The Lyceum Movement had as its purpose the diffusion of knowledge.
Oratory was based on the printed word. People of television culture need plain language. The listeners at the Lincoln and Douglas debates were grandchildren of the Enlightenment. Lincoln and Douglas wrote all their speeches and planned their rebuttals in writing in advance. Their listeners were able to process the information.
Reading encourages rationality. The printed word in the past had a monopoly on intelligence and intellect. Reading had a sacred element in it because there was little leisure.
The telegraph destroyed the prevailing definition of information. The photograph was the perfect complement to the telegraph, a flood of headlines. Unfortunately the sense of context was largely illusory.
Currently our use of other media is largely orchestrated by television. Television is now the background radiation of the social and intellectual universe. Every technology has an agenda of its own. American television is dedicated to supplying its audience with entertainment. A television news show is a stylized dramatic performance.
Television is the paradigm for our conception of public information. In the age of television the paragraph has become the unit of news. It is now inevitable that Americans accomodate themselves to the philosophy of the television commercial. Television is a speed of light medium, a present-centered medium.
Sesame Street undermines the traditional idea of school. Sesame Street does not encourage children to love school, it encourages them to love television. John Dewey said the least important thing about learning is the content of the lesson. Television is the third great crisis in education, following the invention of the alphabet and the printing press.
Television has the attention and the cognitive habits of the youth. It requires no prerequisites, and has no perplexity and exposition. Postman makes the case forcefully and well that a substantial and significant change in the relationship of media to education is at hand.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
zack kahn
What an amazingly insightful book detailing TV related intellectual decay of the Western society in general and American society in particular.

Ever wondered why more and more bookstores are closing down (Borders, Acres of Books, Book Baron et al.)? Ever wondered why existing bookstores are starting to look more like toy stores and cheap teenage hangout joints? Ever wondered why American vernacular is increasingly composed of trite phrases, malapropisms, rehashed banalities and tongue and cheek remarks one would usually associate with uncouth and rough upbringing? Look no further than that giant, black colored thing affixed onto your wall. This monster provides most peoples' daily mental stimulus fix. What a bad state of affairs it is that even the most serious and thought provoking subjects such as religion and politics, which invite deep erudition and serious scholarship have been turned into a vaudeville by TV.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
mehdi zeinali
Postman's book is an interesting and quick read examining the relationships between the primary means of communication in a society and epistemology. He traces the history of American media and American epistemology along with it to show the ways in which television, The Age of Show Business, and commercial culture have deteriorated America's capacity for public discourse. It's an intriguing thesis, handled exquisitely by Postman. Admittedly I believe that he does occasionally jump to some extreme conclusions in this book, and his insights are slightly dated (I can only imagine that his social prognosis would be even more terrifying today). However, the easy style and interesting ideas carry the reader through this book quickly and easilly, instilling ideas which will stick for long after the book is done.
Another reviewer commented that perhaps Postman neglects the idea that we can turn our television's off, or assumes that books are better than TV because they are on paper. I think that this reviewer is missing the point of the book in its epistemological investigation of the subject. You can't just turn off the TV because you've grown up with the TV, you've been programmed by the programs to think along with the TV. Because television is at the forefront of our culture, there are certain mental skills which are fostered and others which are ignored which effects the way that we think, that's what epistemology is. It's not as easy as just turning it off or watching it less because it's already there, it's already in you and in your head and every aspect of the culture is driven by it. What is required is an awareness, a critical questioning to wake-up our culture and not just sit passively by while the TV tells us what the truth is, and the criteria by which we should define the truth.
This book is not exhaustive in the subject matter, but like I said it's an easy read, packed with important ideas, and a perfect jumping off point for further media studies. I would recommend this to anyone interested in engaging their media.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
holly bee
I've read this book several times, first as an undergraduate journalism student, later as a graduate student in journalism and sociology and now as a refresher. I never cease to be amazed at how prophetic this book was and how clearly and accurately it describes the state of modern society in developed countries. Combine this with Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World and you have a complete picture of how the misuse of the newest technologies has caused society to lose critical thinking skills and basic human rights around the world. It's not the technology that's bad -- it's the way we're using it and the way that it's being used against us. Something to think about as technologies become more invasive and also make us use our brains and cognitive skills less and less.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
becca pettus
Postman's book sets out to educate North America about how television is affecting its culture. Sadly, North America hasn't gotten the message because the message is in a book. That's the basic crux of the book.

There are no pulled punches or hidden agendas in Postman's book. The problem is obvious, North Americans used to read books for hours on end. They were able to listen to hour long speeches. They were able to make clear rhetorical arguments. Now, after the advent of television, we have become a nation that needs "No Child Left Behind" and countless other educational programs that do little to produce the academics that we want to produce.

Postman's book was written in 1985. This just at the advent of the internet. I think that this timing is important. I think the advent of the internet may have changed some of the qualities of what the book has to say - but the basic value of the book is still there.

What you will still find VERY relevant is Postman's discussions on how media has changed the educational and cultural landscape of North America. You will also find it very easy to read. I was able to get through it in only a couple of days at about an hour per day...and that's coming from someone infected by the television bug.

As a Christian and a seminarian, I found this book a useful tool to understand the culture that I was living in. I'm not sure if Postman is a Christian or not, but if he isn't - he plays one well on TV. He brings up how Jesus' message interacts with people throughout the ages and how the medium of Jesus' message affects the metaphors in which we understand it. In short, Jesus knows communication theory (most likely because He created it).

I do hope you'll pick up Postman's book. If for no other reason, it will be worth it for the pat on the back that you'll feel Postman giving you for being that rare North American creature, the book reader. Enjoy!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
katie brennan
"In watching American television, one is reminded of George Bernard Shaw's remark on his first seeing the glittering neon signs of Broadway and 42nd Street at night. It must be beautiful, he said, if you cannot read." John Ackermann

Neil Postman in his book,'Amusing Ourselves To Death', looks at the impact of television culture on the way we live our lives, understand our present and future and how we gather our information. We need to understand the effects of living in a television society. As he says "We are in danger of creating a trivial culture that will spawn a race of people who adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think." Once we are a television society, we have lost control. We can attempt to control television's influence when we understand the dangers. Neil Postman suggests that Americans ask 'what we are laughing about and why we have stopped thinking.' We have all heard the phrase, The Dumbing of America.

Roger Waters, of 'Pink Floyd' read Postman's book, and he was so taken with the message that one of the best CD's of this era was written. The song 'Amused To Death" tells us the story.

The little ones sit by their TV screens
No thoughts to think
No tears to cry
All sucked dry
Down to the very last breath
Bartender what is wrong with me
Why I am so out of breath
The captain said excuse me ma'am
This species has amused itself to death
Amused itself to death
Amused itself to death"

Ackerman tells us that "Television has altered the meaning of "being informed' by giving us disinformation. Disinformation means misleading information;misplaced, irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information. Information that creates the illusion of knowing something but which in fact leads us away from knowing. The television industry did not deliberately set out to misinform us, but when news is packaged as entertainment, that is the result."

Over the past fifty years since the advent of television, we have allowed conversation and communication to become trivial, and to lead into entertainment. TV is a medium of entertainment. TV is a series of programmed images and pictures. Unlike a book we do not have to concentrate to obtain the meaning of a picture. This is the mechanism by which TV can make any subject meaningless and trivial. It is possible to "amuse one's self to death", considering that the first thing to go will be our vision of reality and to comment intelligently. And this is why Roger Waters CD "Amused to Death" had the power to unleash our subconscious. We are living the album. We are all slowly amusing ourselves to death. We are entertaining ourselves into a stupor. The best things on television is junk, and no one is threatened by it. We do not measure a culture by its output of junk, but by what we claim as significant.

I would think that several minutes of murder and violence would be enough for many sleepless nights. We watch the news because we know that the 'news' is not to be taken seriously, that it is all in fun, so to speak. Everything about a news show tells us this; the good looking newscasters, their pleasant banter, the music that opens and closes the show, the film footage, the humorous commercials. These suggest that what we have just seen is no cause for crying. A news show, is a format for entertainment, not for education or reflection. No one goes to a movie to find out about government policy or the latest scientific advances. No one buys a record to find out the baseball scores or the weather or the latest murder. But everyone goes to television for all these things, which is why television plays so powerfully throughout our land. Television is our culture's principal mode of knowing about itself. Neil Postman says, "For the message of television as metaphor is not only that all the world is a stage, but that the stage is located in Las Vegas, Nevada."

We know that no matter how grave news may appear, we soon shall see commercials that will devalue the importance of the news. This is a key element of news and that allows us to believe that television news is not designed as a serious form of public communication. Our teenagers in particular are taught to believe that television is entertainment, so that the nightly newscast should not be taken as a serious responsibility.

This past political season is a prime example of the myriad of issues that have not been examined, but the entertainment value of the candidates has been examined ad nauseam. One reason why the political contest starts as soon as the President is sworn into office. What have we become, why are we laughing, the Dumbing of America is here.

Highly, Highly Recommended. prisrob 06-14-08
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
tracey
Postman's _Amusing Ourselves to Death_ was published in 1985. A lot has changed in fifteen years. Satellite dishes have rapidly expanded the choices of consumers who have grown up with the television as the centerpiece of family life. The internet has created a new virtual culture, redefining our understanding of "community."
What has not changed is the continuing effect that the medium of television has had on public discourse. One need only reflect on the media spectacle of the Bush-Gore election, the OJ Simpson circus, or the Columbine tragedy to see that Postman's thesis remains essentially intact. Television has transformed the way we speak about politics, religion, and education, and not for the better. Entertainment is the new epistemology of the West, where the drive to delight and amuse displaces concern for critical reflection and substantive speech. It would be interesting were Postman to update this book with reflections on how the internet would alter or confirm his Huxleyian fears.
The book is very well written, a delight to read for anyone interested in exploring the tragic loss of substance in public communication. Postman is serious and concerned, but his manner does not lose sight of the humor of life. Just a sampling from the book, my favorite quote:
"Not long ago, I saw Billy Graham join with Shecky Green, Red Buttons, Dionne Warwick, Milton Berle and other theologians in a tribute to George Burns, who was celebrating himself for surviving eighty years in show business. The Reverend Graham exchanged one-liners with Burns about making preparations for Eternity. Although the Bible makes no mention of it, the Reverend Graham assured the audience that God loves those who make people laugh. It was an honest mistake. He merely mistook NBC for God." (5)
Pick up this book, and after it be sure to read _Technopoly_, a fine sequel that expands Postman's critique of our technocratic culture.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
david ira
Postman's book is a must read for anyone seriously considering the impact of television on our ability to think critically about our world. The essence of his argument is that we have migrated from a verbal/typographical mode of thinking to an image-based/show business mode of thinking, due largely to pervasivness of television in our lives.

If there were ever a context for reflecting on Postman's argument, it is certainly most glaring in the light of the just-ended presidential election. Thoughtful debate was entirely usuruped by sound bites and image-making.

The most chilling point Postman makes in this text is that Orwell's 1984 described a world in which books would be banned. Huxley's Brave New World described a world in which books were irrelevant, and that is the world in which we find oursleves at the turn of the 21st century! Because of the influcence of television, we no longer have the patience for linerar, logical and rational discourse.

My only reservation regardintg this text is that Postman should, perhaps, have given more attention to describing the underlying ephistomological assumptions about how humans perceive reality. He does not fully address the question of the extent to which we are "hard wired", or predisposed by our nature, to certain modes of thought and communication. Are we infinitely maleable by the media in which our communication occur, and if not, to what extent does our nature prescirbe limits to which changes in the mode of communication affect changes in our mode of thinking?
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
birdie s mom
Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
Neil Postman
This was a book about how subtle and overtly the way we communicate and correspond have been altered. That we are quickly dumb down ourselves. That when there were debates during the times of the civil war people left their jobs after 12 hours of work to go to a hall and listen to the Lincoln-Douglas debates. They went on for hours with a break for dinner and than all reassembled to continue. No one today would do this nor would many understand the discussion. TV has changed the speed of conversations. It was truly an eye opening book. It was a refreshing quick read that was informative, and an education. I would recommend this to others as it was recommended to me. I use the Lincoln-Douglas debates to educate others about this change in our society and culture.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
natashia
This is a life changing book. If you are willing to follow Postman agreements of how intellectuals knowledge is been destroyed by constant influence of technology. Postman's views are even more valid with todays 24 hr news cycle. The book can be a somewhat repetitive at times. But a good read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
mary alfiero
In the book Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985), Neil Postman gives a critique on the impact that media has on society, arguing that modern technological mediums, particularly television, have the potential to negatively affect the culture and content of public discourse in America.
Amusing Ourselves to Death was published 30 years ago, which could make one assume that the arguments made have rendered themselves futile as modern technology has made so many advancements. Yet, I was drawn to this book for that exact reason—could it be possible that the arguments Postman made 30 years ago still hold true? Instead of television, could social media and the Internet be considered the enemy that is damaging our culture and public discourse?
Postman uses the literary visions from the book Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1931) as a comparison to what television had been turning our world into by the late 20th century, an age when “people [had] come to love their oppression [and] to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think” (Postman, 1985, p. xix). He goes on to claim that all of America’s public discourse has become a source of entertainment, from politics and news, to religion and commerce. He credits this change in discourse to the new technological medium that had been introduced: television. While he notes that a technology cannot change one’s brain structure or cognitive abilities, he does believe it can influence how one uses their brain, by dictating the content we receive. Essentially, this means media has the power to influence how we see ‘truth’, as the media becomes our main source of communication, meaning the main source of all that we know. The problem here lies in that television presents all of the content they communicate to us as entertainment. Postman’s concern is that if society is only being presented entertainment as their defining ‘truth’, how will that affect the way they live off screen?
When entertainment dominates, with it’s quick and stimulating content and imagery preferred, the substance in content presented inevitably subsides. With this new, rapid-fire way to receive information, there is no longer time to consider the information we receive, or act upon what we hear; rather we only have the attention span to develop quick opinions before moving on to the next one. The television is leading society to become mindless, Postman argues. As we become distracted with quick, trivial bits of information, serious public discourse vanishes and the nation’s state of culture is at risk. When books and the printing press ran America until the nineteenth century, this was not a worry, since the public’s discourse was being influenced by powerful, thoughtful and high quality written word. Public discourse is constrained by the medium that is serving it, and since the television needs to serve information in quick and stimulating manners, we do not receive information that we can do more with than simply ‘chat’ about. The quality of information has been degraded in relevancy. It has left us “knowing of lots of things, not knowing about them” (Postman, 1985, p. 70). Since mediums dictate our discourse, they dictate our culture, as we only speak to one another about the information we receive from it. He warns that we are living true to Huxley’s vision from a Brave New World, stating “in the age of advanced technology, spiritual devastation is more likely to come from an enemy with a smiling face than from one whose countenance exudes suspicion and hate… Big Brother does not watch us, by his choice. We watch him, by ours” (Postman, 1985, p.155). The problem does not lie in the fact that we use technology; it lies in how we use it.
Amusing Ourselves to Death is often considered a “twenty-first century book written in the twentieth century,” a critique that I believe holds true. Although it has been 30 years since the book was published, Postman’s warnings about the fate that television may lead us to can hold true to society’s present day obsession with social media. Social media can be considered the dominating technological medium that we use today.

Many people claim that society has become obsessed and controlled by social media, failing to ever part from their phone or resist the urge to check their Facebook multiple times a day. While social media, just as television, cannot be considered as something that has changed our brain structure or cognitive abilities, it can be credited to influencing how we use our brains. Social media is a constant presentation of public discourse, allowing people to come together and share opinions, present news, and discuss a wide variety of topics. The public discourse is constrained by the medium, however. For example, news shared on twitter is limited to 140-characters and information posted on Facebook may be overlooked if it is not presented in a catchy, entertaining way. Furthermore, thanks to advanced technologies of social media sites like Facebook, we may only be getting exposure to the news stories Facebook ‘thinks’ we want to see and hear. If social media continues to be a leading source of news and information for people, we are being limited in what we can use to define our ‘truth’. We are exposed to a magnitude of information, but the information is often presented in trivial tidbits. With the high amount of quick information that we are exposed to,do we even have enough time to be called to action by it, or develop more than quick opinions on the topic? Are we missing out on the chance to have real, serious, public discourse due to the prevalence of the entertaining topics that may dominate our social media news feeds? Social media is certainly giving us a lot to talk about with others, but is the content we are discussing truly substantial or important? While social media isn’t easily seen as an enemy, as people are happy to engage on the sites, it may be causing cultural devastation without us even knowing it. Social media has numerous benefits and helps people to engage in discourse in ways we never have before, but if we do not use it correctly, can we value the discourse it produces at all?
Thirty years ago, Postman would never have been able to fathom an age where the leading technological medium allowed people to engage in discourse in a matter of moments from all over the world. However, his well-developed critique of television, the leading medium during his time, shows to still be relevant and hold some truth today. Electronic media has been, and will continue to shape our culture and public discourse, but it is difficult to not fear what the implications of our addiction can lead to for society at the end of the day.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
hamide
I agree with some other reviewers that Postman repeats himself occasionally, some of his information is dated and that some of his conclusions are obvious.
That said, I think the book is very interesting, in particular, by showing the historical progression from typography to television in America.
One of Postman's constant themes is to contrast Aldous Huxley's, "Brave New World," (1936) and George Orwell's, "1984," (1948). Orwell's novel is probably the more famous of the two; Government suppression of people, big Brother, the Party, banned books and the like are the reigning ideas. However, in Huxley's novel, people are uninterested in truth, pacified by pleasure and do not want to read. Postman rightly says Orwell's vision is restricted to countries such as China, North Korea, and the former Soviet Union. The danger for Western democracies is Huxley's world.
If you have not read these two novels, I would encourage you to read them. Cultural references to, "1984," abound and, "Brave New World," although not as well known is equally important.
Postman starts by discussing what media does to us in our understanding of truth, ideas and the like (i.e. epistemology). The philosophical impact of television vs. print is one of the most important points in the book. It serves as a specific example to illustrate the principle that the medium (or technology) is NOT neutral; certain types of media encourage certain habits of the mind.
The historical discussion covers the late 17th century to the mid 19th century. In this period, print was the only medium (besides oral communication) to be used in America. The result was that authors were famous, politicians were known by their WRITING, there were unprecedented levels of literacy and education was wide spread and popular.
Postman gives one particularly interesting example from a series of debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas in 1858. Their opening statements were three hours, and there were lengthy involved rebuttals. That the public could listen to and understand hours of complex political argumentation tell us much about the audience of that time.
Some of Postman's conclusions on the implications print culture:
- rationality encouraged
- characterized by a coherent, orderly arrangement of facts and ideas
- advertising appealed to understanding, not emotions
All this is contrasted with the development of the telegraphy and the photography in the late 19th century. It was now possible to have advertisements that had no propositional content and decontexualize information and transport small pieces of information very rapidly.
The philosophical implications of this are great. With the spreading of much irrelevant information, impotent information and information that is incoherent, the ability to develop a worldview is damaged (worldview: a comprehensive way of understanding all of reality).
The second section of the book examines the implications of television for religion, politics and education. It is interesting but again, somewhat dated. One of the best points he makes over and over again is that television is very good at entertainment however, it cannot be made to be a vehicle for serious discourse. Television, as a medium, with frequent commercial breaks, a focus on style over substance etc cannot be used to properly discuss important issues.
It is unfortunate that Postman could not update the book to include e-mail, the Internet and the other new media that have been developed since the mid 1980's.
I enjoyed reading the history sections and the parts of other chapters that discussed the philosophical consequences of using different media (primarily print vs. electronic) most in the book.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
aden bliss
Borrowing from Marshall McLuhan, Communication Arts professor Neil Postman adopts the thesis that the `medium is the metaphor' by arguing that "each medium, like language itself, makes possible a unique mode of discourse by providing a new orientation for thought, expression, and sensibility" (10). McLuhan argued that the medium is the message; Postman carries it one step further by demonstrating that the `medium is the metaphor." He illustrates this by showing how the Cherokee Indians would communicate to multiple peoples separated by distance via smoke signals. While not knowing the nature of the discourse, Postman draws the inference that it probably did not contain philosophical argumentation because you cannot use smoke to do philosophy. The metaphor's form excludes the content (7). Postman illustrates this in the negative using the second commandment: Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, any likeness of any thing in heaven above, in the earth beneath, or that is in the water beneath the earth. Wondering why God would make such a decree, Postman infers, "it is a strange injunction [second commandment] to include in part of one's ethical system unless its author assume a connection between forms of human communication and the quality of a culture" (9, emphasis his).
This book is more relavant today than when it was first written. I live in a dorm and see people wasting their brains on video games (which I deem more dangerous than television). By the way, and I do not know how many reviewers caught this, Postman is not categorically bashing television. He notes how this has been a blessing in the lives of the elderly and the infirm. I thought this was a master stroke of sympathy and I commend him for it.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
sara latta
I highly recommend reading this book with the book The Image by Daniel Boorstin. Both are great books and are complementary but when read together they become far more than the sum of their parts. What's amazing about this book is that not only is it not dated despite being written decades ago, but thanks to technological advances in entertainment and instruments of mass distraction, it's actually even more relevant now than it was when first written. Reading this book really makes me regret that Postman isn't alive today, because given how he felt about television, I'd love to see how he feels about things like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Highly recommended.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
lisa albrecht
I remember when I was raising a hyperactive boy I chose getting cable over giving him pharmaceuticals because the sports channel was one of the few things that clamed him down (luckily he is not a TV baby, he actually reads now), while I was going to college. Unfortunately, I became caught up watching the Lifetime channel (I am an equalitarian and not a male basher). The only thing I learned from that insipid string of programs was the term "I don't want to talk about it". Now my son and I make fun of it because that saying appears to be an American icon, or at least one of the many brainwashings venomous techniques to keep people hooked on what's easy and lazy through television media.

The author of this book illustrates very well how television reduces us to mere idiots by exposing us to television shows that won't tax our brains or stimulate our minds by giving us pure trash escapism. Even the news programs have become that way, not only do we get half truths, but we get distorted versions of what large corporations that are funding these networks want us to think. For instance, before the holiday's one network said it was okay to be fat, after the holidays it's not okay to be fat. One day your cell phone causes cancer, the next the purple pill will kill you. What next? The networks exploit everyone, and most people either don't care or are in denial.

This book is about the rising American intellectual slow suicide by us allowing networks to provide cheap inaccurate entertainment. People don't read because they are too busy running home to watch the Sopranos or Six Feet Under. They are swallowed by all the commercial political propaganda, and then there are those commercials about direct TV. better, cable company packages, and prices, all to better aid to your slow intellectual suicide. This book is a must read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
kathleen vella
As pointed out by numerous other reviewers, Postman has pointed out a central problem in U.S. society (as well as in many other "developed" nations). As the book is a good few years old at this point, we can look at the predictions and see how many have come true. A disturbing number of the predictions have. Something that has occurred even beyond Postman's predictions, however, is the extent to which actors and singers and athletes shape the "average citizen's" opinions. Why does anyone care what a particular singer or actor thinks about an issue, as opposed to anyone else? That anyone allows their opinions to be shaped in this manner, and to spend hours reading magazines about celebrity lives and relationships, is as troubling to me as any television program. That all being said, the solution may not be to turn off the television. Television is here, it isn't going anywhere, and there are a few nuggets of value there. The key, as has been repeated by countless others, is to be selective in what is being watched, and to be particularly careful in helping to shape our children's viewing choices. I make sure I am aware of what my son is watching and THEN I DISCUSS THE PROGRAM with him. Did we get anything out of the show, or was it just entertainment? There is intelligent media out there. Television is not evil in and of itself, and you can find mindless media in any form. I would be happier with my son watching an episode of "House, M.D." or "Meet the Press" than his reading many of the books on the best sellers list. Mindless is mindless, whatever the medium. Postman himself points out that some occasional entertainment is not the issue, only when this becomes our main way of receiving information. One can watch SOME tv and also be a serious reader. One can develop the patience and analytical abilities necessary to truly analyze complicated issues. We all have a duty to find books and programs (be they television, radio or video or whatever) and to ignore or severely limit the fluff.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
marlene
In one word. Damned good. This is what I called a prophetic writing.

This book is a lamentation of a dying culture, the typographic culture, now being replace by audiovisual culture. The decline has been shown in many books, but never been stated as beautiful and engaging as Postman.

Postman himself, is not the vanguard, he is merely following the footsteps of the prophet before him, Marshall McLuhan. McLuhan has seen that this new culture technology had bring its own nature. The new technology is not just a new medium to carry the old message. It is creating it's own message.

The audiovisual culture, the TV culture, makes any information becomes brief, disconnected and wrapped it into an entertainment. People start to loose the big picture and the deep analysis. We are always cut by the anchor, because we are nearing the end of the show, or we have to give a break for the advertisement. Postman hits the bulls-eye when he stated that in the good old days, the USA president candidates were given hours to give the address in a debate, not a merely 10 minute. And the debate can be as long as SIX hours, and even more! And people listened! A boy working in tool-shop can be found with a copy of Thomas Paine. To compare it with a contemporary setting, it would be like seeing a waiter with a copy of John Rawls or Amartya Sen. People has simply stop reading and just watching TV.

Postman sees this as a mark for the decline of our civilization. People are becoming obsessed by the trivial information offered by TV, who won the American Idols, for example. TV has indeed revolutionized our civilization. We have passed agricultural age, industrial age, information age, we are now in ENTERTAINMENT AGE. Everything is about entertainment: religion, politics, educations, everything. If it's not entertaining, it is not good.

I would say this book is a must-read for all of us. And now, we are all immersed into the Internet era, with facebook and twitter. Ask an average teenager about what do they know, and they know only about thing that they know from facebook or twitter. We are becoming more and more ignorant. It is sad to know that, because Internet has the capability of becoming a world wide knowledge distributor, but instead it has become a junk information distributor.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
serge
The cover art of headless viewers watching television says it all. My only brush with the late Neil Postman came when he spoke at the university I was attending in the northwest. A breezy east coaster, he was unaware of the need to step on eggs. During the questions, one woman said, "Mr. Postman, how can we help children have self-esteem?" to which he replied, "I don't want them to have self-esteem; I want them to esteem something other than themselves."

After the stunned silence I and a few others rose and started clapping; it was very much as if life had been returned to Pepperland in Yellow Submarine. I've been clapping inwardly ever since, as when I read this book.

There are hundreds of reviews of this book, which created a stir everywhere. Everyone (except the people running TV) seems to have read it. Most readers find it smooth going. However, those who don't want to tackle the book can still wrestle with the ideas. In Postman's essay collection, Conscientious Objections, he replies to the question "Why are books so long?" with the answer that they don't have to be, and as an example gives a short version of this book.

The basic thesis is that along with George Orwell's 1984 in which civilization lapses into a dystopia (opposite of a utopia) ruled by oppression and violence, there was the opposite vision in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World that society would be destroyed by indulgence in pleasure. Postman says that while you can make a good case for the first view, the second is in full swing. Now if only the desperate networks would read this book and (re)turn to making good TV.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
sherry tucker
Although an older book, I've read and re-read Postman's book. Postman noted, "What is peculiar about. . . media is that their role in directing what we will see or know is so rarely noticed. . . . a major new medium changes the structure of discourse; it does so by encouraging certain uses of the intellect" (pp. 11, 27). Postman poses very interesting questions about the impact of media on the way we think, reason, and expectations we have for discourse in public life.

Read this also: Huxley, A. (1998). Brave new world. New York: Perennial Classics.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
tamara anne
I had to read this for a school project, personally I didn't like it, but if you are into essays and lots of new vocabulary words then I think you should check it out. Its all about how much we rely on media, and how corrupt it is
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
tasia johnson
The medium does not just alter the message but transforms the way we think. The alphabet rendered oral tradition obsolete and the printing press brought literacy to the masses. With the rise of the "Idiot Box" Postman sees the end of linear thinking. Politics, religion, and education are either entertainment or irrelevant. In 1985 Postman wrote this book with the thesis that Huxley was right and Orwell wrong.

Postman seems clearly annoyed with the fact that an actor was the POTUS and felt warnings should be played before political advertisements. Today we have candidates solemnly endorsing the message but it's clear the process has only accelerated since 1985. The wolves are circling and it's rational thinking which is the victims.

However, Postman didn't see the rise of the Internet. Most information is conveyed by the written word and if you avoid the "MSN: How you can tell if you Love your job" quizzes there is a wealth of "information." Postman realizes something is lost in the electronic transmission of information but he doesn't know quite what.

So what alternative does Postman offer to counter the harmful effects of mindless entertainment? He seems puzzled and doesn't think banning TV is realistic. Neither do I and I realize my love of prank phone calls fits right into his thesis. He feels TV is at its most dangerous when it pretends to educate and inform when major studies have found that people remember little from the nightly news. He thinks TV should be made as mind-numbingly stupid as possible and stop pretending images of wolves and babies can inform us about what's going on in the world. Leave television to entertainment.

I'd be curious to see if he still thinks the computer is a "toy" and what he thinks of the never ending streams of information from the Internet.

Otherwise I enjoyed reading this book and had fun writing about it on here. Everyone wants their voice heard. The Internet is replacing TV as the medium and that will change the way we think too.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
tom sutter
This book is important for anyone who is concerned about the proliferation of television in our society. Actually, it should be read by everyone, if only to make people think about what television means to our society. He compares American TV to Huxley's Brave New World, and it's been a while since I read that (may have to go pick it up again), but I get it. His point is that we don't have anything to fear from an Orwellian "everything is monitored and prohibited", but that we are overwhelmed by meaninglessness through TV and therefore cannot have a meaningful discussion about anything. Everything is conscripted to sound bites and visual stimulation. Everything is trivialized. And it's true -- when I was reading this, I found it difficult to concentrate and would take breaks, check the internet, etc. We just don't have that attention span, and I agree with him that it's in large part because of television.

This book was written in 1985, and I found myself wondering what he would have made of the internet -- like television, we're able to click something off if it's not instantly entertaining. I also wonder what he would say about the 100 channels we can now watch, instead of the three he was speaking of when he wrote this. Things are even worse now.

In short: it's a great book.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
randeep
Neil Postman posits that the medium of communication has value inherent and intrinsic in itself. Postman argues that the medium conveys shades of meaning that are not spelled out in any intentional communication. Sometimes the medium can convey meaning wholly independent of the message itself. The concept that the medium has value and meaning that is both dependant and independent of the communication conveyed is supremely logical.

After exploring the power of a metaphor Postman explains why the medium is like a metaphor. (Postman, 1985 p.13)"...the introduction into a culture of a technique such as writing or a clock is not merely an extension of man's power to bind time but a transformation of his way of thinking - and, of course, of the content of his culture". The technique, or the medium, transforms the very mindset or pattern of thinking by itself without any other variables like message added.

There have been other communications theorists who have put forward the concept that the medium had a value independent of the message. Most notable in my mind of these theorists is Marshall McLuhan. McLuhan took the value of the medium to heights that Postman does not attempt. McLuhan proposed and argued that the medium was in itself the message. McLuhan argued that inherent meaning of the medium was so great and overbearing that the message that was conveyed was by nature the result of the medium rather then any intent on the part of the communicator.

Postman position is in great contrast to McLuhan regardless of its similarities. Similar between the two theorists is recognition that the medium has value and meaning independent of the message itself. Also similar is the concept that medium changes the culture and the individual mindset. (McLuhan 1964, p.151)"The electric light is pure information. It is a medium without a message." Postman argues a very similar thought when says (Postman, 1985 p.11)"In Munford's great book Technics and Civilization, he show how, beginning in the fourteenth century, the clock made us into time-keepers, and then times-savers, and now times-servers." Both philosophers argue the medium conveys a message. The difference is that McLuhan argues that the medium is the primary message Postman argues that understanding the meaning and message inherent in the medium allows us to control the message.

The example of the message just being a byproduct of the medium with the metaphor of the robber and the meat, we know that McLuhan saw the stated message secondary to the medium itself. Postman on the other hand argued that the medium was important and gave meaning to the message it was more in the sense of a metaphor and could actually aid in the understanding of the message rather then hinder the message.

Postman argued further that although it was not natural with work the medium and the message can be partners rather then a either or equation. (Postman, 1985 p.14)"And yet, such digging becomes easier if we start from the assumption that in every tool we create, an idea is embedded that goes beyond the function of the thing itself."
The view of the medium that Postman offers us is by far and away the most hopeful that I have found thus far. If we can by understanding the medium clearly communicate our message then we have a clear roadmap in determining our own life and decisions. A message of personal control through knowledge and work is far more personally fulfilling then trying to realize that we have little or no impact on a situation.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
robert maddox
They say, "you are what you eat." Neil Postman takes this to it's next logical step. "You are what you experience."

Mr. Postman focuses on two inventions, the telegraph, and the photograph. One allowed news from across the globe to fill our brains with so much junk information, that trivia games had to be invented to make use of it. The other allowed the world to be presented in a disjoint way, such that an image of a tree you walk by everyday, can be taken in such a way that, while you're assured it's real, you do not recognize it.

Television, according to Mr. Postman, is the child of these two inventions.

By taking us back in time 150 years, this book looks at famous speeches to examine the capability of the minds of both the speakers, and the listeners. Once these speeches are analyzed, the author barely has to give examples of present-day speech to make his point. It is obvious to anyone who has listened to any recent presidential debate, that this level of dialogue and logic does not exist anymore.

The brain is an incredible, organic machine. But it is only programmed in one way. That is through experience. So if all it is presented with is 30-second sound bites, and paragraph, or even sentence-length logic, then that is how it will "wire" itself.

The next time you hear that students are not being taught history, you may want to consider if they are even capable of retaining it. Appropriately, Neil Postman invites serious consideration of Huxley's 'A Brave New World', with it's more willing inhabitants, as the more likely dystopian future, rather than Orwell's '1984'.

It is a rare book that encourages and gives readers the capability to step outside of our own minds to examine the forces that "wired" it, and continue to do so. I will move on from this book to read some McLuhan, and Mander's Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television. My hope is that I can help teach my children to avoid, or at the very least recognize, the trap that may be inherent in this technology.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
lemonpoop
In Amusing Ourselves to Death, social critic Neil Postman takes aim at the role that TV plays in degrading the quality of public discourse in the United States.

Postman's central argument in AOTD is that US citizens are allowing the government to take away their rights because the citizens are not sufficiently well informed to oppose the government. Postman maintains, therefore, that it is Aldous Huxley's Brave New World that represents the nightmare in which we live; Postman says that, in Huxley's world, "...there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one" (p. vii). As Postman sees it, it is TV (and the useless ocean of trivia that TV broadcasts) that has created a passive, uninformed American populace.

There are many things to like about AOTD. The book is ambitious, in that its 163 pages contain both a media history of the U.S. and a discussion of the media's effect on the United States' intellectual climate. Another aspect that I enjoyed (as a college professor) was Postman's discussion of how educators increasingly face pressure to entertain in the classroom; I think that any teacher can relate to this material.

Postman has a great, involved discussion on the nature of television that will make readers think; TV is "...a way of understanding the world that is not problematic, that we are not fully conscious of, that seems, in a word, natural. ... a way of thinking that is so deeply embedded in our consciousness that it is invisible. ... Twenty years ago, the question, Does television shape culture or merely reflect it? Held considerable interest for many scholars and social critics. The question has largely disappeared as television has become our culture" (p. 79).

Other aspects of AOTD are not as positive.

The writing is a mixed bag. At times, Postman shows a wonderful, dry wit. For instance, he discusses a publisher who maintained that "...a newspaper in Boston was necessary to combat the spirit of lying which then prevailed in Boston and, I am told, still does" (p. 36). There are several witty jabs in the book that often take the reader by surprise. Unfortunately, Postman can also lapse into academic "gobbledygook" that can be very tiresome.

A general criticism of AOTD would be that Postman does not do enough to acknowledge information that runs counter to his thesis that TV destroys U.S. culture. I think that Postman greatly overstates the case when he discusses how much more literate the U.S. public was in the 1700s and 1800s. After all, in the 1900s there were dramatic increases in IQ scores among U.S. citizens. (This is the so-called "Flynn Effect"). How did this happen if our minds were rotting under TV's influence?

In the end, Postman's greatest accomplishment is to write about the "big" issues facing our world; I suspect that relatively few readers will find themselves unmoved by AOTD. As to whether Postman is correct or not, each reader will have to decide for him- or herself.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
aditya gupta
Neil Postman does an excellent job explaining why he feels that television has degraded communication in our society. If the message is affected by the medium, it may well not be the same message, or only a simplistic rendering of a deeper thought.
He goes on to discuss, how society today communicates as well as how it now educates. Since TV has done so well, to grab children's attention, the educational system is modeling itself after it. Now instead of bringing ourselves to the messenger (as they did in the time of the written word). We expect the messenger and the message to come to us. Of course it has to be packaged in a fashion we will accept: Entertainment.
Children and Adults are being trained to expect entertainment out of the most mundane or tragic events.
Consider the nightly news, its sound bites and sound track. The worst events of the day are being pre-packaged to make them more palatable or interesting, so viewers won't change the channel.
Additionally, we are being deprived of information we do need to be concientious adults in our society, not by any "Big Brother" restricting this information, but by the shear glut of information that clouds what we truly need to function. If you think of advertizing, how much of it discusses the features of the product versus how much advertizing emphasizes psychological points of how great we will feel if we buy this product.
Given the date of the book, he only touches on the medium of the internet. However, when I've reviewed usability texts on internet design, they are clearly designed for the television watching audience. There is great emphasis on sound bites and organized groupings of information, clearly designed for those of us with short-TV-based attention spans.
The big question, is where does all this lead?
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
neala
Still fresh and poignant.

A couple of things sadden me about this text. Firstly, why have I not heard of this until recently? Secondly why is/was Professor Postman not more famous? In respect of the latter point he crosses numerous threads with Chompsky and whilst I am not inferring he is quite in that company, his thinking certainly warranted much more exposure that he clearly received. Whether through personal choice, fate or media's backlash I don not know. Suffice to say that the time given over to imbeciles and the freaks of society grasping for the 15 minutes on reality television is an enormous travesty.

This is an absolutely wonderful treatise on not only television, but society-at-large too and the shifting cultural paradigms that Professor Postman was no doubt entangled in 1985. As the introduction alludes to, this book is perhaps more relevant to contemporary audiences that historical ones and clearly has a lot still to add to the debate - a debate we sadly seem to have stopped having - well some of you have...

Rather than give my further opinion, I would simply like to offer you some of my favourite quotes from the text in a hope this will inspire the reader to go out and purchase a copy of this book.

"We know enough about language to understand that variations in the structures of languages will result in variations in what may be called the "world-view"" (p.10)

"The new imagery, with photography at its forefront, did not merely function as a supplement to language, but bid to replace it as our dominant means for construing, understanding and testing reality." (p.74)

"Television has acieved the status of "meta-medium" - an instrument that directs not only our knowledge of the world, but our knowledge of ways of knowing as well." (p. 78)

"A technology becomes a medium as it employs a particular symbolic code, as it finds its place in a particular social setting, as it insinuates itself into economic and political contexts. A technology in other words, is merely, a machine. A medium is the social and intellectual environment a machine creates." (p.84)

"There are two ways by which the spirit of our culture may be shriveled. In the first- the Orwellian - culture becomes a prison. In the second - the Huxleyan - culture becomes burlesque." (p.155)
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jeanine baker
Postman's classic media lament is over twenty years old, but is still relevant today. His premise is that modern media encourage us to approach every serious subject--religion, economics, political life, natural disasters, etc.--through the lens of entertainment.

The television, according to Postman, is this movement's prime instigator. It has fashioned a "Now...this!" world where consumers are increasingly unable to gauge the importance or relevance of any piece of content. News from war is juxtaposed against celebrity baby news, stock reports are intermingled with sports scores, and it's all packaged to be as appealing and entertaining as possible. Postman doesn't have any issues with the lighter material on T.V.--sitcoms or cartoons, for example--because they don't pretend to be serious subjects to begin with. The problem comes when serious subjects are cloaked in amusement.

This entertainment culture has particularly infected religion. Postman wrote the book at the peak of televangelism, so much of his ire is directed there. Televangelism was the neatural result of the entertainment culture, a world where the most-beloved religious figures aren't those who boldly speak the truth, but the ones who most amuse us.

To summarize, Postman compares the dystopias of George Orwell (1984) and Alduous Huxley (Brave New World). Most cynics worry that our world is heading toward Orwell's "big-brother" governed society. But Postman thinks it was Huxley that had it right. Where Orwell had the government burning books, Huxley had it entertaining people to the point where they didn't care to read books. Where Orwell governed people to death, Huxley entertained them to their demise.

The book's concepts can be easily extrapolated to New Media, with the same cautions amplified.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
hassona
Although this book was written in 1984, the ideas in it are still relevant to today's world, even moreso now than back then. This is one book that I wish he would update with new chapters, because a lot of the critiques he made when he wrote this have taken on new meaning in the events of just this new century alone. For instance, his main critique is how entertainment has infiltrated our culture with a focus on trivia rather than substance. No where is this more apparent than a state recalling a governor a year after he had won reelection by a significant number, and that such a governor was run out of office in favor of an ACTOR, who many hope the U.S. Constitution will be amended so he can seek even higher office! This, despite the number of conservatives who tell Hollywood actors to shut up about politics in the run up to the Iraq war. Politics used to be showbusiness for ugly people, but now its nothing more than an extension of showbusiness. Even televangelists are critiqued in Postman's book because of the lack of sacred boundaries that television does not have as compared to a place of worship.

When I read this book, I can see examples that have cropped up in the 1990s that have proven his thesis true. Cell phones is one example. Ever eavesdrop on another person's public cell phonecall? I'm shocked at the trivial minutaie that people discuss with whomever they are speaking to, as if what they are doing at that moment matters to another person. What we get in a society that always seeks amusement for fear of boredom is a constant barrage of images and distractions that don't really mean anything in the end. The way we teach our children in schools to study for the multiple guess tests instead of teaching them interconnected facts that build a story, a history, an appreciation for the interconnectedness of our planet. So, we end up with people who can pull facts out of their rears to succeed on gameshows like "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?", where one question and answer doesn't relate to the next one. No wonder why people can't see a connection between our war in Iraq and our consumption of oil.

Postman is right...a society that seeks one entertaining thrill after another cannot survive and endure history's challenges for very long. When many people in the world haven't had their basic living needs met (food, water, shelter) while we are looking for the next entertaining thrill, what does that say about us? Why has amusement become such a huge, moneymaking value to our culture? When will we learn to balance entertainment with relevant issues that require serious study and attention? Why is our thirst for entertainment so unquenchable that now we're not satisfied with Hollywood's outpouring, but we expect entertainment from our politicians as well? These are questions that inevitably came up as I read this book. I really hope that Neil Postman will write a follow-up or update this book with minor changes (substituting references like "The A Team" and "Dallas" for "CSI" and "Desperate Housewives" for instance) and new chapters (like the phenomenon of Jesse Ventura and Schwartzenegger as governors; the use of cell phones for minutaie details; and the proliferation of reality television shows). But despite that, this is worth a serious read and discussion.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
aliyah
Here I am reviewing a book that condemns a device similar to the tablet I write the review with! And commending the book as well! How true that Postman warns us to educate ourselves against making education amusing or entertaining so that we can truly be educated...
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
hakimuddin
I ran across Neil Postman's "Amusing Ourselves to Death" as part of my research on a paper about Huxley's "Brave New World." I found that Postman already used part of my thesis in this book: that American culture has adapted itself to a BNW-like society, where maximization of profits by a corporate-controlled government supercedes all else (my thesis, not necessarily his). To help this process, the corporate-controlled media provides its own version of the "feelies," news and programs with little-to-no real content and designed to do one thing: entertain and distract (Postman's thesis, and not necessarily mine).
Postman rightly addresses several issues in the media, illustrated by the Kennedy-Nixon debates: charisma and beauty win in public opinion over content and reason any time, and television is the medium by which that victory is achieved. Take the 1980s, and Reagan's election (which no doubt served as an inspiration for this book): although Reagan simply repeated catch-phrases with little reasonable thought behind them, his good-natured, "aw-shucks" approach to politics appealed to voters who ignored Reagan's logical flaws (and his scandals) and elected him twice.
Postman's book is obviously outdated, with the advent of the Internet, but his thesis has merit, especially in light of America's current "video-game" war against Afghanistan (when you lose one of your character's "lives," the evening news is replete with the tragedy - World War II reported deaths in the thousands each day, and you didn't see mothers and wives dining with the president). However, he never achieves the connection that the media - be it TV news, sitcoms, gameshows, pop music, movies, etc. - is about the ONE PRIMARY RULE of Brave New World (the society, not the book): maximizing profits for corporations and consumption among the commoners. MSNBC, CNN, Fox (Faux) News Channel, and the local news (even the newspapers) - the one thing they have in common is that they are corporate-controlled and therefore are out to make MONEY. It isn't the consumer that allows himself of herself to be duped, since that is all the consumer has ever had to deal with. Truth, in American society, is a commodity, only to be used when that is what people want to hear - and judging by the current state of the nation, not many people care to hear it.
"AOTD" is an interesting read, but the reader should use it as a springboard to explore these ideas further. It's a beginning, not an end.
Final Grade: B-
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
maria elmvang
Occasionally one stumbles across a work which perfectly summarizes an era. For example, we hail the muckracker novels, primarily "The Jungle," as a brilliant picture of the late 19th century in America; likewise, any Jonathan Edwards sermon captures the essence of Puritan New England. But Neil Postman, in "Amusing Ourselves to Death," has created not a picture, but an exposition of the state of America today. That it is an expostion, is extremely important.
Postman's thesis in this brief but articulate book consists of two tenets: (1) The form of communication, to some extent, determines (or is biased toward certain types of) content; (2) Television, as our modern-day uber-form of communication, has biases which are destructive toward the rational mind. TV teaches us to expect life to be entertaining, rather than interesting; it teaches us to expect 8-minute durations of anything and everything (anything else is beyond our attention span); it teach us to be suspicious of argument and discussion, and instead to accept facts at face value.
Furthermore - and, by far, the most important discovery Postman makes in this book - TV teaches us to live a decontextualized life. Just as a TV program has nothing to do with anything before or after it, nor the commericals inside it, we learn to view life as a series of unconnected, random events which are entertaining at best, and bear no significance toward any larger picture.
As a culture, America has lost its ability to integrate experiences into a larger whole; and Postman's explaination for part (not all) of this problem's development makes perfect sense. It certainly is true that the vast majority of Americans are perfectly happy not to develop any sort of framework or philosophy; life is simply life, and one doesn't need to consider it.
Even today's elite students, who are certainly able to integrate lessons and perform well academically, have fallen to this malady; as David Brooks pointed out in his searingly accurate article, "The Organization Kid," (Atlantic Monthly, April 2001) top-notch students no longer attempt to build any sort of moral or philosophical structure from their studies; a life lived in a context, makes no sense to the student who has grown up watching the decontextualized television screen.
It is extremely important that today's Americans take a close look at just what effects the television has had on themselves and their children; Postman's work is dead on target. We have moved, as a nation, from those who seek entertainment as a means to an end (most particularly, rest between productive work), to those who seek entertainment as an end in itself. And, as Huxley realized in Brave New World, this is the undoing of Western civilization - a prosaic fade away into an entertained oblivion. Or, as T.S. Eliot put it in "The Hollow Men," "This is the way the world ends/ not with a bang but a whimper."
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
michel
Postman does not have a problem with television when it is used for its purpose: to entertain. The trouble arises when television is the medium culture uses for its news, religion, politics, and education, turning all these activities into forms of show business. The result is that culture is trivialized and people loose their capacity to think, eerily similar to Aldous Huxley's vision in `Brave New World'.
Being a visual medium, television limits ideas that are communicated to those that are simple and change constantly. Unlike the printed word, television is unable to perform an in-depth analysis of a news story or discuss complex political theory. In addition, television impacts the expectations children have in a learning environment and the teaching options available to educators.
Although written nearly 20 years ago, the assessment of America's culture from an historical perspective as well as reasons why watching television is a wasteful habit is still very relevant. Like all of Postman's books, the writing style is clever, stimulating, easy to read, and contains quite a few fresh ideas in only 163 pages. Along with `The End of Education', this is one of Postman's best books, and one most readers should find both insightful and enjoyable.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
nadta
Postman begins by explaining that different cities have represented culture at different times. Currently, Las Vegas, Nevada is the city that most represents all the arenas of life in present-day America. Whether its politics, education, or sales, the metaphor that identifies what is valued is entertainment and Las Vegas is the entertainment center of the world. The second chapter addresses media as spistoemology, i.e., how do we know what we know about the world? It's by the images we see in the media. By the way, media indicates a mediator between us and reality. What we perceive is NOT reality, it's media's spin on reality. Everything in the media is packaged, i.e., with aesthetic considerations in mind, hence "entertainment." This book is representative of Postman's body of work. He is perceptive, insightful, and causes you to see things you wouldn't otherwise notice.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
mark richardson
7 March 2017

"Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business"
by Neil Postman (1931 - 2003)

The book was published in 1985 before the age of the Internet.

I came across it some time later but did not read it at that time noting that the cover illustration told the whole story.

The author was concerned with the effect of vidiocy on the quality of intellectual discourse, comparing the age of television to certain 19th century American orators, including theologians and politicians (Abraham Lincoln and his opponent Stephen Douglas).

The author in some ways was iconic of the mythical ivory tower of academia, revealing things about his own lifestyle and habits of thought that he seemed to believe were shared by millions of other persons solely because he liked to watch television.

Ironically the message was more ominous than I think Neil Postman realized.

It is clear that he was not at the time of writing able to dissociate himself from the perception that one is part of a like-minded audience and that virtually everyone else is part of that audience (at least in America).

He seems to have had insight into the mind numbing effect of video infotainment, however.

It actually was much worse then he imagined, or at least worse than he was willing to write about if he knew any more. With the advent of the Internet, electronic psychological warfare and pervasive electronic propaganda output, things have only gotten worse.

It is well worth reading for his critical evaluation of television and infotainment.

His only fault, I think, was to mistake verbosity and rhetoric with rationality and knowledge. That is especially obvious wherein the author had nothing but respect and awe for alleged "contributions to theology" of one featured 19th century author/orator. Theology as an academic enterprise is alleged to study and expound in minute detail about something for which there is no evidence.

Neil Postman had a connection with "the National Association of Religious Broadcasters" and in his text espoused a misinformed perception of the history and dogma of specific religions. In particular he claimed that alleged founders ('from Buddha to Moses to Jesus, to Mohammed to Luther") of sects in operation today shared a common marketing strategy. Such a naive view showed the author's inability to differentiate myth from historical fact. His schema was clearly of interest to the professional association cited in the first line of this paragraph but not warranted by historical fact.

That came out clearly as he compared the output of 19th century orators and their enthusiastic audiences, persons willing to spend hours, most of a day outside, listening to live debate and oratory, to persons who for the most part get their fill of alleged intellectual discussion from so-called news commentary on television. Little did he know that most of the latter would become nearly 100% propaganda over time with little to no pretense of presenting unbiased national and international news and commentary.

I did finally read the text, quite recently.

It would have been a waste of my limited time when I first came across it.

It was banter with no meaningful link to cause-and-effect reasoning.

In that regard he seems to have missed the point, skipping the early to mid-20th century era of radio propaganda by which dictators more or less controlled all information, leading to rampant nationalism, imperialism, and genocide.

The text is on average a comparison of the verbosity of public oratory and debate in 19th century America to pseudo-intellectual news and views via television as of 1985.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
christopher parke
Unlike his later works (Technopoly), this book is well argued presenting a solid argument for how "television values" have altered modern discourse. Read with his later book "How to Watch Television," readers are given a compelling description of how modern media present less than you see.
This book builds nicely upon and extends the work of McLuhan giving clearer and more accessible examples. Though the book itself over 15 years old, it holds up well even if the examples are fading from memory. His arguments about what qualifies as "news" or "debate" are almost too obvious to ignore.
Postman's writing shines is in pointing out the profoundly disconnectedness of TV news and commercials (Chap. 7: "Now... This") or the simplification of American electoral process (Chap. 9: "Reach Out and Elect Someone"). Much of this helps underscore the "Huxleyan Warning" and give the reader a strong sense that WHAT is called news is no longer as important or significant as it was a century ago.
The faults in this work are more in overstatement of the desirability of late 19th century literacy and discourse. Chap. 4 (The Typographic Mind) starts by praising the ability of the crowds to pay attention to 3 hour long, scripted Lincoln-Douglas debates. After spending several pages describing the amazing knowledge and patience of the audience he hurriedly glosses over how these occurred in a "carnival-like atmosphere."
He doesn't suggest that the audience may have been less than "intellectual" or possibly more interested in yelling "You tell 'em Abe" at a good insult. Nor does he further suppose that some of crowd may have simply been interested in seeing the debaters, hearing their voices, or discussing their appearance in later gossip any more than people do today. The idea that attending the "event" for "event's sake" was a cause is not raised either.
Bottom line...
This book is an excellent analysis of media effects and coherent presentation of how the "medium is the message." McLuhan fans will enjoy it as an example Marshall never wrote --but may have strongly enjoyed both in it's subject and opinion.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
aewsri
I'm sure I won't have anything to say about this book that someone else hasn't already said here. Yes, the book is now almost 20 years old, so it takes some memory stretching to get back to some of his examples, but it is perfectly clear that nothing about television has really changed, at least not for the better, since publication.
Even though this book has very little to say about religion, I would love to see churches study this book in small group meetings. Since pretty much nothing has a greater influence on our culture than television, it is worthwhile to take some time and look at what telesision means and how it works as a medium. For those unfamiliar with the book, I will just say that one of the greatest insights I saw in it is that tv is at its worst (and possibly most dangerous) when it attempts to be "serious".
Just read it.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
lici beveridge
With wit, subdued (but real) erudition, and prophetic accuracy, the late Neil Postman exposes and exegetes the form or nature of television. This book is not a screed against "what is on TV," but an analysis of "what TV is."

Although written over twenty years ago, the arguments are not dated (although some of the illustrations may be). TV, according to Postman, has debased public discourse because of its incapacity to sustain critical thought--about politics, religion, history, or anything. Postman declines to go so far as McLuhan in saying that TV alters our very sensorium (a proposition I agree with), but he finds TV to be a ubiquitous and dangerous feature of American life. It has become our very epistemology, the way we process reality.

I conclude with two suggestions that may change your life (and that is not hyperbole or adspeak): (1) Read this book, carefully and slowly. (2) Spend one entire week without watching TV in any form (on the net, on your cell phone, etc.). Then see how you change...
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
raine szramski
Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business is an intriguing book written by Neil Postman (in 1985) on the gradual dumbing down of society, specifically in the United States. This seemingly prophetic work focuses on the transition from spoken, to written and then to the image based culture in which we now live. The purpose of this was to show the slow but seemingly steady breaking down of society in the name of entertainment and amusement.

Neil Postman begins his book by comparing and contrasting Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and George Orwell's book 1984. He states in the introduction "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"(Foreword, vii,viii).

The forward of Neil Postman's book sets the stage for what he addresses and reveals throughout Amusing Ourselves to Death. Postman argues that society has changed from a spoken and written culture to an image based one. This change has affected the way we learn and use knowledge. People today are so eager to be amused that we'd rather go to the movies or watch a television program than read a book or an article on a scientific study. Our image based culture has caused our attention spans to become shorter. In chapter 1 of Amusing Ourselves to Death, Postman discusses how Americans need to be entertained. This is seen in how an overweight person would never be elected president in today's world and how the anchors on the news are always attractive. In today's world, people need to be amused or they will lose interest. The well known evangelist Billy Graham has even recognized this unfortunate truth. He once said that he uses laughter to keep the crowd entertained so that he can get his message across.

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business presents a view of our culture that is very alarming. The move from a spoken and written based culture to that of an image based one has led to a sharp decline in attention span, a loss of critical thinking skills, and the gradual dumbing down of America. Now, many would rather watch television shows like Jersey Shore than read a book or increase their knowledge.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
melissa ruiz
Along with Allan Bloom ("The Closing of the American Mind") this is a book I often bring up in class to discuss the "bad" effects of modern media. I also discuss Dr. Stafford's "Good Looking" to present the contrary argument. It certainly seems clear that it is worth considering contemporary learning and thinking to be different in some ways from a "text-based" society. Where we might have issues is over what differences are good and what bad, what differences are necessary for new cohorts to survive in an Information age, and what differences are clearly going to be missed because of the quality of life possible with them and not possible without them.

This book is short and easy as all of Postman's books that I have read so far, and so a good text even for those students who are less likely to read a text. Even if you can't get them to read it, many of the points are easy to bring up in discussion and they are points young people are very defensive about.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
sarah walker
Book read too fast, unable to follow. It's like listen to somebody who is trying to catch a train.
Could not go beyond the first section. Does not worth the price. And is not an editing problem since no distortion is noticed.
It's just a bad reading pace for an audiobook.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
harc00lbabe
Neil Postman, in a book written in 1985, before the Internet or satelitte television became so prevalent, explained why television was changing and damaging the public discourse in America. Picking up on Huxley's argument about making people passive by giving them exactly what they want, Postman feels that television keeps people happy and but changes the way people communicate and makes people less apt to challenge ideas and really search for meaning. Instead they are taught to accept things on face value and to choose politicians and ideas that look best within the unique confines of television entertainment. It is a fascinating book and has a very well written, comprehensible argument. Anyone interesting in communications, history, or modern sociology will appreciate this book and enjoy it thoroughly.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
danielle
I only picked up this book because I needed to read it for a class at university. I can honestly say this is one of the most boring books I have ever read. The content is horrible, and I found myself drifting off and distracted, even when Postman wants us to stay engaged, I am doing exactly the opposite. We cannot live in the printing press telegraph ages forever. We need technological advancements to move forward. Pretty sure if Postman was still alive he would have an iPhoneX100.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
cydney
Postman makes a convincing argument about the effects of commercial television as America changes from a print-based culture to a visual one. The book is divided into two parts. The first gives an analysis of the media today, and the second provides examples of how television has drastically changed curricula in schools, altered the way our elections are conducted, and even affected how we practice religion. The author's thesis is that all of these activities must be done theatrically and within certain visual constraints in America today. Although Aldous Huxley, who is cited several times, makes the initial, dire prediction about where our society is headed, it is Postman who gives specific examples of how Huxley's predictions have been fulfilled.
Because this book is intended to be accessible to as many people as possible, Postman keeps the communication jargon to a minimum, which makes this book both an enjoyable, easy read as well as a book that makes one ponder complex issues. I definitely recommend it to everyone, especially those in the teaching and communication professions.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
chris huff
I recently read this book because I found it cited in several other books I was reading. The highest praise I can give for this book is that I read a library copy and when I was finished, went out and bought my own copy so I can reread, highlight, and refer to it often.

Postman, founder of the paradigm of Media Ecology, writes an entertaining and engaging screed on how "public consciousness has not yet assimilated the point that technology is ideology" (p. 157). Written in 1985, the book's thesis is that our public discourse and epistemology is being transformed from a culture of print-based literacy, sequential cognition, and analysis, to an image-based visual world of distractions and noncontextual "sound bite" entertainment distracting us continually with "now...this!" which entertains us like the mind-numbing "soma" of Huxley's BRAVE NEW WORLD.

It would be interesting to see what Postman would have thought of the modern media-saturated online world. There is much to ponder in this book.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
aliciathecat
I grew up watching a lot of television but then, as an adult, lived without a TV for about 20 years. I grudgingly bought one TV (and a VCR) in 1997. I don't like TV on the whole and watch only about 2 or 3 hours of it a week. Neil Postman's book is a very good analysis of television's detrimental effects on its viewers and our society. This isn't so much about the content of TV programs (though that is often very bad), but the nature of television as a medium of communication; the subtle way it effects our view of reality, our epistemology. Television is certainly not going to go away. This book is good reading for those who want to put TV in its place and be aware of the problems with seeing too much of the world through a television camera.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
anwar jimpe rachman
Neil Postman posits that the medium of communication has value inherent and intrinsic in itself. Postman argues that the medium conveys shades of meaning that are not spelled out in any intentional communication. Sometimes the medium can convey meaning wholly independent of the message itself. The concept that the medium has value and meaning that is both dependant and independent of the communication conveyed is supremely logical.

After exploring the power of a metaphor Postman explains why the medium is like a metaphor. (Postman, 1985 p.13)"...the introduction into a culture of a technique such as writing or a clock is not merely an extension of man's power to bind time but a transformation of his way of thinking - and, of course, of the content of his culture". The technique, or the medium, transforms the very mindset or pattern of thinking by itself without any other variables like message added.

There have been other communications theorists who have put forward the concept that the medium had a value independent of the message. Most notable in my mind of these theorists is Marshall McLuhan. McLuhan took the value of the medium to heights that Postman does not attempt. McLuhan proposed and argued that the medium was in itself the message. McLuhan argued that inherent meaning of the medium was so great and overbearing that the message that was conveyed was by nature the result of the medium rather then any intent on the part of the communicator.

Postman position is in great contrast to McLuhan regardless of its similarities. Similar between the two theorists is recognition that the medium has value and meaning independent of the message itself. Also similar is the concept that medium changes the culture and the individual mindset. (McLuhan 1964, p.151)"The electric light is pure information. It is a medium without a message." Postman argues a very similar thought when says (Postman, 1985 p.11)"In Munford's great book Technics and Civilization, he show how, beginning in the fourteenth century, the clock made us into time-keepers, and then times-savers, and now times-servers." Both philosophers argue the medium conveys a message. The difference is that McLuhan argues that the medium is the primary message Postman argues that understanding the meaning and message inherent in the medium allows us to control the message.

The example of the message just being a byproduct of the medium with the metaphor of the robber and the meat, we know that McLuhan saw the stated message secondary to the medium itself. Postman on the other hand argued that the medium was important and gave meaning to the message it was more in the sense of a metaphor and could actually aid in the understanding of the message rather then hinder the message.

Postman argued further that although it was not natural with work the medium and the message can be partners rather then a either or equation. (Postman, 1985 p.14)"And yet, such digging becomes easier if we start from the assumption that in every tool we create, an idea is embedded that goes beyond the function of the thing itself."
The view of the medium that Postman offers us is by far and away the most hopeful that I have found thus far. If we can by understanding the medium clearly communicate our message then we have a clear roadmap in determining our own life and decisions. A message of personal control through knowledge and work is far more personally fulfilling then trying to realize that we have little or no impact on a situation.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
ellie
I've never really been a TV addict. Oh, I've watched plenty of television fare in my time, but I've always been more interested in comics and books, I think, because of their permanence. TV, until the advent of the videocassette recorder, had been extremely ephemeral.
The ephemeral nature of TV, which continues even today because of its incredible volume and prevalence in society, is the basic tenet of Postman's argument here. By its very nature, Postman says, TV is incapable of presenting true public discourse, which relies on arguments that don't necessarily have the entertainment quotient necessary for the medium. The rest of the book expounds on this, looking at the past history of public discourse in America up to the time this book was written, which was ten years ago. In the last ten years, TV's influence on public policy has even increased, and it would be interesting to see what Postman has to say about it now.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
blake boldt
It's a book I've been told to read for years and has been worth the recommendations. The chapter on the effects of the television upon religion was particularly powerful, especially to consider as a pastor who regularly meets people who say, “We just listen to sermons on television these days.” This statement never makes me feel better about that person's walk of faith! Now ... let's get more people asking questions!!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
pepstar
The Internet, Video Gaming, DVDs/videos/Blockbuster, Napster, cable television, digital television, palm pilots, laptops: despite its mid-1980's genesis, this witty, astute, rational, fast-reading analysis of how Television is Destroying American Democracy Today remains largely valid in 2001.
The newer technologies (changing so swiftly, the outcomes cannot possibly be predicted) might be less noxious to Print Culture than television itself--or they might become even more noxious than television!
The fact that the store.com features so many reasonably intelligent and literate book reviews may be a radiant sign of hope.
(On the other hand, if one reads too many of them, perhaps they inspire despair... No--so many ARE informed and literate, I've been heartened. Haven't you? Be honest!)
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
nikki cayanong
Television as a moderate used form of entertainment is a good thing. But an overdose of popular television is detrimental to most viewers ability to grow intellectually and their ability to think in a discerning, informed manner.
Because it is so visual, it by nature can cause one's brain to be placed in neutral, and then message after message is fed into one's psyche.
For too many in our culture, TV is now the gospel truth. Whatever they hear or see is their touch with reality, in their mind. They are thus closed minded and limited.
Oh, those will respond how about all the good stuff? Discover and A&E documentaries and such. These are the good stuff, truly, which if chosen discriminately will provide much for the chranium to chew on. But this isn't the popular channels of choice.
Postman demystifies this medium by showing how it rather seeks to recreate and degrade our concepts of news, politics and religion. Most our unaware of this manipulation and so are the prime candidates for its persuasion.
Let the viewer beware. This is a classic. Turn off the tv and read a book. Or watch a TV special on a subject, then buy a good book on the topic.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
katsura
I was expecting some banal, 80's culture war rag about how television is just trash for the "lower sort." But Postman offers an intelligent (if dated) critique about the real epistemology of our media and how we often fail to interrogate the ways in which different mediums privilege certain methods of thinking over others. His observations about Orwell and Huxley are, I think, spot on. Postman doesn't provide any real solutions to the problem of T.V., he's just concerned with diagnosis. A fast, fairly easy read overall.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
melissa basnight
Zlatko Tomic
Spring 2011

Neil Postman: Amusing Ourselves to Death
Book Review

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business is a fascinating book written by Neil Postman (1985). In his book the author is raising concerns about the shift in society and explaining the difference in the ways we communicate, starting from the early days of human society all the way to these days. With the series of examples he makes great comparisons and really goes deep into the matter. He uses strong language and everyday examples to back up his arguments, which ultimately makes his arguments not only very strong but interesting as well. Neil Postman who was a professor at New York University is mostly concerned with the problem that we as people are not learning anything because our minds are polluted with context of the things presented to us. The biggest polluter of our mind in his opinion is television.
In the beginning of the book he compares ideas from two authors; Aldus Huxley and George Orwell. These two authors were scared of a similar thing but in a different way. Orwell feared that there would be people who would ban book, and was strongly against that because he saw that as; people are not going to be able to learn anything if there is no books. Huxley was afraid that we will be given to many information which would create an atmosphere where nothing really matters. Neil Postman picks up where Huxley left of and gives us an in-depth overview on how we lost our integrity and our own ideas. The authors say that when it comes to Television the context excludes the content and it really does not matter what you say but how you say it...."I believe I am not mistaken in saying that Christianity is a demanding and serious religion. When it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether...."(Postman 1985). Television makes everything fun and interesting but even the most educational shows teach us too many negative things together with the positive ones, and really send the wrong message out to the people. ..."We now know that "Sesame Street" encourages children to love school only if school is like "Sesame Street." Which is to say, we now know that "Sesame Street" undermines what the traditional idea of schooling represents..."(Postman 1985).
All together this is a very interesting book that will really change the way you think about television and media all together. Understanding the power of media in today's world means understanding of how our societies really work. I strongly believe this book is an eye opener in that sense because it gives us an idea how communication is changing over and over again. It also teaches us how to think about these changes and not take everything we hear for granted.
Very powerful, very meaningful and mind changing would be the best words to describe this book.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
secondwomn
Neil Postman's thesis in Amusing Ourselves to Death is simple. In his eye-opening work, he demonstrates "how forms of public discourse regulate and even dictate what kind of content can issue from such forms" (6). In other words, the way something is communicated controls what is actually being communicated. The forms of media are not merely neutral channels through which facts and ideas flow. Those forms themselves either taint or enhance the message. Based on this premise, Postman demonstrates the dumbing influences that the television has had upon modern American minds. By doing so, he contends that a culture based on words is superior to one based on pictures. The book is an apology for reading. Though it was published in 1985, it has equal, if not more, relevance to us today.
To begin, Postman argues that every medium of communication carries with it an epistemology, a theory of knowledge. For instance, "`Seeing is believing' has always a preeminent status as an epistemological axiom, but `saying is believing,' `reading is believing,' `counting is believing,' `deducing is believing,' and `feeling is believing' are other that have risen or fallen in importance as cultures have undergone media change" (24). He demonstrates that the Jewish concept of God, with their application of the second commandment, taught them a very high form of abstract thinking. The reader must persevere during the first two chapters because his reasoning, though tight, can tend to be somewhat thick.
Beginning with chapter three, Postman gives a historical survey of America's way of thinking, as dictated by its forms of communication. America began as a typographic society. Reading and writing were valued greatly for many reasons, not the least of which was that people could read the Bible. All people recognized the value of knowledge. As a result, people would gather in droves to hear lectures and debates. For instance, people in the 1860s were captivated for 4 or 5 hours at a time by the meticulously reasoned debates between Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln. Frequently, they even lasted for more than one day! Postman shows that "a language-centered discourse such as was characteristic of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century America tends to be both content-laden and serious, all the more so when it takes its form from print" (50). A transition began, however, with the telegraph, which "made a three-pronged attack on typography's definition of discourse, introducing on a large scale irrelevance, impotence, and incoherence" (65). Hence, there arose "context-free information," mouth-sized bytes of information with no true relevance to one's life.
Along came television, which makes the "three-pronged attack" upon America's mind even fiercer. The vast majority of communication on the television has as its one underlying purpose entertainment. "No matter what is depicted or from what point of view, the overarching presumption is that it is there for our amusement and pleasure" (87). For the remainder of the book, Postman demonstrates that entertainment is necessary for the television's communication of news (even the most tragic), religion, politics, and education. In each area, information is greatly simplistic and decontextualized and requires no prior knowledge of anything. America has defeated herself like a tyrant. "Tyrants of all varieties have always known about the value of providing the masses with amusements as a means of pacifying discontent. But most of them could not have even hoped for a situation in which the masses would ignore that which does not amuse" (141). Postman's solution to the problem lies mainly within the realm of education. We must understand what the television is, "for no medium is excessively dangerous if its users understand what its dangers are" (161).
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
brock
My boss suggested this book to me and I decided to give it a try. It was really interesting, although a bit dated. It actually would be really interesting to see what Postman would have to say now.

Postman bases this book on the fact that television, and entertaining media in general, is going to be the "death" of American civilization. He argues that unlike the oratory presentations of the past and written word, new media that goes everywhere quickly is taking over the human mind and making our thinking corrupted. In history, before television, radio, the telegraph and other quick means of communication, hour long arguments and debates were normal. And they weren't dumbed down for the audience but rather prized for their complexity. Then there was the written word, in which so much can be expressed and is generally taken to be more valid than the oral word such as in agreements or contracts.

A very interesting notion that Postman shows is when he discusses Orwell and Huxley and their very different visions of the future through their dystopian books. He believes that while Orwell had a decent idea that maybe the world will be taken over by force one day, it seems more possible that Huxley's vision of the world being taken over through pleasure is much more likely. Humans like instant gratification and if entertained enough will forget why they do something or may not even realize when freedoms are taken away. Or care if they do notice. He argues that television is just a method of giving this instant gratification.

Like I said, this book was very dated but it still held some relevant truths. For instance, he barely touches on computers as they weren't a main media when this book was written. And I wonder if computers the way they are today would change his mind or just further enforce what he believes. Because with a computer there are both fast conversations yet also through the use of blogs and message boards longer discussions can be found that are much like books. And computers also offer books online giving them a revival of sorts. I do think that he is a bit of an alarmist. Anything in moderation is ok, its when we let it take over our whole lives that it becomes a trouble.

An interesting book and definitely worth a read. I love books so I am a big believer in the written word. But I also find a good use in the tv as background noise while doing other tasks so alas, I will maybe find myself succumbed to the mindlessness entertainment it provides.

Amusing Ourselves to Death
Copyright 1985
165 pages

Review by M. Reynard 2012
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
magdalena cassel
Neil Postman's book 'Amusing Ourselves To Death' is an excellent look at the world today (more accurately in 1985). He explains that there is no need to fear George Orwell's vision of 1984, but rather to fear an older title of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. One which takes away freedom, the latter giving you all the freedom you want. Funny and witty, Postman gives a top rate analysis of the current media (second to McLuhan). I dont see this book as a prediction of any sort, but rather observing the direction the media of print and television is headed. Television has been given so much authority that it does not matter whats on it, so much that its on. Postman declares that television has the power to do away with books by the sheer hypnotic power that television has over print. And this, by being in a trance and reclining in our sofas to and forgetting about the world (and what the GOVT is doing) is just as fatal as the government getting involved in every aspect of our lives. This book is a nice read with some profoundness to it which will change your perspective on 1984, television and the way you live.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
gataki
Postman's printed word rings more and more true each time I pick up the book. In 2008 it felt like a warning. In 2017 it feels like a description of modern American society, coupled with a startlingly accurate exposé on how we got here.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
joletta
Read this book. It is one of the most important analyses of how media affects society. Postman presents clearly the transition from a reading-based society to one in which television is the primary medium through which the public obtains information. It is freightening how a book written 30 years ago could be so accurate about the evolution of America.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
oorjahalt
Having just finished the book, I would have to say that overall it was a very enjoyable and enlightening read.

First a word about the organization of the book. The first half of the book lays the ground work for the theory that the writer will argue about modern society and the affects that entertainment on the interaction of people, be it interpersonal or in public discourse, in the second half. This setup of the book may frustrating to some who will want to pass the first half of the book, the history, to get to the portion that deals directly with the modern world, but I would tell those individuals that they are doing precisely what this book warns against. Taking information out of context, out of history, and therefore rending it from any meaning.

The book started off back in time to the when the printing press was king. He gives details about the time and the way that discourse was carried out in the debates, literature, and advertising. He is setting up a situation that we can compare our modern conversations. He shows how the mind was appealed to then, how typography shaped that way man organized his thoughts and discussed them, and what was important or I should say, what topics occupied most interactions. He then introduces the seemingly benign inventions of photography and telegraphy and how they herald a new world of thought and relation to the world for man. This part was a little hard for me to swallow at first because I am biased in my hobbies of photography and art. *laughs* But I went with him on it to see what is exact point was. And I was not disappointed.

The second half of the book talks about the modern world and how media, be it Television, who is the main player in changing the ways that people associate and interpret the world, or radio, who is like a reinforcer, or the old standbys that brought about the change, the telephone and photography. He uses the book The Brave New World, to go about setting up the grim future of mankind. One in which man passively interacts with the world, is overwhelmed by all the useless "news" we receive, and who readily to escapes into the very arms of the prison that holds them captive in degrading meaninglessness that pervades and controls their lives.

My only real complaint is that in the first chapters of the book it was a little heaving on the philosophical usage of words. I had a hard time understanding how he was using the epistemology and a couple other words, but a couple chapters in he explains the way in which he wants the reader to under his meaning. That was a little frustrating but does not diminish in any way what the authors message is.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
franzi
Good, fascinating and sometimes alarming read about the effect of electronic media (in particular television and to some extent computers) on our culture and decision making process--in every area, particularly politics, business and even religion.

Outlines how we have gone from a culture of words to a culture that relies almost exclusively on images and soundbites, and it affects virtually every area of our life. And not always positively. It has had a profound effects on our ability to make reasoned, well-thought decisions especially in electing our leaders and deciding on the issues of the day.

Good read. Quite interesting. And is one picture worth a thousand words? Read it and see. You may be amused and alarmed. We should be!!!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
lee greenwood
(...)
I think author Neil Postman has a lot of valuable things to say and reflect on. Several years ago I read his book Technopoly, which, along with several other books and articles I read at the time, led me to present a session at the 2001 TCEA convention entitled, "Remember the Luddites: Asking Critical Questions about Educational Technology." Technopoly was published in 1993, but now I have gone back to Postman's 1985 work, Amusing Ourselves to Death. It seems a bit dated, with the advent of the Internet and all the changes which have come as a result, but I found the book to be none-the-less quite relevant and worthwhile. His overall theme of how our society (esp in the US) is tending to become more and more focused on entertainment via multimedia has many implications not only in an educational arena, but also for everyday life-- in the way we set our priorities, and in the final analysis-- the ways we choose (hopefully intentionally) to spend our limited heartbeats. Those small choices day to day add up to have a considerably dramatic cumulative effect. And his point is well taken about our typical, cultural LACK of intentionality when it comes to our consumption of multimedia content-- esp. television programming.
In the May 2004 edition of Wired magazine, an article entitled "Watch This Way" documents a conversation between various moguls and pundits of our ever-growing entertainment industry. I found Yair Landau of Sony Picture's comment that "There are three basic human entertainment experiences that go back to the cave: storytelling, game-playing, and music" to be compelling. Author William Gibson added to this list of basic entertainment experiences "being part of the tribe." I have been giving a fair amount of thought lately to the value and opportunities posed by digital storytelling authoring tools in the early 21st Century. Most of my thinking along these lines is very optimistic and energetic, but it is good to temper this enthusiasm with some sober analysis like Postman's. I wouldn't call this blog entry a book-review per se-- I more think of it as a few reflections about some key points Postman makes in the book that I would like to remember and others may find worthwhile as well. As Landau pointed out, the desire to seek entertainment through storytelling and music is most likely universal. These are drives which transcend time and space. I am reminded of the futurists in the early part of the twentieth century (I think) who predicted that technology would lead to vast amounts of leisure time for people: with washing machines, dishwashers, and speedy cooking devices, people would have loads of free time to pursue other activities which were unthinkable in earlier times. I have laughed at that seemingly ridiculous prediction in the past, because today in the first decade of the twenty-first century, we seem to generally be harried, stressed, busy people who do not have enough time in the day for all the activities and demands which fill our schedules and minds. Yet despite all this busyness, we are clearly still finding large amounts of time to spend watching TV and entertaining ourselves in other ways. According to the Wired article previously cited, more and more Americans are watching LESS television today, but spending more time playing electronic games and surfing the Internet. That was not a trendline predicted by Postman in 1984. But we shouldn't be too hard on him for that oversight, Bill Gates apparently didn't see the Internet coming either. Despite this fact, Postman's analysis about our apparent intrinsic drive to seek entertainment via multimedia is still a cogent thesis for 21st century netizens.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
thegunnersbabe
A few reviewers have pointed out that Postman's 1984 predictions have turned out to be "wrong" (I mean look at the internet!-- they say). Well, most of America still watches plenty of television, and a large part of America still doesn't use the internet, and television sure isn't getting any smarter.
Postman may have been wrong in failing to predict that a new technology (the web) would now have the potential to improve our public discourse in some ways, but his criticisms of television still stand. And TV's stranglehold on the American mind hasn't exactly been broken yet.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
megan mishou
An excellent analysis of the cultural changes wrought by America's transition from a typographic to a telemedia culture, concentrating principally on the deleterious alterations in the public mindset engendered by television. Never an alarmist, Postman's sound reasoning is matched by his excellent observations and his considerable attunement to the zeitgeist. Like Alvin Toffler's Future Shock, which also dealt with late 20th century sociological and cultural changes (for the worse), this is one of those rare books that has grown *more* timely and topical since the time it was first published.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jennifer scott
'Amusing Ourselves to Death' is probably one of the most important books that pertains to the last couple of generations. Ever since television came into our culture our view of everything serious as turned into entertainment, our very livlihood has fashioned into a sporadic, unsensible one. Our ideas of what is meaningful and worthwhile have turned bland. All literate people of America, if they were to read just one cultural analysis, should read this book and see for themselves how television and other powerful electronic media are turning our minds into unconscious slaves. Postman sheds the best light on television that I have seen yet.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
waldir
I think Postman's conclusion about how our era has fallen into a Huxleyan era is dead on target. I think his attack on Television, however, is misguided. His argument from television relies mainly on a comparison of the mindsets of the people before and after the Telegraph - which is a central invention in his book, off of which the Television is really an extension. However, in comparing the two types of people, I believe he fails to take into account that there are two possible conclusions. 1)It is the medium which distorts any message 2)It is the message which distorts the medium, which in turn makes people expect the same kinds of messages through that particular medium. His attack on television requires #1 to be the case, however, his examples seem to support the truth of #2, becuase he doesn't show how the medium distorts the message. All his examples rely on examples, which only show that the message that goes through the medium is distorted, not necessarily by the medium, but by the senders themselves. If programs must be entertaining, it is because people demand entertainment now. Overall, Postman's book is an intriguing writing, but then again, I would criticize Postman's use of "Post Hoc" logic, where he assumes that just because societie's "dumbing" started after the innovation of the telegraph, therefore it was caused by the telegraph (and later television). That is faulty logic, and nothing in his book supports the connection between television and today's society.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
linda midcap
This book was required reading for a college course I took, Technology & Human Values. I wasn't too thrilled about having to read it at first because we were required to write a paper about it, but once I got started I COULDN'T PUT IT DOWN! I have never read a better book. I could have written forever about it in my review for class. This is one book I decided not to sell back. I recommend this "discourse" to everyone! ...it's just too bad that not EVERYONE will get to read it...
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
brecca mefford
The premise of Amusing Ourselves to Death is that the medium of television has injured and is injuring the ability of individuals and the culture as a whole to reason - - to think. Although the degree of injury is not quantified and is probably not quantifiable, it is evidenced in every area of human endeavor, from politics, news, education and religion. Postman observes that we are becoming "a culture in which all public discourse increasingly takes the form of entertainment." (1)
Postman compares the process of consuming and processing information in our culture to that of past, "print-based" cultures: "...the decline of a print-based epistemology and the accompanying rise of a television-based epistemology has had grave consequences for public life, that we are getting sillier by the minute." (24)
Postman discusses the overwhelming volume of information that is stripped of any contextual basis but is presented within a "pseudo-context." "A pseudo-context is a structure invented to give fragmented and irrelevant informaion a seeming use.... The pseudo-context is the last refuge, so to say, of a culture overwhelmed by irrelevance, incoherence, and impotence."(76)
In regard to our historical underpinnings, "...we are being rendered unfit to remember. For if remembering is to be something more than nostalgia, it requires a contextual basis - a theory, a vision, a metaphor - something within which facts can be organized and patterns discerned." "...with media whose structure is biased toward furnishing images and fragments, we are deprived of access to an historical perspective. In the absence of continuity and context, bits of information cannot be integrated into an intelligent and consistent whole."(137)
In short, this is one of the most brilliant books I have ever read. It should be required reading for every thinking American.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
tracey
I had to read this book when it first was published, for a Mass Media class for my Broadcasting and Communications degree at a community college in the Catskills.
It was excellent, but as I read it, I had a notebook handy. I was an older student in the class and the older one's could appreciate the depth of the content, while the younger students simply could not grasp it. Many just "gave up" reading it.
[...]
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
ellen guon
Most educated members of society have long recognized the danger of television. The cover of this book is a powerful image to illustrate the problem. Neil Postman takes a disturbing look at the social effects of television in "Amusing Ourselves to Death". While I may not agree with all of Postman's arguments, the book is able to make a strong statement about the dangers of television.
My biggest objection to the book is the way Postman chooses to introduce his agrument against the televised media. He uses the novels "1984" and "Brave New World" as a backdrop for the his explanation of how American society become so listless and lethargic. A major rule I learned in undergraduate English was that you can not use fiction to support an argument. The idea in itself is absurd. It would be like using an episode of Star Trek to rationalize what kind of car you should buy. Once I got past this imperfection in the book, I found the author's statement to be reasonably solid.
The basic idea discussed in this book is that when people learned by listening to teachers who accumulated knowledge, people were better learners. This is because the learner had to assimilate the knowledge into their brain and could ask questions to help the learning process. The written word and later the typed word made the learner think as he/she read. This learned a high level brain function. Nevertheless, people were learning. Television is a low level brain activity, which means people are less likely to learn as they watch. Television is often the most significant teacher a child has since the mid 20th century. Yet television's goal is not to educate but to entertain. Even educational programs like "Sesame Street" are flashy and structured like a series of comercials. It is no surprise that children are not learning in school when teachers can never be as flashy as television.
Postman looks at education, televangelism, and the news media in the book. He demonstrates how televised media has degraded each of these facets of American life. His attention to the lack of real learning from the news is particularly disturbing. The only time I can think of when news was not flashy and meant to be entertaining was on September 11, 2001. This should make the reader seriously question the news programs he/she watches.
While Postman lacks a real solution to the problem, I feel this is excusable when we consider television's stranglehold on society. The only way around the problem is to be educated to know how to watch television.
This is a disturbingly good read. It will be particularly appreciated by the minority who never or rarely turn on their television because of the poisonous venom it spews.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
kathy wetsell
Neil Postman studied what happens as we are taking in the learnings of life - that process has changed, for the worse. Here he laid out (among other points) the reasons TV-"learning" is inferior to print learning, and what differences they actually make.

The people who founded the USA were probably the most literate concentration of humans in the world - but what's happened with the changes in the knowledge-process since TV (even the telegraph) appeared much later?

This pioneering book makes sense of much we suspect but may not be readily able to sum up. It may overstate a point or two, but it brings powerful insight. The "dumb-down" phenom is real, and a lot bigger than we may comfortably imagine. *Consider the effects* on our people and nation.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
scott l
This is a very interesting book where the author builds a solid argument about the "downfall" of culture as we know it ever since we've had access to any sort of communication technology that came after the printing press (he condems the use of the telegraph and anything that came after it, but in his point of view, the TV is the worst invention ever created).

I can't say I agree with him completely because it's impossible to turn of the TV. I don't think that the solution is to ignore ourt modern screens. Instead, the idea is to change what we see on TV, educate ourselves in the way we recieve what we get from the media.

But Postman is right about the "show era" we live in. I think that his argument about our modern "show buisness" era is great.

My recomendation is to read this book (because it's good) but be careful and read it with a critical eye.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
natalia
While I was a freshman, my sociology professor asked us to read this book. I didn't think I was going to like it at all but boy was i wrong. This book is so intersting that you will finish it faster than you think. Neil Postman is a renknowned sociologist/writer. His work is amazing and true. While I do not have as much academic experience as some of the other reviewers, I can tell you that i liked it. It was good and I couldn't put it down. PS I never sold the book back at the end of the semester.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
brooke eisenacher
A careless reading of "Amusing Ourselves to Death" will reveal a string of cliches about the modern era of industry and sense of participation in it: that our politicians are image-focused, "news-of-the-day" is typically useless, and our preachers and teachers are entertainers primarily. This book is hack, if only in the sense that the ideas he presents were of grave concern to Plato. Postman takes that (1) truth is given form by rhetoric, (2) which is defined by the mode of expression, (3) and although historically authors were aware of the distinction between speech, image and text, with the rapid accumulation of new forms of meda we are no longer conscious of how they shape our dialogue, (4) and via the transformation of discourse into image-driven entertainment we are losing the context of content.

If any of this sounds familiar, it is for the same reason that Shakespeare is full of quotes. His ideas have such weight that they have successfully defined the scope of media studies. But perhaps the most insidious nature of television and the Entertainment Age is its ability to package criticism of it into entertainment itself. VH1's extraordinary "I Love the 70's" took B-celebrities commenting on those who have become B-celebrities and the outlandishness extremes of entertainment. To take Postman seriously, it's to understand media studies is not merely studying what's on television, but what is television for.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
sally pickard
Neil Postman does a good job pointing out his ideas on the dangers of television and how it has changed our society and ways of life. He says it has degraded our culture, changing how we learn and educate ourselves and how we even practice religion. For example the news and politics. He explains that television shouldn't be a source for news because its only purpose is to bring us entertainment, I disagree because it seems to me that TV is one of the biggest sources we have to find out about the latest news, next to the news paper. There may be some programs whose purpose is merely entertainment (like the Jon Stewart Show) but there are also many programs whose goal is just to bring you the news. But one thing that I do agree with is how it has changed politics. It uses TV campaigning, which show the charisma and looks of the candidate, to lure in voters. It's no longer who has the better ideas, it's who has the more visual appealing campaign.

Postman's main idea in this book is how we have evolved our learning habits to television. We've come from learning from teachers through lectures which kept our brains active and made us ask questions about the subject, to reading which made us think about the material we're reading, to educational television programs which mostly make us brain dead and provide no education what so ever and purely entertainment. I do agree that most of television has no educational purpose and has dramatically influenced our learning ways that we now are hardly learning as much as people have in the past, but he has also missed those which do not fit into what he believes has no education or information. Now of days there are plenty of educational programs which do bring pure education along side with those that fit into of what he speaks of like The Jon Stewart Show and Barney.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
sagar
I buy into the Postman thesis and find the general lack of media literacy in contemporary society a little scary. Okay, granted, those of us that post reviews to the store possibly spend a little more time than the mean in thinking about the media we consume.
I would wish more people to read books like this, and such things as Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent. However, as media thesis are not for everyone, could I plug the musical version of the book (kind of) - Roger Water's album Amused to Death, which seems to cover much the same ground.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
jamie bennett
A very significant, enlightened examination of the erosion of the thought process in today's culture. The logic is most convincing. Although this book reads like an educational text-book, its message is hard to pass up or find irrelevant. If you have found yourself not quite being able to put your finger on the source of our society's ills, this book will make sense of it for you.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
holly parmelee
Postman convincingly shows us how the medium of television is dumbing down society and distorting our perception of reality (or the lack thereof) in this world and simultaneously affecting our decisions.

For example, Postman shows how there has not been a fat or ugly president since the advent of television. As Postman argues, isn't it more important what a president stands for and says than how he stands and how he says things?

Postman, however, fails to make some connections and conclusions that another more bold author--who doesn't mince words--by the name of Frank Poncelet, does, in "Television: Prelude to Chaos."
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
stephanie lyn
This book is incredibly on-target and at the same time deep (in fact because of it). I've rarely encountered a writer expressing so much depth and wisdom point-after-point. Highly recommended reading.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
adamgreeney
As a Disney Imagineer based in Paris, France, in the early 1990s, I was overworked and overwhelmed. The cultural disorientation was debilitating. Worse, I had a vague feeling that my job, Head Writer for the concept and installation of Euro Disneyland, was in some way immoral. Postman's book, which I bought at one of the few English-language bookstores in the city, helped me to understand my uneasiness. He provides an argument, not a polemic. I now look at the ecological effects of media and commodification, feeling better equipped to judge for myself the cost and benefit inherent in our cultural discourse.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
dina nour
I must agree with some of the points that Mr. Postman makes in his book. I agree to some point that television has taken the place of some thought and idea. While this is true, television can also be very thought provoking. Some of my best ideas have come from television programs. I think that by not exploring all of the television media he does a disservice to this wonderful instrument. Educational shows such as Sesame Street and other wonderful productions that many generations of children have grown up with and have proven to be helpful with developing critical skills is not appropriate. The book seems to be connecting many of the changes in our society to the advancement of technology. I feel that not everything in society can be connected to change. Change is an inevitable part of our world, good or bad. While many people would like to hold on to the past, we all know it simply is not possible. If the book had less focus on this, its message would be much clearer.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
la petite am ricaine
Amusing ourselves to death should be required reading for every college student. It is a stimulating,eye opening book with tremendous insight of where we are and where we are going. What he is suggesting is taking place under our very noses and only a handful are noticing. This book is a wake up call, that should be addressed. Remember, George Orwell's 1984.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
mike swigert
A very well-written and scary book about how television's strength (entertainment) has corrupted news content and political discourse. Starts where Orwell, Huxley, and McLuhan left off.

In spite of the serious subject, many funny parts.

Neil Postman is a prolific author and social commentator of the end of the 20th century. Over 20 books written on media, technology, and education.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
shelly hoffmeyer
This is a great book that will help you to think critically about television viewing.

For many Americans, their lives are structured around watching TV; from the the morning news over breakfast to the prime-time shows before bed. Amusing Ourselves to Death reminds us that television is first and foremost about entertainment and excitement-it's what television does best.

The book tackles a variety of topics including news, education and politics on TV. The book warns us that television has shaped the way we view reality so that the entertainment values of TV have ultimately become our values.

Though it is showing its age, the book couldn't be more relevant today.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
rekha kini
Essentially a redux of Marshall McLuhan's The Media is the Message, it's an argument that the dominant communications media powerfully affect reasoning (Postman's preferred term is epistemology, which is probably more accurate and to the point), and that we were a lot better off as individuals and as a body politic when that effect came primarily from print rather than TV and other visual media. He makes a pretty strong case. Although he's not happy about things, he's not a ranting old crank like some Yale literary critics. He maintains a sense of humor, he's a good writer, and he's down to earth, straightforward and concise (while McLuhan can be otherwise). Well worth the read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
soumyo
In "Amusing Ourselves to Death," Neil Postman argues that television has become an intoxicating "command center" of American culture that has distracted from and trivialized seemingly important aspects of our lives. In journalism, religion, politics and education, Postman prophetically points out the Huxleyan onset of a 'Brave New World' of bite size, touch-and-go media bombardment, happily consumed and rarely questioned, that has invariably impacted our society's discourse and rationale.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
marc rickaby
I can't rate any book higher than 4 stars but let me say that by page 20 I gave my borrowed copy back because I had to have my own. Neil Postman isn't what I consider light reading but what he has to say is definately worth the effort. I found many of his thoughts provoking enough to pull out the red pen to underline. If you are sick of the drive-by-media, tv, show business, and all of the nonsense distractions conjured in our electronic age this is a book you will enjoy.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
pam sweetser
When Neil Postman wrote "Amusing Ourselves to Death" 25 years ago, who could have imagined he would be so accurate in his insights! He's certainly more Huxlian that Orwellian in his insights - and just as scary. This is one very interesting, worthwhile book.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
barry benteman
Postman's book is among the most important analyzes of public discourse in the last 25 years. Everything that he saw about the delivery of news has come true; the dividing line between entertainment and news has been erased. Postman was so clear-headed in his reading of public discourse and unfortunately so "right on" in his predictions. Although the book is over 15 years old, it is still a good starting point in understanding the shift in the ways that we talk about (or don't talk about) events that should matter the most to citizens.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
soheil dowlatshahi
"Amusing Ourselves to Death" is an excellent book that everyone living in the "information age" should read. Neil Postman insightfully takes a look at how public discourse has changed as American culture has transformed from a print-based culture to a television-based culture. Postman contends that television has turned everything- from news to politics to religion- into entertainment, and that we no longer take anything seriously as a culture.

Postman warns that when we see every area of life as a form of entertainment, we are seeing Adlus Huxley's warnings coming true. We are quickly headed towards living in a "Brave New World".
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
katya
Postman's book reads as a blueprint for anyone desiring to market products and politicians in 1990's America. No one who really wants to understand what motivates our politics, our buying decisions and other aspects of marketing should be without this book. Postman shows what a "literate print/thought based people" are like and how TV has replaced all that hard thinking with pictures and images designed to achieve easy buying decisions based on emotional manipulation. Shows how TV is turning us into a nation of "D" Students and makes to case for severe limitation to this intellectually toxic medium.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
hierax
When I spotted this book in the bookstore, I knew it was heaven-sent. Convicted that television and movies have co-opted more and more of my time and attention, I was desperate for change. If the measure of a worthwhile book is that it addresses a vital issue and then motivates change in light of what it reveals, this book proved most worthwhile. Reading it has prompted a seismic shift in the way I use my time - especially a displacement of The Tube with books. Postman issues a wakeup call - not to the entertainment industry, as one the store.com reviewer commented - but to us, the entertainment consumer-addicts!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jill simon
This is what I find amazing (not amusing): the author himself clearly stating, "when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments…" And then a review titled "Brilliant, Entertaining View…" Furthermore, the reviewer says it's an "entertaining read." So the author was right. The very word ENTERTAINMENT is under our skin, already implanted like a controlling chip.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
rahma elkwawy
Amusing Ourselves To Death

Overall the book Amusing Ourselves To Death, written by Neil Postman, was an average book. Neil Postman wrote about what he thought our society was going to be like twenty years into the future, remember the book was written twenty years ago. Once I began reading the book I was really interested in what he had to say because he predicted what is occurring in our society at this moment. After reading the book I realized that he was right. People are completely sucked into their I-pods, Sidekicks, Blackberries, or other electronic devices. "They have not realized the effect that it will have on our future" is basically what he is saying. Postman's point is straight forward he does not beat around the bush he believes that we are going to become dependent on electrical devices and he believes it strongly. In chapter four " The Typographic Mind" Postman wrote about debates and how now people can barely stand to listen to a two-hour debate let alone a seven-hour debate that president Lincoln and Douglas would have. He writes "These were people who regarded such events as essential to their political education, who took to be an integral part of their social live..."(Postman, 44). "Is there any audience of Americans today who could endure seven hours of talk? Or five? Or three?" (Postman, 45) Think about this question for a second is he right? If you believe that our society has lost its souls to technology then this is the book for you. Many of the things will have you saying "oh yeah, that is true". Not only did the book interest me because it was right but also because it was written twenty years ago. Overall though this book was good but not the best. Some of the information in the book was really repetitive but it made the point of the book clear.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
valerie tate williams
This book is a wakeup call to the entertainment and advertising industries. I pray it doesn't fall on deaf ears.

Craig Evans, author: "Marketing Channels: Infomercials and the Future of Televised Marketing."
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
sofia
Unfortunately, the overwhelming obviousness of the dire truths in this book make it hard for our common American video addicts to swallow, or even understand. Those who can and do read it probably least need it and those who need it most CAN'T read it. Not that they can't read; it's just that they are like so many smokers--"I can quit (quit watching television, start thinking, reading and living again) any time I want to; I just don't want to." The best I have been able to do is to unplug the electronic drug in MY house.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
javierpa
Postman's book was written back in the 1980, more than 30 years ago. Through analysis of his arguments and statements, the book seems to be less of an organized, intellectual look at how televised media has altered the way American's communicate and learn, and appear to closer resemble a scared old man who can't grasp how the world is changing around him, and is feeling nostalgia for the "good old days." He even goes so far as to insult ""television" people" by saying ""Television" people are less developed intellectually than [ oral and written people] are." and "I believe the epistemology created by television not only is inferior to a print-based epistemology but is dangerous and absurdist."

This book is a useful tool in order to spark conversation, but it should not be used as definitive fact.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
laura butler
I read this book at the suggestion of my high school English teacher back in 1996, and find myself still aluding to it today. He makes the argument that America's attention span has been shortened by television, among other things, and that this explains a good deal of our political history.

Think about how the soundbite has limited the ability of American's to actively engage in political discussion; how much you multitask now that you have IM and email and TV and radio and 30 seconds ads all blasting at the same time.

A really intersting argument... Definitely recommend this book!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
erika reed
EXTREME WARNING: Unless your computer has updated Norton Anti-virus protection or comparable protection against covert & malicious software (which infects your computer & then downloads all your files at night by spies) DO NOT ACCESS ANY OF MY REVIEWS!!! [This is no hype or joke.]

I will be brief about this. Neil Postman's book AMUSING OURSELVES TO DEATH is simply outstanding. As a detailed intellectual analysis, it shows just one reason for the non-book reading, Fox news-watching, anti-intellectual climate that currently pervades the United States in 2008.

The causes are many, but have a common thread--television--a medium which has insinuated itself into the mindlessness of popular culture--so much so that any ignorant, but photo-friendly fool, or front-man,(one old, one younger) along with their right-wing, neo-con, neo-liberal cohorts and advisors can TWICE ascend to the highest levels of political power in the U.S.

Can anyone read this book and not partially understand the devolution of critical reasoning that has produced such a total debacle of political leaders and governmental competence--all of which were produced on television--with carefully crafted lies and smooth media presentations??? From lies about Saddam Hussein's WMD's or his link to Al-Quieda, to the illegal invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, even to the outrageous stupidity of Kansas creationists. (If ANY of these people are the products of "intelligent design", God help us all!)

The culpability of television and other mass media is readily seen in cyclical and glib campaign promises about political "change"--which is ALWAYS trotted out at EVERY election cycle by EVERY slick politican in their sixty-second television ads or their obligatory 60 Minute interviews (the effect of which only proves just how stupidly gullible and mindless American voters have become.)

But Postman was right about Aldous Huxley----and wrong about George Orwell. While the corporate masters feed the multitudes the utter mindlessness of reality television shows, info-tainment, and religious programming as predicted by Huxley, the deep thinkers and readers and intellectuals in this society have been and are presently being subjected to an Orwellian nightmare of total information networking and surveillance. The thought-police are alive, busy, and growing like cancer on the body politic....with special privacy-invading on-line computer programs like the one called CARNIVORE...and also surreptitiously installing specially-designed malicious software on home computers (which download your files at night.) They monitor chat-rooms, e-mails, tweets, Facebook friends, Google-AOL-Bing & Firefox searches et.al, along with credit card purchases, library check-outs, medical, dental, and insurance records, even casino visits; using RFID's, GPS tracking, and even cable TV and satellite TV services for surveillance--all as authorized by the USA Patriot Acts, a spineless Congress, and a See-No-Evil Supreme Court. All books may NOT YET be banned (or burned ala Farenheit 451), but those who read from selected and targeted lists will be watched and monitored.

Both U.S. history and the FBI's COINTELPRO shows that many of these unsuspecting people will be set-up, run-down, arrested, and imprisoned--while the Mindless Masses happily monitor their political trials, and then phone-in their votes--via some reality television show--perhaps called "American Idol-a-tor", or better yet, "American Heretics." ("Cops" and "Big Brother." are already taken.)

One million U.S. citizens are currently on the Department of Homeland Security's watch list. ONE MILLION!!! Can any of you feel the heat??? If not, don't worry, (keep watching television)...and be happy. It's all coming soon to more people like you. Be sure to look for it. It's called a police-state. It's gonna be HOT, and one HELL of a witch-hunt!!!
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
bj rn
This is Postman's most famous and widely read book (as is attested by the more than 100 customer reviews here on the store) and it is, as other reviewers have suggested, a classic in the Media Studies field. The songwriter Roger Waters was inspired enough to title his album "Amused to Death" after reading Postman's book (although Postman states in one of his later works that he himself would never stoop to listening to the likes of a "Roger Waters").

Instead of giving the usual plot synopsis here as other reviewers have done, I would like instead to perform for you a Media Studies reading of the book. That is to say, instead of reviewing the book's contents, I would like to draw your attention to the medium and format of the book itself, and in doing so, point out what this reveals about Postman as a philosopher.

To begin with the most important point: there are no pictures. Anywhere. And not only is this true of Amusing Ourselves to Death, it is true of every single one of Postman's books. This should alert us to something very important here about Postman: he is iconophobic. He is engaged in a battle against images of any, and every, kind. Not even Marshall McLuhan was so antipathetic to the use of images and illustrations, for his very first book, The Mechanical Bride, is a series of commentaries upon advertisements. In the age old battle of the Word vs. the Image -- a battle which goes way, way back before the twentieth century to the Iconoclastic debates amongst the Greek Byzantines whose iconophobes were in fact influenced by the aniconism of Islam, an entire religion which, like Judaism, had been based upon a rejection of images -- Postman, in this tradition, definitely aligns himself on the side of the Word against the iconophiles, be they Catholics or Hindus or lovers of comic books, or whomever.

Also, you will not find any references to works of art of any kind in this book. Postman apparently has an antipathy to painting and imagery of any kind whatsoever, be it "classical" or electronic. It is important to point this out because it reveals, in the tradition of Harold Innis, Postman's essential "bias" in this book. Indeed, Postman's dialogue with Camille Paglia, published in an old issue of Harper's, underlines this point, for Paglia is as much an iconophile as Postman is an iconoclast. "In the beginning was the Word," Postman quotes, as though to clarify his own personal theology, before proceeding onward with his dialogue with Paglia.

The next thing to notice about the book is its brevity. It is very short, as in fact, are all Mr. Postman's books, for Postman has been quoted as saying that he does not believe in writing long books, and that if one cannot express oneself in two hundred pages or less, then one has no business writing a book. The bibliography, accordingly, is also short, and so apparently Mr. Postman did not feel the need to read many books in order to write this book.

For Postman really only has a single point to make here, and it is an important point which he argues persuasively and eloquently: television is taking over our culture, and all our thought patterns in every aspect or division of our culture is taking its cue from the syncopated, discontinuous and ahistorical "mentality" of television. How this has affected our reading habits, and whether those reading habits still continue, albeit in a changed manner, Postman fails to address. For people have not stopped reading books; instead, they continue to read books, but their expectations of the book have changed. The brevity of Postman's book is itself perhaps an example of what happens to sustained intellectual discourse in the Electronic Age: books get shorter because our attention spans (Postman's included) have shrank. Nobody wants to wade through books on the scale and magnitude of Spengler's Decline of the West or Hegel's Phenomenology of the Spirit. I notice, furthermore, that the sorts of books which Postman exhibits in his Bibliography are, one and all, short books.

Thus, here is the secret of Postman's book: Postman himself suffers from the very same attention deficit disorder that he castigates others for having suffered at the hands of Electronic Society.

Hmm. One would expect a professor of Media Studies who was as well read and thoughtful as Postman to engage our attention for a while longer. If this book is the greatest thing Postman ever wrote, then we must confess, alas, that Postman's work does not contain a single magnum opus on the level of a Gutenberg Galaxy or an Understanding Media. Perhaps this fact in itself is evidence of a general decline in intellectual and literary ability in our culture during the latter half of the twentieth century.

The reader should not understand that I am saying that there is anything wrong with Amusing Ourselves to Death. But we should learn to understand its limitations in order to appreciate its place in the pantheon of Media Studies classics, upon which list, after all is said and done, Amusing Ourselves to Death places relatively low.

--John David Ebert, author of "The New Media Invasion: Digital Technologies and the World They Unmake" (McFarland Books, 2011)
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
pierre luc ayotte
This is one of the better books on the who/why/how of the arguably mindless entertainment we feed ourselves in America.
I, like the last reviewer, read this book for school, but I and enjoyed it fully. It was was of those, "Yeah, yeah of course! That's what I've been trying to think. Thank you for putting structure to my mental gropings."
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
priscah28
Neil Postman was a teacher with that most excellent quality: the ability to explain things well. If you want to know why it's important for us to understand the danger of a video-driven, entertainment-based structure of public discourse over a print-based structure, start here.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
gwyneth
The first 80 odd pages of the book, where Postman establishes his proposition that the mode of communication shapes what is communicated, how, to whom and the entire perception of the world, is nothing short of brilliant, his expose on the written word, compared to oral, and then the introduction of the telegraph, all ring true and I would consider irrefutable. And then the second half of the book, is where he begins to attack TV, on the grounds that the medium is corrupted, corrupted at the core from its very nature and therefore all communication through it is warped, and since we're all couch spuds, where all warped, the world is gonna blow up and crash into the sun. Now, that leap of faith on the last part may sound, a bit far fetched, but that is literally how his arguement goes. He cites, solitary examples to set precident for entire arguements, one badly mediated debate in 1984, has sent all political debate on TV to hell from now until eternity. Postman attacks Sesame Street, PBS NewsHour, NOVA, I'm sorry but I could read books at 4 years of age because of Sesame Street. I find almost all of his premises flawed, and it seems to me, the man simply hates Television, which is all fine and good, but then he tries to disguise it in some messiah trip where he's gonna save us from the remote control. Here is the second part of the book in a nutshell - You cannot stop watching TV, even if you wanted you lack the willpower. You believe everything you see on TV, not just the content, but also the presentation. Because commercials are short, your attention span is short. News presented on TV is entertainment and does not affect your life in any conceivable way. You do not care. God hates you. You suck and now you must die! TV IS SATAN'S LOVE CHILD.
I will not say that TV isn't full of crap, cause it is, but postman primarily speaks to the monopolization of TV by the Big Three...now it's the big 3000 (cable, sattelite) and talk radio has resurged big time since 1984, the internet abounds, and Books still sell millions of copies!
Other pet peeves with the book, any book, any reading is good - harlequin romance therefore is more educational than frontline documentaries. Radio is completely ok, nevermind, shock jocks and howard stern. Before TV everyone was a literate genius and could converse on Plato at the drop of hat. I'm sorry Mr. Postman, there were dirty graffiti in the senate bathroom of Roman Empire, Plato was a gay man who stalked little boys from town to town, Churchhill was a drunk! TV he complains panders to the most common denominator to get the most viewers...I say it's the ultimate democracy, TV is simply the mass distribution of the baseness of human nature, but for godsakes, it's human nature and it's not the device's fault. Dirty books were around and are still around.
Postman, is simply a frustrated man, who sounds like the granddad who complains about kids these days. His thesis sounds more like a rant, with very little to back it up.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
reem salem
I admit to being somewhat of a cable TV junkie on my off time that is not taken up with family, hobbies, etc. I expected to disagree with Mr. Postman and found myself seeing the wisdom of the facts and perspective he presented. Something thought-provoking to challenge you but again, not the easiest read. I do feel that this work is extremely important and think very highly of it!
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
sara lange
Yes, this book is a powerful indictment of media culture. BUT it also "laments" rather than critiques, longing for a past that was "better" only for white, educated, Christian men! Look out for the minefields of Native American slur jokes, omission of statistics about women (or placement into parentheses of these facts), ignorance of the immigrant experience, and implicit denial of slavery. Postman is so wonderful in some ways, it is deeply sad he is so biased by his white maleness that he boasts of ideal literacy rates in the 1800s while all I can think of is that slaves were forbidden from this pursuit, women weren't educated, and immigrants worked in factories or mines. Only white men can truly be enthralled with such a book, and that is sad, because it is so politically perceptive and powerful in its attack on media otherwise. Don't say things were better in the past, just say things have always been oppressive (literacy was also about the oppression of the oral culture of the Native peoples whose country this was first!) and the argument will be much less foolish in the early chapters.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
lawrence rao
Postman is anti-television. Its not necessarily a bad thing -- Just be aware of that when you read the book. The only problem with his bias is that it clouds his reasoning sometimes, resulting in a "witch hunt" style mentality. I still recommend the book, but there are better critiques.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
eric piotrowski
Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death is a book I would enjoy more if I were in College where they have you study complex words or those you would not use on a daily basis. As a high school student I wouldn't recommend it to those who don't have a dictionary in their head or to those who like to sit down and read a good book. I am in no way saying this is a bad book to read but rather that it is meant for those with a higher level of education than a high school student who doesn't even want to read it in the first place. I found that as I read the first chapter I became lost and didn't understand what it was I had just read. But putting aside how my mental capacity handled the book, when my teacher started to put the book in layman's terms for the class it became clearer what Neil Postman was attempting to make us understand. It is an excellent look into the world of the 1980's and an accurate look into the future. When comparing the predictions in Aldous Huxley's a Brave New World to the predictions of George Orwell's 1984 we discover through Postman's interpretation of what Huxley said was more accurate than anyone could have imagined. I don't see this book as some sort of "I told you so" but rather a "from what I see", more of an observation than a prediction. What I enjoyed most in the book is in chapter 6,"The Age of Show Business"(pg.83), where he talks about the alternate uses of the television such as "an illumination for the written word", or "a bookcase". It amazes me how the TV has become more to us than just entertainment, now it is a status symbol of how well you are doing in life by the size and update in technology. The fact that such a primitive object such as a TV or MP3 player determines our social status infuriates me! I recommend this book to those who have a strong interest on the subject or to those who wish to be informed, but be warned that it is a higher level of reading. This book is for those who have the capacity to understand truly educated people and the language they speak.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
diarmaid
Is it ironic that I went to the mall to buy this book only to find that there was no longer even a bookstore there? Instead, under "books" where I would normally find a Barnes and Noble or even a Borders in the mall directory was now a new section titled "Books, cards and gifts" under which were found five stores including Brookstone, Hallmark, and Papyrus: none of which to my knowledge sell or have ever sold books. I think that perhaps Postman may be on to something
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
christine beverly
I find it interesting that this book was written in 1985. It seems to have relevance in the social media boom of today. We have been reading this book in a college class I am taking called "Topics for the Digital Age". I am normally not a person who writes reviews or participates in social media, but we are forced to do this, so here I am. I don't particularly like this book. So far I think it is antiquated and framed in a tired and cliche manner. One thing that has stuck out to me is in a part where Postman talks about George Orwell's "1984" and Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World". He says that we are living in a world more similar to the one Huxley describes than that of what Orwell describes. Wow. Real insightful stuff. Maybe in 1985 this was a new and fascinating take, but in 2018 it seems stale and dated. Also there is an air of superiority in the rhetoric he uses. The tone in which he writes, reminds me of another book we are reading in this class called "Toward A Civil Discourse". The author in this book is so incredibly condescending it borders on the absurd. She set up one side as being logical, pro-women, and rational and the side she is criticizing as being illogical, anti-woman, and religious zealots. My professor says that I am making inferences and drawing conclusions based on my own biases and ideologies. She also says that the author is simply posing a rhetorical situation and that I am deriving ill intent from it. Maybe she is right, she very well could be. However, in "Amusing Ourselves to Death" the author isn't really talking about anything necessarily political and I still see the framing and rhetoric as biased and condescending. I am sure perspective has a lot to do with it. Maybe as I continue to read both of these books I will find that my perspective changes, maybe not. I am still trying to be open minded and take the authors at face value, but that doesn't mean I can't critique their flaws.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
kori crawford
I sped through this in about 2 days of reading. I've always heard the argument about television being bad because it avoids realism and important things, so it was interesting to hear that television is at it's worst when it co-opts serious matters like news and education. He wrote this when Reagan was president, and some of his references to presidential IQ really got me laughing. I thought it was great.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
peter
interesting reading this book some 20 years after it was written. most of his ideas about the future seem to have come true. reality TV is not. celebrities are increasingly fake and people are unable to have a decent conversation. a large % of the population doesn't read beyond magazines any more. however, the internet has had an impact. you need to type to surf the net and that means the typographic age is having a come back of sorts.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
molly bingham
This book is a great learning tool for anyone studing mass media,as long as the reader can separate the facts from Postman's opinion. It served as a great book to enhance my studies in mass media. I would recommend this book to someone who is studying mass media or who wants to gain an insight into mass media.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
joanne
This book outlines how American culture has declined from reasonable discourse to trite, shallow and (largely uninformed) opinion-based mindlessness as a direct result of the technology we use to communicate. Written decades before the proliferation of the internet, mobile phones and instant messaging, there now can be little doubt of the validity of Neil Postman's conclusions. Sound bites, extremist talk radio, political spin and reality TV have further degraded our civility and tastes over the last 20 years. Even amongst the literate, the many uncivil and ill-conceived comments posted to the store support his premise.

Unfortunately, the author's proposed solutions are weak. Further, his academic and formal writing style makes for dry reading. Perhaps that was an intentionally ironic decision to be contrary to the show-business culture we have become. Thankfully, the text is sprinkled with some wry humor from time to time.

Read this book if you are interested in a prescient insight on how so many Americans have become so amazingly uninformed in the information age. And let's hope enough of us keep reading books -- and encouraging others to do so - to avoid becoming the Brave New World imagined by Huxley.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
ronnysay
This book asks questions that we need to be asking but aren't. How can we not at least question the media and technology that we take in like oxygen? It's an important read and I recommend it to anyone who isn't apathetic.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
terianne
Although written almost 20 years ago, Postman's theory on the decline of public discourse is more relevant than ever. He does a great job of walking through the historical aspects of this subject in a way that is logical and easy to understand. A book everyone should read.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
emily ayers
The beginning of the book seemed to hold promise. The analysis of the impact and history of the printed word appeared to set up a riveting discussion in the pages that followed. If that is what one expected, one was sorely disappointed. What one was actually treated to was a curmudgeon's view of society and the role of television. The questions he should have answered in the book are reserved as rhetorical questions in the last chapter.

Why this book is held in such high regard is left for the reader to ponder and scratch his or her head. Postman's "arguments" are so many strawmen lined up for him to knock over. His position is analogous to the story teller bemoaning the advent of the printed word. "It's not so fantastic," such a person said, "and it in fact will rip apart the fabric of society that we hold dear. How will our youth understand how the world was created and our special place in it if they do not hear the stories. If they are able to read the stories in this new communication form called 'printing', they will never see the relationships correctly. We are doomed!"

Seriously, it is about that bad.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
ruairi
Since most of the "critical reviews" of this book have been met with highly judgmental (and, most of the time, rather immature) responses, let me preface what I'm about to post with this: I am NOT some illiterate high school kid or community college student who found the book difficult to understand, nor am I a person who is not well-read. On the contrary, I'm quite a literary buff. I've read Dickens; I've read Homer; I've read many literature classics (I'm a particular fan Shakespeare). I've read these works not because I was forced to by a bitter old high school literature teacher, or because it was required for LIT 101 in college. So if you're going to respond to my review, do me a favor and leave any judgment of my character out of it and stick to what I've written. You don't know me well enough to pass judgment on who I am as a person. With that being said, let's talk about Postman.

While Postman does an excellent job of discussing the "evolution" of language and how we've gone from the spoken word as the primary means of storytelling and knowledge to the written word and ultimately to the "television era," he tends to take an extremist approach to television. His demonization of the television industry at many times takes such a one-sided view of the effect of media on society that it is hard to take him seriously in many instances.

Take, for example, his statement on page 159, where he states "Television serves us most usefully when presenting junk-entertainment; it serves us most ill when it co-opts serious modes of discourse... We would all be better off if television got worse, not better. "The A-Team" and "Cheers" are no threat to our public health. "60 Minutes," "Eye-Witness News," and "Sesame Street" are." Perhaps it was the era in which Postman wrote that prompted this particular statement. That notwithstanding, to accuse programs such as "Sesame Street" as being a "threat" to public health is nothing short of ludicrous and extreme.

Moreover, on page 87, Postman rants, "All subject matter is presented as entertaining... No matter what is depicted or from what point of view, the overarching presumption is that it is there for our amusement or pleasure." And while Sesame Street may have an "entertaining" format, to say that news coverage of legitimate events are there for our "amusement or pleasure," is completely ridiculous. Personally, I never saw anything "amusing" or "pleasurable" about the 9/11 news coverage. Matt Quayle, in his article "The Method of the Medium is in Motion" does a great job of taking Postman's general "theme" and more correctly applying it to modern society. His article is definitely worth a read.

Lastly, it is my opinion that Postman could have gotten his entire point across in 80 pages, as opposed to the 163 pages it took him in this book. I found many instances where he simply drones on and on, and uses excessive "wordiness" and repeats his point in two or three different ways. Personally, it seemed to me like he simply liked hearing himself "speak." Obviously, I never knew the man personally, but he seemed to be trying to claim some moral or intellectual superiority by his wordiness, as if to say, "Look at me! I'm not a product of the media brainwashing plot. I can use fancy words." Perhaps that wasn't his intent, but it's definitely the vibe I got off of the book.

In summary, while I feel that Postman's book has points of merit, he went overboard on many of his remarks about media exposure. Perhaps I feel this way because I live in a 21st century society, and I see more clearly how technology has evolved to become an invaluable tool for spreading and gaining knowledge. And although I agree that media has the capacity to make mindless drones out of its denizens, I do not feel that the demonization of the media as Postman has depicted is entirely fair. But like I said, this is all just my opinion.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
andrew henry
This book explores in great detail the problem our youth faces with the ongoing infiltration of television into our society. Takes the entertainment tool and shows how it is running our lives. Well written masterpiece.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
susan burton
I read this book in 2003 and it is more relevant today than ever. A masterfully written book that tells the story of the TV Generation's addiction and its consequences. The quality of the writing challenged me also.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
idris
Neil Postman's 1984 book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, is an engaging, if not depressing treatise on why Aldous Huxley's dark vision of humanity's future as thoughtless, mind-numbed entertainment-gluts in his 1932 novel, A Brave New World (Huxley reassesses the future world he envisioned in 1958 with the essay A Brave New World Revisited) was more accurate than George Orwell's vision of an oppressive, book-banning, power-hungry authority asserting vast control over the masses as outlined in Orwell's equally dystopic 1949 novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four. While the prevention of the Orwellian nightmare occupied the generation preceding--and to only a slightly lesser extent since--the year 1984, it was Huxley's future, Postman argues, that we should have been--and still should be and forever remain--on guard against. "[I]n 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 . . . adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think." (Foreword, vii)

Postman's book is a cause-and-effect cultural polemic, warning us that public discourse is dissolving into "the arts of show business" and "vast triviality" (p. 5 and 6), and he puts the blame squarely on television. While the argument is worth making and the debate worth having, his philosophical waxing leaves me wanting to say the least. For example, he opines that a fat man could not run for President of these United States today because the "grossness of a three-hundred-pound image (on TV) . . . would easily overwhelm any logical or spiritual subtleties conveyed by speech." (p. 7) There is no acknowledgment from Postman that obesity is a serious health concern and in an era in which those health concerns were and are well known, it is not unreasonable to infer than an obese person lacks personal self-discipline and will power, two characteristics reasonably desirable in the leader of the free world. To counter Postman directly, the shape of a man's body may, in fact, be quite relevant to the shape of his ideas. Additionally, in a world of nuclear proliferation and persistent and consistent armed conflict, it can be argued that an unhealthy President poses a national security threat.

Many of Postman's premises underpinning his theses seem to be ill-formed or just plain illogical. Take for example his surprising suggestion that "half the principles of capitalism . . . are irrelevant" and "that economics is less a science than a performing art." (p. 5) Economics at its core is the study of how societies allocate their limited resources, and to reduce this to a performing art, even hyperbolically, undermines the argument being made. The economics of capitalism are far too regarded to simply be carelessly sacrificed on his rhetorical altar without considerably more evidence than Postman provides. He offers only the uncredited observation that "American businessmen discovered . . . that the quality and usefulness of their goods are subordinate to the artifice of their display." (p. 4) While peripherally true, this has little bearing on the relevance of capitalism or the rigors of economic study. Perhaps Postman's own public discourse should be elevated.

Similarly, his contradictory suggestion that "people of a television culture need `plain language' both aurally and visually" (p. 46) is patently absurd. On the one hand, Postman rails against television for dumbing down our public discourse, then on the other, suggests dumbed down discourse is all a television culture can handle. Perhaps a wiser argument could be made favoring elevated discourse in our television programming rather than presuming those that watch television are too stupid to understand it.

I have cited but a handful of examples in Postman's book of how his thesis is weakened by seemingly plausible but ultimately misleading arguments. But the same can be said of his thesis as a whole. Public discourse in this country was not weakened by the advent of the television; it was weakened by the advent of weak public discourse. Television is not the cause of weaker public discourse, it is the result of it, notwithstanding Postman's unpersuasive intimation (chapter 2) of a media-induced epistemological shift (e.g. we no longer communicate through symbols carved on cave walls and I dare say we are no worse for having lost that mode of communication and arguably better).

Postman provides little evidence that television has damaged America's body politic or retarded the growth of our intellectual discourse, public or otherwise. The contribution of television to historic, citizen-based changes such as the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam and Iraq wars and the protests those wars spawned, the environmental movement, and even the end of the Cold War deserve discussion in any examination of media and politics, yet is completely absent in this brief volume. Postman's dissertation about how the pre-television age empowered our citizens fails to acknowledge any of America's infamous atrocities (slavery, Native American genocide, etc.). It would be erroneous to assign sole responsibility for any of these social events to a single dominant form of media, but Postman seems to do just that with regard to our modern ills, of which there are not only plenty, but plenty of causes. In largely ignoring the relationship between media and the social events of the day that also define "the television culture," Postman's arguments for media influence seem both irrelevant and naïve.

Television is a reflection of society and none of society's ills can be cured by simply breaking the mirror. As Aristophanes famously said, "Youth ages. Immaturity is outgrown. Ignorance can be educated, and drunkenness sobered, but stupid lasts forever." Stupidity is as old as the human race and as long as stupid people exist, there will be stupid shows to watch on television. Does anyone really believe public discourse in this country can be elevated by simply getting rid of the television?

[NOTE: For all my criticism of this book, it is worth noting that Postman's history of the written word in America (Chapter 3: Typographic America) is fascinating. It alone would have done more for advancing the debate over the deterioration of public discourse in this country than the sum of Postman's largely sophistic postulates and it alone is worthy of the two-star rating.]
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
yannick jolliet
very difficult to read quickly. longer than normal sentences, larger than normal words, a lot of fluff and extraneous items. had to read for a class, and honestly, the way in which it was written bored me to tears. sorry!
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
lynda weaver
Marshall McLuhan argued that the medium is the message. And Postman argues that the message of television, our most pervasive medium, is entertainment. Nothing can exist on television, unless it is entertainment. Buried in the maelstrom of his arguments, however, is the correct observation that is some countries television is used primarily as a propaganda tool. He quickly dispenses with this inconvenient fact by arguing it away: in such countries television has not achieved its real potential. If it did, it would be purveying nothing but entertainment.
The danger in all this is not entertainment per se, but that people take television programs, especially "60-minutes" and other information/educational programs too seriously. They fall into the trap of thinking that they are well-informed. But television trivializes knowledge by turning into entertainment, making meaningful public discourse impossible.
I cannot agree with this, because it contradicts all existing evidence and common sense. First, television, like books, can be used to entertain and to educate. The fact that virtually nothing on television falls into the category of serious education and analysis is not the fault of television. For the most part, people do not want to delve into deep political analysis, and those who do can watch C-SPAN. Also, programs such as can be found on Discovery Science or the History Channel are very education. Postman wrote before the proliferation of cable, which allowed broadcasters to "narrowcast," i.e., to pitch themselves to more narrow, more educated, elite audience.
As for the claim that in the past there was some deep sophisticated discourse that does not exist today, I simply do not believe it. Aside from the fact that Thomas Paine's "Common Sense" sold a lot of copies, Postman gives no evidence that 18th century Americans, reared as they were the "Typographical culture," shaped by the written word, were any more intelligent or politically discerning that Americans today. I also don't know what self-selected audiences at the Lincoln-Douglas debates demonstrate about the lack of understanding of major issues today. Jointly, Lincoln and Douglas could speak for the whole day, and there were people there to listen them--also for the whole day, with a major break for dinner, of course. This does not mean they understood politics. Most likely this means that they were entertained by Lincoln and Douglas. They were entertained, and television did not even exist.
So according to Postman, there was real sophisticated "discourse" in which ordinary people could engage. But there was also slavery, bigotry, no electricity, and no running water in much of the country. But who can concern himself with such trivialities, in the face of "discourse?" Look, if such sophistication existed, Lincoln would not have felt obliged to talk about pushing for a constitutional amendment to make slavery permanent. Yes, he did that when campaigning in Border States. He would not have chosen Andrew Johnson, a former slave owner, to be his vice president, had he not felt the need to appeal to peace-oriented sentiments of the North. Most likely there was less sophistication and less serious discourse then than there is today.
I have uncovered this love for "discourse" not only in Postman, but among humanistic intellectuals worldwide, especially among those who feel they should get a better job or greater status. While they write about social justice and the need for equality; the misery of the proletariat, and the greed of capitalists; all they really want is to have their "discourse," that is to think, to study, and to get worshipped for it. To acknowledge this openly is impossible. So the wretched of the earth become a vehicle of choice for gaining power for humanistic intellectuals.
More fundamentally, Postman failed to realize one very important truth about politics--politics is a game of power, the crucial word in this assessment being "game." And as such, politics is necessarily part of entertainment. The divine comedy unfolding here on this planet, even with its terrible spasms of tragedy, is not to be lamented, but accepted. We do not want to be lamenting ourselves to death. Politics has always been, and is likely to forever remain, a game where surface, superficiality, pretending and dissembling, misleading and backstabbing dominate the appearance of the game. Politics is a game of power and not a discourse about where we should go as a country. I know where I would like the country to go, but not everybody agrees. Many groups and individuals have different agenda. And no amount of rational discourse will erase the fact that we simply cannot agree. Mr. Postman's thesis is most likely destined to go to the dustbin of political theory.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
ashanan
I had to read this book for school, and ket me just tell you it was one of the hardest things I've ever done. I'm an avid reader but this bunch of philosophical garbage I couldn't stomach. The writer is a hypocrite and unless you want to be put to sleep, don't bother
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
cheryl
Postman's arguments are rarely based on hard science, he is very polemic. There is a book by a media scientist who takes apart all auf Postman's arguments in "amusing yourself to death". But he is not saying that Postman is wrong on everything he is justing saying that Postman is guessing and that he cannot prove his findings at all. Just too sad, that I don't remember the name of that book. Anyone?
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
kimberly moynahan
Postman posits that people will come to " "adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think." Hmm...I wonder what he'd say about the store.com or the litany of book superstores that pepper our suburbs. Postman's flamboyant declinism is nothing less than ridiculous.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
jamie jasper
As a teenager being forced to submit to reading the torturous boredom and monotony that is this book, I say this was a waste of my summer vacation. My fellow classmates also agree with me. After picking up the pieces of my kindle that I threw across the room in frustration at having to read this horrendous book I say I have no love for this "book", it would serve better use mopping up my tears of hatred. I have a week to finish this book and Im only 9 pages in. I think I speak for all the children in the world when I say this book was annoying. The only reason Im giving this book one star is because of the fact that Neil Postman obviously has the ability to form sentences, just not ones that are any good or have relevance. The name of this book is a serious misnomer, it should be boring ourselves to death.
Please Rate Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business - Amusing Ourselves to Death
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