Amusing Ourselves To Death Quotes

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Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other. They do not exchange ideas, they exchange images. They do not argue with propositions; they argue with good looks, celebrities and commercials.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
[M]ost of our daily news is inert, consisting of information that gives us something to talk about but cannot lead to any meaningful action. (68).
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience, and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn't, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares. But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell's dark vision, there was another - slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think. What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions." In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us. This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
The television commercial is not at all about the character of products to be consumed. It is about the character of the consumers of products.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Our politics, religion, news, athletics, education and commerce have been transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business, largely without protest or even much popular notice. The result is that we are a people on the verge of amusing ourselves to death.
Neil Postman
People will come to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
We do not measure a culture by its output of undisguised trivialities but by what it claims as significant.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Everything in our background has prepared us to know and resist a prison when the gates begin to close around us . . . But what if there are no cries of anguish to be heard? Who is prepared to take arms against a sea of amusements? To whom do we complain, and when, and in what tone of voice, when serious discourse dissolves into giggles? What is the antidote to a culture's being drained by laughter?
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
For in the end, he was trying to tell us what afflicted the people in 'Brave New World' was not that they were laughing instead of thinking, but that they did not know what they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions." In 1984, Huxley added, "people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us".
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
What the advertiser needs to know is not what is right about the product but what is wrong about the buyer.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
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.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
If politics is like show business, then the idea is not to pursue excellence, clarity or honesty but to appear as if you are, which is another matter altogether.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
The written word endures, the spoken word disappears
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
It is not necessary to conceal anything from a public insensible to contradiction and narcotized by technological diversions.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
[It] is not that television is entertaining but that it has made entertainment itself the natural format for the representation of all experience. […] The problem is not that television presents us with entertaining subject matter but that all subject matter is presented as entertaining. (87)
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
But it is much later in the game now, and ignorance of the score is inexcusable. To be unaware that a technology comes equipped with a program for social change, to maintain that technology is neutral, to make the assumption that technology is always a friend to culture is, at this late hour, stupidity plain and simple.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate... We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the old world some weeks nearer to the new; but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad flapping American ear will be that Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough.
Henry David Thoreau (Walden)
Television is our culture's principal mode of knowing about itself. Therefore -- and this is the critical point -- how television stages the world becomes the model for how the world is properly to be staged. It is not merely that on the television screen entertainment is the metaphor for all discourse. It is that off the screen the same metaphor prevails. (92)
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
The clearest way to see through a culture is to attend to its tools for conversation.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
The reader must come armed , in a serious state of intellectual readiness. This is not easy because he comes to the text alone. In reading, one's responses are isolated, one'sintellect thrown back on its own resourses. To be confronted by the cold abstractions of printed sentences is to look upon language bare, without the assistance of either beauty or community. Thus, reading is by its nature a serious business. It is also, of course, an essentially rational activity.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
In America, everyone is entitled to an opinion, and it is certainly useful to have a few when a pollster shows up. But these are opinions of a quite different roder from eighteenth- or nineteenth-century opinions. It is probably more accurate to call them emotions rather than opinions, which would account for the fact that they change from week to week, as the pollsters tell us. What is happening here is that television is altering the meaning of 'being informed' by creating a species of information that might properly be called disinformation. I am using this world almost in the precise sense in which it is used by spies in the CIA or KGB. Disinformation does not mean false information. It means misleading information--misplace, irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information--information that creates the illusion of knowing something but which in fact leads one away from knowing. In saying this, I do not mean to imply that television news deliberately aims to deprive Americans of a coherent, contextual understanding of their world. I mean to say that when news is packaged as entertainment, that is the inevitable result. And in saying that the television news show entertains but does not inform, I am saying something far more serious than that we are being deprived of authentic information. I am saying we are losing our sense of what it means to be well informed. Ignorance is always correctable. But what shall we do if we take ignorance to be knowledge?
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
We are all, as Huxley says someplace, Great Abbreviators, meaning that none of us has the wit to know the whole truth, the time to tell it if we believed we did, or an audience so gullible as to accept it.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
I do not mean to imply that television news deliberately aims to deprive Americans of a coherent, contextual understanding of their world. I mean to say that when news is packaged as entertainment, that is the inevitable result. And in saying that the television news show entertains but does not inform, I am saying something far more serious than that we are being deprived of authentic information. I am saying we are losing our sense of what it means to be well informed.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
What Huxley teaches is that 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. In the Huxleyan prophecy, Big Brother does not watch us, by his choice. We watch him, by ours. There is no need for wardens or gates or Ministries of Truth. When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; a culture-death is a clear possibility.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
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.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
...there must be a sequence to learning, that perseverance and a certain measure of perspiration are indispensable, that individual pleasures must frequently be submerged in the interests of group cohesion, and that learning to be critical and to think conceptually and rigorously do not come easily to the young but are hard-fought victories.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Writing is defined as "a conversation with no one and yet with everyone.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
enchantment is the means through which we may gain access to sacredness. Entertainment is the means through which we distance ourselves from it.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
People of a television culture need “plain language” both aurally and visually, and will even go so far as to require it in some circumstances by law. The Gettysburg Address would probably have been largely incomprehensible to a 1985 audience.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
It is not necessary to conceal anything from a public insensible to contradiction and narcoticized by technological diversions
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Typography fostered the modern idea of individuality, but it destroyed the medieval sense of community and integration
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
We do not measure a culture based on its output of undisguised trivialities, but what it claims as significant.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
A book is an attempt to make through permanent and to contribute to the great conversation conducted by authors of the past. […] The telegraph is suited only to the flashing of messages, each to be quickly replaced by a more up-to-date message. Facts push other facts into and then out of consciousness at speeds that neither permit nor require evaluation. (70)
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
All that has happened is that the public has adjusted to incoherence and been amused into indifference.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
The credibility of the teller is the ultimate test of the truth of a proposition. (102)
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Voting, we might even say, is the next to last refuge of the politically impotent. The last refuge is, of course, giving your opinion to a pollster, who will get a version of it through a desiccated question, and then will submerge it in a Niagara of similar opinions, and convert them into--what else?--another piece of news. Thus we have here a great loop of impotence: The news elicits from you a variety of opinions about which you can do nothing except to offer them as more news, about which you can do nothing.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
...On television, religion, like everything else, is presented, quite simply and without apology, as an entertainment. Everything that makes religion an historic, profound, sacred human activity is stripped away; there is no ritual, no dogma, no tradition, no theology, and above all, no sense of spiritual transcendence.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
IT’S HARDLY a coincidence that “Shipping Out,” Wallace’s most well-known essay, appeared only a month before Infinite Jest, his most well-known novel, was published. Both are about the same thing (amusing ourselves to death), with different governing données (lethally entertaining movie, lethally pampering leisure cruise). In an interview after the novel came out, Wallace, asked what’s so great about writing, said that we’re existentially alone on the planet—I can’t know what you’re thinking and feeling, and you can’t know what I’m thinking and feeling—so writing, at its best, is a bridge constructed across the bridge of human loneliness.
David Shields (How Literature Saved My Life)
As Thoreau implied, telegraphy made relevance irrelevant.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
We rarely talk about television, only about what’s on television
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
television’s way of knowing is uncompromisingly hostile to typography’s way of knowing; that television’s conversations promote incoherence and triviality; that the phrase “serious television” is a contradiction in terms; and that television speaks in only one persistent voice—the voice of entertainment
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
For no medium is excessively dangerous if its users understand what its dangers are. It is not important that those who ask the questions arrive at my answers or Marshall McLuhan's (quite different answers, by the way). This is an instance in which the asking of the questions is sufficient. To ask is to break the spell.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
I should go so far as to say that embedded in the surrealistic frame of a television news show is a theory of anticommunication, featuring a type of discourse that abandons logic, reason, sequence and rules of contradiction. In aesthetics, I believe the name given to this theory is Dadaism; in philosophy, nihilism; in psychiatry, schizophrenia. In the parlance of the theater, it is known as vaudeville.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Today, we must look to the city of Las Vegas, Nevada, as a metaphor of our national character and aspiration, its symbol a thirty-foot-high cardboard picture of a slot machine and a chorus girl. For Las Vegas is a city entirely devoted to the idea of entertainment, and as such proclaims the spirit of a culture in which all public discourse increasingly takes the form of entertainment. Our politics, religion, news, athletics, education and commerce have been transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business, largely without protest or even much popular notice. The result is that we are a people on the verge of amusing ourselves to death.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
The modern idea of testing a reader's "comprehension," as distinct from something else a reader may be doing, would have seemed an absurdity in 1790 or 1830 or 1860. What else was reading but comprehending?
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
The television commercial has oriented business away from making products of value and toward making consumers feel valuable, which means that the business of business has now become pseudo-therapy. The consumer is a patient assured by psycho-dramas.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Think of Richard Nixon or Jimmy Carter or Billy Graham, or even Albert Einstein, and what will come to your mind is an image, a picture of face, (in Einstein's case, a photograph of a face). Of words, nothing will come to mind. This is the difference between thinking in a word-centered culture and thinking in an image-centered culture.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
In every tool we create, an idea is embedded that goes beyond the function of the thing itself.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
With television, we vault ourselves into a continuous, incoherent present.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
How often does it occur that information provided you on morning radio or television, or in the morning newspaper, causes you to alter your plans for the day, or to take some action you would not otherwise have taken, or provides insight into some problem you are required to solve?
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
There is nothing wrong with entertainment. As some psychiatrist once put it, we all build castles in the air. The problems come when we try to live in them. The communications media of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with telegraphy and photography at their center, called the peek-a-boo world into existence, but we did not come to live there until television. Television gave the epistemological biases of the telegraph and the photograph their most potent expression, raising the interplay of image and instancy to an exquisite and dangerous perfection. And it brought them into the home. We are by now well into a second generation of children for whom television has been their first and most accessible teacher and, for many, their most reliable companion and friend. To put it plainly, television is the command center of the new epistemology. There is no audience so young that it is barred from television. There is no poverty so abject that it must forgo television. There is no education so exalted that it is not modified by television. And most important of all, there is no subject of public interest—politics, news, education, religion, science, sports—that does not find its way to television. Which means that all public understanding of these subjects is shaped by the biases of television.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
How delighted would be all the kings, czars and führers of the past (and commissars of the present) to know that censorship is not a necessity when all political discourse takes the form of a jest.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Marx understood well that the press was not merely a machine but a structure for discourse, which both rules out and insists upon certain kinds of content and, inevitably, a certain kind of audience.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
We do not refuse to remember; neither do we find it exactly useless to remember. Rather, 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.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
The television commercial is about products only in the sense that the story of Jonah is about the anatomy of whales,
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
As a culture moves from orality to writing to printing to televising, its ideas of truth move with it.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
That is why a good reader does not cheer an apt sentence or pause to applaud even an inspired paragraph. Analytic thought is too busy for that, and too detached.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
The problem is not that television presents us with entertaining subject matter but that all subject matter is presented as entertaining, which is another issue altogether. To
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
There are two ways by which the spirit of a culture may be shriveled. In the first—the Orwellian—culture becomes a prison. In the second—the Huxleyan—culture becomes a burlesque. No
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Parents embraced “Sesame Street” for several reasons, among them that it assuaged their guilt over the fact that they could not or would not restrict their children’s access to television. “Sesame Street” appeared to justify allowing a four- or five-year-old to sit transfixed in front of a television screen for unnatural periods of time. Parents were eager to hope that television could teach their children something other than which breakfast cereal has the most crackle. At the same time, “Sesame Street” relieved them of the responsibility of teaching their pre-school children how to read—no small matter in a culture where children are apt to be considered a nuisance.... 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.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Our politics, religion, news, athletics, education and commerce have been transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business, largely without protest or even much popular notice. The result is that we are a people on the verge of amusing ourselves to death.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Exposition is a mode of thought, a method of learning, and a means of expression. Almost all of the characteristics we associate with mature discourse were amplified by typography, which has the strongest possible bias toward exposition: a sophisticated ability to think conceptually, deductively and sequentially; a high valuation of reason and order; an abhorrence of contradiction; a large capacity for detachment and objectivity; and a tolerance for delayed response.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Prior to the age of telegraphy, the information-action ratio was sufficiently close so that most people had a sense of being able to control some of the contingencies in their lives. What people knew about had action-value. In the information world created by telegraphy, this sense of potency was lost, precisely because the whole world became context for news. Everything became everyone's business. For the first time, we were sent information which answered no question we had asked, and which, in any case, did not permit the right of reply.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
. . . we come astonishingly close to the mystical beliefs of Pythagoras and his followers who attempted to submit all of life to the sovereignty of numbers. Many of our psychologists, sociologists, economists and other latter-day cabalists will have numbers to tell them the truth or they will have nothing. . . . We must remember that Galileo merely said that the language of nature is written in mathematics. He did not say that everything is. And even the truth about nature need not be expressed in mathematics. For most of human history, the language of nature has been the language of myth and ritual. These forms, one might add, had the virtues of leaving nature unthreatened and of encouraging the belief that human beings are part of it. It hardly befits a people who stand ready to blow up the planet to praise themselves too vigorously for having found the true way to talk about nature.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
I think the only choice that will enable us to hold to our vision is one that abandons the concept of naming enemies and adopts a concept familiar to the nonviolent tradition: naming behavior that is oppressive
Barbara Deming
Every television program must be a complete package in itself. No previous knowledge is to be required. There must not be even a hint that learning is hierarchical, that it is an edifice constructed on a foundation. The learner must be allowed to enter at any point without prejudice. This is why you shall never hear or see a television program begin with the caution that if the viewer has not seen the previous programs, this one will be meaningless. Television is a nongraded curriculum and excludes no viewer for any reason, at any time. In other words, in doing away with the idea of sequence and continuity in education, television undermines the idea that sequence and continuity have anything to do with thought itself.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
We do not see nature or intelligence or human motivation or ideology as “it” is 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.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Since we're into witches, let's swing by and check out this Isis at Spirit Quest." She slid her eyes right. Well, maybe she'd rag just a little. "You can probably buy a talisman or some herbs," she said solemnly. "You know, to ward off evil." Peabody shifted in her seat. Feeling foolish wasn't nearly as bad as worrying about being cursed. "Don't think I won't." "After we deal with Isis, we can grab a pizza sub -- with plenty of garlic." "Garlic's for vampires." "Oh. We can have Roarke get us a couple of his antique guns. With silver bullets." "Werewolves, Dallas." Amused at both of them now, Peabody rolled her eyes. "A lot of good you're going to do if we have to defend ourselves against witchcraft." "What does it to witches, then?" "I don't know," Peabody admitted. "But I'm damn sure going to find out.
J.D. Robb (Ceremony in Death (In Death, #5))
Indeed, I hope to persuade you that 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.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
The point is that television does not reveal who the best man is. In fact, television makes impossible the determination of who is better than whom, if we mean by 'better' such things as more capable in negotiation, more imaginative in executive skill, more knowledgeable about international affairs, more understanding of the interrelations of economic systems, and so on. The reason has, almost entirely, to do with 'image.' But not because politicians are preoccupied with presenting themselves in the best possible light. After all, who isn't? It is a rare and deeply disturbed person who does not wish to project a favorable image. But television gives image a bad name. For on television the politician does not so much offer the audience an image of himself, as offer himself as an image of the audience. And therein lies one of the most powerful influences of the television commercial on political discourse.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
In a print-culture, we are apt to say of people who are not intelligent that we must “draw them pictures” so that they may understand. Intelligence implies that one can dwell comfortably without pictures, in a field of concepts and generalizations.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
The best things on television are its junk, and no one and nothing is seriously threatened by it. Besides, we do not measure a culture by its output of undisguised trivialities but by what it claims as significant. Therein is our problem, for television is at its most trivial and, therefore, most dangerous when its aspirations are high, when it presents itself as a carrier of important cultural conversations. The irony here is that this is what intellectuals and critics are constantly urging television to do.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
But it is not time constraints alone that produce such fragmented and discontinuous language. When a television show is in process, it is very nearly impermissible to say, "Let me think about that" or "I don't know" or "What do you mean when you say...?" or "From what sources does your information come?" This type of discourse not only slows down the tempo of the show but creates the impression of uncertainty or lack of finish. It tends to reveal people in the act of thinking, which is as disconcerting and boring on television as it is on a Las Vegas stage. Thinking does not play well on television, a fact that television directors discovered long ago. There is not much to see in it. It is, in a phrase, not a performing art. But television demands a performing art.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Tocqueville remarks on this in Democracy in America. “An American,” he wrote, “cannot converse, but he can discuss, and his talk falls into a dissertation.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
The written word is assumed to have been reflected upon and revised by its author, reviewed by authorities and editors.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
We may have reached the point where cosmetics has replaced ideology as the field of expertise over which a politician must have competent control.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
We Americans seem to know everything about the last twenty-four hours but very little of the last sixty centuries or the last sixty years.”4
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Ignorance is always correctable. But what shall we do if we take ignorance to be knowledge?
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
But most of our daily news is inert, consisting of information that gives us something to talk about but cannot lead to any meaningful action.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
We might say that a technology is to a medium as the brain is to the mind.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
As I write, the President of the United States is a former Hollywood movie actor.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Lippmann, for example, wrote in 1920: “There can be no liberty for a community which lacks the means by which to detect lies.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Falling in love and falling to your death feel about the same, I thought. And I almost laughed.
Shannon Hale (Dangerous)
Of course, in television's presentation of the "news of the day," we may see the Now...this" mode of discourse in it's boldest and most embarrassing form. For there, we are presented not only with fragmented news but news without context, without consequences, without value, and therefore without essential seriousness; that is to say, news as pure entertainment.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
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.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, print put forward a definition of intelligence that gave priority to the objective, rational use of the mind and at the same time encouraged forms of public discourse with serious, logically ordered content. It is no accident that the Age of Reason was coexistent with that growth of a print culture, first in Europe and then in America.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
We may say then that the contribution of the telegraph to public discourse was to dignify irrelevance and amplify impotence. But this was not all: Telegraphy also made public discourse essentially incoherent. It brought into being a world of broken time and broken attention, to use Lewis Mumford's phrase. The principle strength of the telegraph was its capacity to move information, not collect it, explain it or analyze it. In this respect, telegraphy was the exact opposite of typography.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
It's difficult to spend time in any carnival or amusement park and not realize that a repressed fear of death may be the one emotion that is constant in the human heart even if, most of the time, it is confined to the unconscious as we go about our business. Thrill rides offer us a chance to acknowledge our ever-present dread, to release the tension that arises from repression of it, and to subtly delude ourselves with the illusion of invulnerability that surviving the Big Drop can provide.
Dean Koontz (Saint Odd (Odd Thomas, #7))
It has been demonstrated many times that a culture can survive misinformation and false opinion. It has not yet been demonstrated whether a culture can survive if it takes the measure of the world in twenty-two minutes. Or if the value of its news is determined by the number of laughs it provides.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
The line-by-line, sequential, continuous form of the printed page slowly began to lose its resonance as a metaphor of how knowledge was to be acquired and how the world was to be understood. "Knowing" the facts took on a new meaning, for it did not imply that one understood implications, background, or connections. Telegraphic discourse permitted no time for historical perspectives and gave no priority to the qualitative. To the telegraph, intelligence meant knowing of lots of things, not knowing about them.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
It would be a serious mistake to think of Billy Graham or any other television revivalist as a latter-day Jonathan Edwards or Charles Finney. Edwards was one of the most brilliant and creative minds ever produced by America. His contribution to aesthetic theory was almost as important as his contribution to theology. His interests were mostly academic; he spent long hours each day in his study. He did not speak to his audiences extemporaneously. He read his sermons, which were tightly knit and closely reasoned expositions of theological doctrine
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Moreover, we have seen enough by now to know that technological changes in our modes of communication are even more ideology-laden than changes in our modes of transportation. Introduce the alphabet to a culture and you change its cognitive habits, its social relations, its notions of community, history and religion. Introduce the printing press with movable type, and you do the same. Introduce speed-of-light transmission of images and you make a cultural revolution. Without a vote. Without polemics. Without guerrilla resistance. Here is ideology, pure if not serene. Here is ideology without words, and all the more powerful for their absence. All that is required to make it stick is a population that devoutly believes in the inevitability of progress. And in this sense, all Americans are Marxists, for we believe nothing if not that history is moving us toward some preordained paradise and that technology is the force behind that movement.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
This is the lesson of all great television commercials: They provide a slogan, a symbol or a focus that creates for viewers a comprehensive and compelling image of themselves. In the shift from party politics to television politics, the same goal is sought. We are not permitted to know who is best at being President or Governor or Senator, but whose image is best in touching and soothing the deep reaches of our discontent. We look at the television screen and ask, in the same voracious way as the Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?" We are inclined to vote for those whose personality, family life, and style, as imaged on the screen, give back a better answer than the Queen received. As Xenophanes remarked twenty-five centuries ago, men always make their gods in their own image. But to this, television politics has added a new wrinkle: Those who would be gods refashion themselves into images the viewers would have them be.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
To engage the written word means to follow a line of thought, which requires considerable powers of classifying, inference-making and reasoning. It means to uncover lies, confusions, and overgeneralizations, to detect abuses of logic and common sense. It also means to weigh ideas, to compare and contrast assertions, to connect one generalization to another. To accomplish this, one must achieve a certain distance from the words themselves, which is, in fact, encouraged by the isolated and impersonal text. That is why a good reader does not cheer an apt sentence or pause to applaud even an inspired paragraph. Analytic thought is too busy for that, and too detached.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
We proclaimed the freedom of the individual, bought and drove millions of cars to prove it, built more roads for the cars to drive on so we could go the everywhere that was nowhere. We watered our lawns, we washed our cars, we gulped plastic bottles of water to stay hydrated in our dehydrated land, we put up water parks. We built temples to our fantasies--film studios, amusement parks, crystal cathedrals, megachurches--and flocked to them. We went to the beach, rode the waves, and poured our waste into the water we said we loved. We reinvented ourselves every day, remade our culture, locked ourselves in gated communities, we ate healthy food, we gave up smoking, we lifted our faces while avoiding the sun, we had our skin peeled, our lines removed, our fat sucked away like our unwanted babies, we defied aging and death. We made gods of wealth and health. A religion of narcissism. In the end, we worshipped only ourselves. In the end, it wasn't enough.
Don Winslow (Savages (Savages #2))
Television, in other words, is transforming our culture into one vast arena for show business. It is entirely possible, of course, that in the end we shall find that delightful, and decide we like it just fine. That is exactly what Aldous Huxley feared was coming, fifty years ago.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
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.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
The television commercial has mounted the most serious assault on capitalist ideology since the publication of Das Kapital. To understand why, we must remind ourselves that capitalism, like science and liberal democracy, was an outgrowth of the Enlightenment. Its principal theorists, even its most prosperous practitioners, believed capitalism to be based on the idea that both buyer and seller are sufficiently mature, well informed and reasonable to engage in transactions of mutual self-interest. If greed was taken to be the fuel of the capitalist engine, the surely rationality was the driver. The theory states, in part, that competition in the marketplace requires that the buyer not only knows what is good for him but also what is good. If the seller produces nothing of value, as determined by a rational marketplace, then he loses out. It is the assumption of rationality among buyers that spurs competitors to become winners, and winners to keep on winning. Where it is assumed that a buyer is unable to make rational decisions, laws are passed to invalidate transactions, as, for example, those which prohibit children from making contracts...Of course, the practice of capitalism has its contradictions...But television commercials make hash of it...By substituting images for claims, the pictorial commercial made emotional appeal, not tests of truth, the basis of consumer decisions. The distance between rationality and advertising is now so wide that it is difficult to remember that there once existed a connection between them. Today, on television commercials, propositions are as scarce as unattractive people. The truth or falsity of an advertiser's claim is simply not an issue. A McDonald's commercial, for example, is not a series of testable, logically ordered assertions. It is a drama--a mythology, if you will--of handsome people selling, buying and eating hamburgers, and being driven to near ecstasy by their good fortune. No claim are made, except those the viewer projects onto or infers from the drama. One can like or dislike a television commercial, of course. But one cannot refute it.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
although culture is a creation of speech, it is recreated anew by every medium of communication—from painting to hieroglyphs to the alphabet to television. Each medium, like language itself, makes possible a unique mode of discourse by providing a new orientation for thought, for expression, for sensibility.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
The television commercial has mounted the most serious assault on capitalist ideology since the publication of Das Kapital.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
the concept of truth is intimately linked to the biases of forms of expression.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
I am also aware of television’s potential for creating a theater for the masses (a subject which in my opinion has not been taken seriously enough).
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
But to the modern mind, resonating with different media-metaphors, the truth in economics is believed to be best discovered and expressed in numbers. Perhaps it is.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
The written word is assumed to have been reflected upon and revised by its author,
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
How people think about time and space, and about things and processes, will be greatly influenced by the grammatical features of their language.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
It means to uncover lies, confusions, and overgeneralizations, to detect abuses of logic and common sense.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Thou shalt not write down thy principles, still less print them, lest thou shall be entrapped by them for all time.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
television can be used to support the literate tradition.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
The news elicits from you a variety of opinions about which you can do nothing except to offer them as more news, about which you can do nothing.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
we are losing our sense of what it means to be well informed. Ignorance is always correctable. But what shall we do if we take ignorance to be knowledge? Here
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Politics, he tells him, is the greatest spectator sport in America. In 1966, Ronald Reagan used a different metaphor. “Politics,” he said, “is just like show business.”1 Although
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
When Postman wrote the introduction to his important book Amusing Ourselves to Death, he set forth the stance he adopts by contrasting the warnings of George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s 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 information that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared that the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared that we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared that we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we 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.34
D.A. Carson (The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism)
Intelligence does not have quantity or magnitude, except as we believe that it does. And why do we believe that it does? Because we have tools that imply that this is what the mind is like.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Thus, we have here a great loop of impotence: The news elicits from you a variety of opinions about which you can do nothing except to offer them as more news, about which you can do nothing.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
How often does it occur that information provided you on morning radio or television, or in the morning newspaper, causes you to alter your plans for the day, or to take some action you would not otherwise have taken, or provides insight into some problem you are required to solve? For most of us, news of the weather will sometimes have consequences; for investors, news of the stock market; perhaps an occasional story about crime will do it, if by chance it occurred near where you live or involved someone you know. But most of our daily news is inert, consisting of information that gives us something to talk about but cannot lead to any meaningful action...You may get a sense of what this means by asking yourself another series of questions: What steps do you plan to take to reduce the conflict in the Middle East? Or the rates of inflation, crime and unemployment? What are your plans for preserving the environment or reducing the risk of nuclear war? What do you plan to do about NATO, OPEC, the CIA, affirmative action, and the monstrous treatment of the Baha’is in Iran? I shall take the liberty of answering for you: You plan to do nothing about them. You may, of course, cast a ballot for someone who claims to have some plans, as well as the power to act. But this you can do only once every two or four years by giving one hour of your time, hardly a satisfying means of expressing the broad range of opinions you hold. Voting, we might even say, is the next to last refuge of the politically impotent. The last refuge is, of course, giving your opinion to a pollster, who will get a version of it through a desiccated question, and then will submerge it in a Niagara of similar opinions, and convert them into—what else?—another piece of news. Thus, we have here a great loop of impotence: The news elicits from you a variety of opinions about which you can do nothing except to offer them as more news, about which you can do nothing.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Introduce an alphabet to a culture and you change its cognitive habits, its social relations, its notions of community, history and religion. Introduce the printing press with movable type, and you do the same. Introduce speed-of-light transmission of images and you make a cultural revolution. Without a vote. Without polemics. Without guerrilla resistance. Here is ideology, pure if not serene.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
I suspect, for example, that the dishonor that now shrouds Richard Nixon results not from the fact that he lied but that on television he looked like a liar. Which, if true, should bring no comfort to anyone, not even veteran Nixon-haters. For the alternative possibilities are that one may look like a liar but be telling the truth; or even worse, look like a truth-teller but in fact be lying. As
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Entertainment is the supra-ideology of all discourse on television. No matter what is depicted or from what point of view, the overarching presumption is that it is there for our amusement and pleasure. That is why even on news shows which provide us daily with fragments of tragedy and barbarism, we are urged by the newscasters to “join them tomorrow.” What for? One would think that several minutes of murder and mayhem would suffice as material for a month of sleepless nights. We accept the newscasters’ invitation because we know that the “news” is not to be taken seriously, that it is all in fun, so to say.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
...just as the television commercial empties itself of authentic product information so that it can do its psychological work, image politics empties itself of authentic political substance for the same reason
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
the clock made us into time-keepers, and then time-savers, and now time-servers. In the process, we have learned irreverence toward the sun and the seasons, for in a world made up of seconds and minutes, the authority of nature is superseded. Indeed, as Mumford points out, with the invention of the clock, Eternity ceased to serve as the measure and focus of human events. And thus, though few would have imagined the connection, the inexorable ticking of the clock may have had more to do with the weakening of God’s supremacy than all the treatises produced by the philosophers of the Enlightenment; that is to say, the clock introduced a new form of conversation between man and God, in which God appears to have been the loser. Perhaps Moses should have included another Commandment: Thou shalt not make mechanical representations of time.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
The number of hours the average American watches TV has remained steady, at about four and a half hours a day, every day (by age sixty-five, a person will have spent twelve uninterrupted years in front of the TV).
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
...history can play no significant role in image politics. For history is of value only to someone who takes seriously the notion that there are patterns in the past which may provide the present with nourishing traditions.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
As Thoreau implied, telegraphy made relevance irrelevant. The abundant flow of information had very little or nothing to do with those to whom it was addressed; that is, with any social or intellectual context in which their lives were embedded. Coleridge’s famous line about water everywhere without a drop to drink may serve as a metaphor of a decontextualized information environment: In a sea of information, there was very little of it to use.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Who is prepared to take arms against a sea of amusements? To whom do we complain, and when, and in what tone of voice, when serious discourse dissolves into giggles? What is the antidote to a culture's being drained by laughter?
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
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.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
But what I am claiming here is not that television is entertaining but that it has made entertainment itself the natural format for the representation of all experience. Our television set keeps us in constant communion with the world, but it does so with a face whose smiling countenance is unalterable. The problem is not that television presents us with entertaining subject matter but that all subject matter is presented as entertaining, which is another issue altogether. To
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Although the general character of print-intelligence would be known to anyone who would be reading this book, you may arrive at a reasonably detailed definition of it by simply considering what is demanded of you as you read this book. You are required, first of all, to remain more or less immobile for a fairly long time. If you cannot do this (with this or any other book), our culture may label you as anything from hyperkinetic to undisciplined; in any case, as suffering from some sort of intellectual deficiency.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
What is happening here is that television is altering the meaning of “being informed” by creating a species of information that might properly be called disinformation. I am using this word almost in the precise sense in which it is used by spies in the CIA or KGB.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
What I suggest here as a solution is what Aldous Huxley suggested, as well. And I can do no better than he. He believed with H. G. Wells that we are in a race between education and disaster, and he wrote continuously about the necessity of our understanding the politics and epistemology of media. For in the end, he was trying to tell us that what afflicted the people in Brave New World was not that they were laughing instead of thinking, but that they did not know what they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
belief that where there is a problem, there must be a solution, I shall conclude with the following suggestions. We must, as a start, not delude ourselves with preposterous notions such as the straight Luddite position as outlined, for example, in Jerry Mander’s Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television. Americans will not shut down any part of their technological apparatus, and to suggest that they do so is to make no suggestion at all. It is almost equally unrealistic to expect that nontrivial modifications in the availability of media will ever be made. Many civilized nations limit by law the amount of hours television may operate and thereby mitigate the role television plays in public life. But I believe that this is not a possibility in America. Once having opened the Happy Medium to full public
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
almost every scholar who has grappled with the question of what reading does to one’s habits of mind has concluded that the process encourages rationality; that the sequential, propositional character of the written word fosters what Walter Ong calls the “analytic management of knowledge.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
We know enough about language to understand that variations in the structures of languages will result in variations in what may be called "world view." How people think about time and space, and about things and processes, will be greatly influenced by the grammatical features of their language.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
It is frightening to think that this may be so, that the perception of the truth of a report rests heavily on the acceptability of the newscaster . . . television provides a new (or, possibly, restores an old) definition of truth; The credibility of the teller is the ultimate test of the truth of a proposition. "Credibility" here does not refer to the past record of the teller for making statements that have survived the rigors of reality-testing. It refers only to the impression of sincerity, authenticity, vulnerability or attractiveness (choose one or more) conveyed by the actor/reporter.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Have you ever heard of the madman who on a bright morning lighted a lantern and ran to the market-place calling out unceasingly: "I seek God! I seek God!"—As there were many people standing about who did not believe in God, he caused a great deal of amusement. Why! is he lost? said one. Has he strayed away like a child? said another. Or does he keep himself hidden? Is he afraid of us? Has he taken a sea-voyage? Has he emigrated?—the people cried out laughingly, all in a hubbub. The insane man jumped into their midst and transfixed them with his glances. "Where is God gone?" he called out. "I mean to tell you! We have killed him,—you and I! We are all his murderers! But how have we done it? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the whole horizon? What did we do when we loosened this earth from its sun? Whither does it now move? Whither do we move? Away from all suns? Do we not dash on unceasingly? Back-wards, sideways, forewards, in all directions? Is there still an above and below? Do we not stray, as through infinite nothingness? Does not empty space breathe upon us? Has it not become colder? Does not night come on continually, darker and darker? Shall we not have to light lanterns in the morning? Do we not hear the noise of the grave-diggers who are burying God? Do we not smell the divine putrefaction?—for even Gods putrefy! God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him! How shall we console ourselves, the most murderous of all murderers? The holiest and the mightiest that the world has hitherto possessed, has bled to death under our knife,—who will wipe the blood from us? With what water could we cleanse ourselves? What lustrums, what sacred games shall we have to devise? Is not the magnitude of this deed too great for us? Shall we not ourselves have to become Gods, merely to seem worthy of it? There never was a greater event,—and on account of it, all who are born after us belong to a higher history than any history hitherto!"—Here the madman was silent and looked again at his hearers; they also were silent and looked at him in surprise. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, so that it broke in pieces and was extinguished. "I come too early," he then said, "I am not yet at the right time. This prodigious event is still on its way, and is travelling,—it has not yet reached men's ears. Lightning and thunder need time, the light of the stars needs time, deeds need time, even after they are done, to be seen and heard. This deed is as yet further from them than the furthest star,—and yet they have done it!"—It is further stated that the madman made his way into different churches on the same day, and there intoned his Requiem æternam deo. When led out and called to account, he always gave the reply: "What are these churches now, if they are not the tombs and monuments of God?
Friedrich Nietzsche (The Gay Science)
We look at the television screen and ask, in the same voracious way as the Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?” We are inclined to vote for those whose personality, family life, and style, as imaged on the screen, give back a better answer than the Queen received.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Where people once sought information to manage the real context of their lives, now they had to invent contexts in which otherwise useless information might be put to some apparent use. The crossword puzzle is one such pseudo-context; the cocktail party is another; the radio quiz shows of the 1930's and 1940's and the modern television game show are still others; and the ultimate, perhaps, is the wildly successful "Trivial Pursuit." In one form or another, each of these supplies the answer to the question,"What am I to do with all these disconnected facts?" And in one form or another, the answer is the same: Why not use them for diversion? for entertainment? to amuse yourself, in a game?
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
And so we weep for the fallen. We weep for those yet to fall, and in war the screams are loud and harsh and in peace the wail is so drawn-out we tell ourselves we hear nothing. And so this music is a lament, and I am doomed to hear its bittersweet notes for a lifetime. Show me a god that does not demand mortal suffering. Show me a god that celebrates diversity, a celebration that embraces even non-believers and is not threatened by them. Show me a god who understands the meaning of peace. In life, not in death. Show— 'Stop,' Gesler said in a grating voice. Blinking, Fiddler lowered the instrument. 'What?' 'You cannot end with such anger, Fid. Please.' Anger? I am sorry. He would have spoken that aloud, but suddenly he could not. His gaze lowered, and he found himself studying the littered floor at his feet. Someone, in passing – perhaps Fiddler himself – had inadvertently stepped on a cockroach. Half-crushed, smeared into the warped wood, its legs kicked feebly. He stared at it in fascination. Dear creature, do you now curse an indifferent god? 'You're right,' he said. 'I can't end it there.' He raised the fiddle again. 'Here's a different song for you, one of the few I've actually learned. From Kartool. It's called "The Paralt's Dance".' He rested the bow on the strings, then began. Wild, frantic, amusing. Its final notes recounted the triumphant female eating her lover. And even without words, the details of that closing flourish could not be mistaken. The four men laughed. Then fell silent once more.
Steven Erikson (The Bonehunters (Malazan Book of the Fallen, #6))
Controlling your body is, however, only a minimal requirement. You must also have learned to pay no attention to the shapes of the letters on the page. You must see through them, so to speak, so that you can go directly to the meanings of the words they form. If you are preoccupied with the shapes of the letters, you will be an intolerably inefficient reader, likely to be thought stupid.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
the concept of truth is intimately linked to the biases of forms of expression. Truth does not, and never has, come unadorned. It must appear in its proper clothing or it is not acknowledged, which is a way of saying that the “truth” is a kind of cultural prejudice. Each culture conceives of it as being most authentically expressed in certain symbolic forms that another culture may regard as trivial or irrelevant.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Those who run television do not limit our access to information but in fact widen it. Our Ministry of Culture is Huxleyan, not Orwellian. It does everything possible to encourage us to watch continuously. But what we watch is a medium which presents information in a form that renders it simplistic, nonsubstantive, nonhistorical and noncontextual; that is to say, information packaged as entertainment. In America, we are never denied the opportunity to amuse ourselves.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
But what I am claiming here is not that television is entertaining but that it has made entertainment itself the natural format for the representation of all experience. Our television set keeps us in constant communion with the world, but it does so with a face whose smiling countenance is unalterable. The problem is not that television presents us with entertaining subject matter but that all subject matter is presented as entertaining, which is another issue altogether.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
all television news programs begin, end, and are somewhere in between punctuated with music...It is there, I assume, for the same reason music is used in theater and films - to create a mood and provide a leitmotif for the entertainment...as long as the music is there as a frame for the program, the viewer is comforted to believe that there is nothing to be greatly alarmed about; that, in fact, the events that are reported have as much relation to reality as do scenes in a play.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
on October 16, 1854, in Peoria, Illinois, Douglas delivered a three-hour address to which Lincoln, by agreement, was to respond. When Lincoln’s turn came, he reminded the audience that it was already 5 p.m., that he would probably require as much time as Douglas and that Douglas was still scheduled for a rebuttal. He proposed, therefore, that the audience go home, have dinner, and return refreshed for four more hours of talk. 1 The audience amiably agreed, and matters proceeded as Lincoln had outlined.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
you are required to assume an attitude of detachment and objectivity. This includes your bringing to the task what Bertrand Russell called an “immunity to eloquence,” meaning that you are able to distinguish between the sensuous pleasure, or charm, or ingratiating tone (if such there be) of the words, and the logic of their argument. But at the same time, you must be able to tell from the tone of the language what is the author’s attitude toward the subject and toward the reader. You must, in other words, know the difference between a joke and an argument. And in judging the quality of an argument, you must be able to do several things at once, including delaying a verdict until the entire argument is finished, holding in mind questions until you have determined where, when or if the text answers them, and bringing to bear on the text all of your relevant experience as a counterargument to what is being proposed. You must also be able to withhold those parts of your knowledge and experience which, in fact, do not have a bearing on the argument. And in preparing yourself to do all of this, you must have divested yourself of the belief that words are magical and, above all, have learned to negotiate the world of abstractions, for there are very few phrases and sentences in this book that require you to call forth concrete images. In a print-culture, we are apt to say of people who are not intelligent that we must “draw them pictures” so that they may understand. Intelligence implies that one can dwell comfortably without pictures, in a field of concepts and generalizations.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
In the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, there appears a remarkable quotation attributed to Michael Welfare, one of the founders of a religious sect known as the Dunkers and a longtime acquaintance of Franklin. the statement had its origins in Welfare's complaint to Franklin that zealots of other religious persuasions were spreading lies about the Dunkers, accusing them of abominable principles to which, in fact, they were utter strangers. Franklin suggested that such abuse might be diminished if the Dunkers published the articles of their belief and the rules of their discipline. Welfare replied that this course of action had been discussed among his co-religionists but had been rejected. He then explained their reasoning in the following words: When we were first drawn together as a society, it had pleased God to enlighten our minds so far as to see that some doctrines, which we once esteemed truths, were errors, and that others, which we had esteemed errors, were real truths. From time to time He has been pleased to afford us farther light, and our principles have been improving, and our errors diminishing. Now we are not sure that we are arrived at the end of this progression, and at the perfection of spiritual or theological knowledge; and we fear that, if we should feel ourselves as if bound and confined by it, and perhaps be unwilling to receive further improvement, and our successors still more so, as conceiving what we their elders and founders had done, to be something sacred, never to be departed from. Franklin describes this sentiment as a singular instance in the history of mankind of modesty in a sect.
Neil Postman
My point is that we are by now so thoroughly adjusted to the "Now . . . this" world of news—a world of fragments, where events stand alone, stripped of any connection to the past, or to the future, or to other events—that all assumptions of coherence have vanished. And so, perforce, has contradiction. In the context of no context, so to speak, it simply disappears. And in its absence, what possible interest could there be in a list of what the President says now and what he said then? It is merely a rehash of old news, and there is nothing interesting or entertaining in that.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
We may take as our guide, here, John Dewey's observation that the content of a lesson is the least important thing about learning. As he wrote in Experience and Education, "Perhaps the greatest of all pedagogical fallacies is the notion that a person learns only what he is studying at the time. Collateral learning in the way of formation of enduring attitudes may be and often is more important than the spelling lesson, or the lesson in geography or history. For these attitudes are fundamentally what count in the future." In other words, the most important thing one learns is always something about *how* one learns. As Dewey wrote in another place, "We learn what we do.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
How often does it occur that information provided you on morning radio or television, or in the morning newspaper, causes you to alter your plans for the day, or to take some action you would not otherwise have taken, or provides insight into some problem you are required to solve? For most of us, news of the weather will sometimes have such consequences; for investors, news of the stock market; perhaps an occasional story about a crime will do it, if by chance the crime occurred near where you live or involved someone you know. But most of our daily news is inert, consisting of information that gives us something to talk about but cannot lead to any meaningful action. This fact is the principal legacy of the telegraph: By generating an abundance of irrelevant information, it dramatically altered what may be called the "information-action" ratio.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
The Bill of Rights is largely a prescription for preventing government from restricting the flow of information and ideas. But the Founding Fathers did not foresee that tyranny by government might be superseded by another sort of problem altogether, namely, the corporate state, which through television now controls the flow of public discourse in America. I raise no strong objection to this fact (at least not here) and have no intention of launching into a standard-brand complaint against the corporate state. I merely note the fact with apprehension, as did George Gerbner, Dean of the Annenberg School of Communication, when he wrote: Television is the new state religion run by a private Ministry of Culture (the three networks), offering a universal curriculum for all people, financed by a form of hidden taxation without representation. You pay when you wash, not when you watch, and whether or not you care to watch.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Since intelligence is primarily defined as one's capacity to grasp the truth of things, it follows that what a culture means by intelligence is derived from the character of its important forms of communication. In a purely oral culture, intelligence is often associated with aphoristic ingenuity, that is, the power to invent compact sayings of wide applicability. the wise Solomon, we are told in First Kings, knew three thousand proverbs. In a print culture, people with such a talent are thought to be quaint at best, more likely pompous bores. In a purely oral culture, a high value is always placed on the power to memorize, for where there are no written words, the human mind must function as a mobile library. To forget how something is to be said or done is a danger to the community and a' gross form of stupidity. In a print culture, the memorization of a poem, a menu, a law or most anything else is merely charming. It is almost always functionally irrelevant and certainly not considered a sign of high intelligence.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley re marked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions." In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
He who does not see the vanity of the world is himself very vain. Indeed who do not see it but youths who are absorbed in fame, diversion, and the thought of the future? But take away diversion, and you will see them dried up with weariness. They feel then their nothingness without knowing it; for it is indeed to be unhappy to be in insufferable sadness as soon as we are reduced to thinking of self, and have no diversion.” If our condition were truly happy, we would not need diversion from thinking of it in order to make ourselves happy. As men are not able to fight against death, misery, ignorance, they have taken it into their heads, in order to be happy, not to think of them at all. The only thing which consoles us for our miseries is diversion, and yet this it the greatest of our miseries. For it is this which principally hinders us from reflecting upon ourselves, and which makes us insensibly ruin ourselves. Without this we should be in a state of weariness, and this weariness would spur us to seek a more solid means of escaping from it. But diversion amuses us, and leads us unconsciously to death
Blaise Pascal
Public figures were known largely by their written words, for example, not by their looks or even their oratory. It is quite likely that most of the first fifteen presidents of the United States would not have been recognized had they passed the average citizen in the street. This would have been the case as well of the great lawyers, ministers and scientists of that era. To think about those men was to think about what they had written, to judge them by their public positions, their arguments, their knowledge as codified in the printed word. You may get some sense of how we are separated from this kind of consciousness by thinking about any of our recent presidents; or even preachers, lawyers and scientists who are or who have recently been public figures. Think of Richard Nixon or Jimmy Carter or Billy Graham, or even Albert Einstein, and what will come to your mind is an image, a picture of a face, most likely a face on a television screen (in Einstein's case, a photograph of a face). Of words, almost nothing will come to mind. This is the difference between thinking in a word-centered culture and thinking in an image-centered culture. It is also the difference between living in a culture that provides little opportunity for leisure, and one that provides much.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
In both oral and typographic cultures, information derives its importance from the possibilities of action. Of course, in any communication environment, input (what one is informed about) always exceeds output (the possibilities of action based on information. But the situation created by telegraphy, and then exacerbated by later technologies, made the relationship between information and action both abstract and remote. For the first time in human history, people were faced with the problem of information glut, which means that simultaneously they were faced with the problem of a diminished social and political potency. You may get a sense of what this means by asking yourself another series of questions: What steps do you plan to take to reduce the conflict in the Middle East? Or the rates of inflation, crime and unemployment? What are your plans for preserving the environment or reducing the risk of nuclear war? What do you plan to do about NATO, OPEC, the CIA, affirmative action, and the monstrous treatment of the Baha'is in Iran? I shall take the liberty of answering for you: You plan to do nothing about them. You may, of course, cast a ballot for someone who claims to have some plans, as well as the power to act. But this you can do only once every two or four years by giving one hour of your time, hardly a satisfying means of expressing the broad range of opinions you hold. Voting, we might even say, is the next to last refuge of the politically impotent. The last refuge is, of course, giving your opinion to a pollster, who will get a version of it through a desiccated question, and then will submerge it in a Niagara of similar opinions, and convert them into--what else?--another piece of news. Thus, we have here a great loop of impotence: The news elicits from you a variety of opinions about which you can do nothing except to offer them as more news, about which you can do nothing.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
We may take as our guide here John Dewey’s observation that the content of a lesson is the least important thing about learning. As he wrote in Experience and Education: “Perhaps the greatest of all pedagogical fallacies is the notion that a person learns only what he “is studying at the time. Collateral learning in the way of formation of enduring attitudes ... may be and often is more important than the spelling lesson or lesson in geography or history.... For these attitudes are fundamentally what count in the future.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
pseudo-event,” by which he means an event specifically staged to be reported—
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Those who would be gods refashion themselves into images the viewers would have them be.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
As Xenophanes remarked twenty-five centuries ago, men always make their gods in their own image. But to this, television politics has added a new wrinkle: Those who would be gods refashion themselves into images the viewers would have them be.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
An Orwellian world is much easier to recognize, and to oppose, than a Huxleyan.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
What is happening here is that television is altering the meaning of “being informed” by creating a species of information that might properly be called disinformation. I am using this word almost in the precise sense in which it is used by spies in the CIA or KGB. Disinformation does not mean false information. It means misleading information—misplaced, irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information—information that creates the illusion of knowing something but which in fact leads one away from knowing. In saying this, I do not mean to imply that television news deliberately aims to deprive Americans of a coherent, contextual understanding of their world. I mean to say that when news is packaged as entertainment, that is the inevitable result.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
My point is that we are by now so thoroughly adjusted to the “Now ... this” world of news—a world of fragments, where events stand alone, stripped of any connection to the past, or to the future, or to other events—that all assumptions of coherence have vanished. And so, perforce, has contradiction. In the context of no context, so to speak, it simply disappears. And in its absence, what possible interest could there be in a list of what the President says now and what he said then? It is merely a rehash of old news, and there is nothing interesting or entertaining in that. The only thing to be amused about is the bafflement of reporters at the public’s indifference. There is an irony in the fact that the very group that has taken the world apart should, on trying to piece it together again, be surprised that no one notices much, or cares.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
The reporters who cover the White House are ready and able to expose lies, and thus create the grounds for informed and indignant opinion. But apparently the public declines to take an interest. To press reports of White House dissembling, the public has replied with Queen Victoria’s famous line: “We are not amused.” However, here the words mean something the Queen did not have in mind. They mean that what is not amusing does not compel their attention. Perhaps if the President’s lies could be demonstrated by pictures and accompanied by music the public would raise a curious eyebrow.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
偽語境是一個文化被無聊、凌亂瑣事和無力感淹沒之後僅餘的慰藉。
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
所有出色的電視節目想達到的目的—要掌聲,不要反思。
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
We may say that the contribution of the telegraph to public discourse was to dignify irrelevance and to amplify impotence. But this was not all: Telegraphy also made public discourse essentially incoherent. It brought into being a world of broken time and broken attention, to use Lewis Mumford's phrase.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Our television set keeps us in constant communion with the world, but it does so with a face whose smiling countenance is unalterable. The problem is not that television presents us with entertaining subject matter but that all subject matter is presented as entertaining, which is another issue altogether.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
What is happening here is that television is altering the meaning of "being informed" by creating a species of information that might properly be called disinformation. I am using this word almost in the precise sense in which it is used by spies in the CIA or KGB. Disinformation does not mean false information. It means misleading information-misplaced, irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information-information that creates the illusion of knowing something but which in fact leads one away from knowing.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
It has been pointed out, for example, that the invention of eyeglasses in the twelfth century not only made it possible to improve defective vision but suggested the idea that human beings need not accept as final either the endowments of nature or the ravages of time. Eyeglasses refuted the belief that anatomy is destiny by putting forward the idea that our bodies as well as our minds are improvable. I do not think it goes too far to say that there is a link between the invention of eyeglasses in the twelfth century and gene-splitting research in the twentieth.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
The God of the Jews was to exist in the Word and through the Word, an unprecedented conception requiring the highest order of abstract thinking. Iconography thus became blasphemy so that a new kind of God could enter a culture.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Enjoyment requires discernment. It can be a gift to wrap up in a blanket and lose myself in a TV show but we can also amuse ourselves to death. My pleasure in wine or tea or exercise is good in itself but it can become disordered. As we learn to practice enjoyment we need to learn the craft of discernment: How to enjoy rightly, to have, to read pleasure well. There is a symbiotic relationship, cross-training, if you will, between the pleasures we find in gathered worship and those in my tea cup, or in a warm blanket, or the smell of bread baking. Lewis reminds us that one must walk before one can run. We will not be able to adore God on the highest occasions if we have learned no habit of doing so on the lowest. At best our faith and reason will tell us that He is adorable but we shall not have found Him so. These tiny moments of beauty in our day train us in the habits of adoration and discernment, and the pleasure and sensuousness of our gathered worship teach us to look for and receive these small moments in our days, together they train us in the art of noticing and reveling in our God’s goodness and artistry. A few weeks ago I was walking to work, standing on the corner of tire and auto parts store, waiting to cross the street when I suddenly heard church bells begin to ring, loud and long. I froze, riveted. They were beautiful. A moment of transcendence right in the middle of the grimy street, glory next to the discount tire and auto parts. Liturgical worship has been referred to sometimes derisively as smells and bells because of the sensuous ways Christians have historically worshipped: Smells, the sweet and pungent smell of incense, and bells, like the one I heard in neighborhood which rang out from a catholic church. At my church we ring bells during the practice of our eucharist. The acolyte, the person often a child, assisting the priest, rings chimes when our pastor prepares the communion meal. There is nothing magic about these chimes, nothing superstitious, they’re just bells. We ring them in the eucharist liturgy as a way of saying, “pay attention.” They’re an alarm to rouse the congregation to jostle us to attention, telling us to take note, sit up, and lean forward, and notice Christ in our midst. We need this kind of embodied beauty, smells and bells, in our gathered worship, and we need it in our ordinary day to remind us to take notice of Christ right where we are. Dostoevsky wrote that “beauty will save the world.” This might strike us as mere hyperbole but as our culture increasingly rejects the idea and language of truth, the churches role as the harbinger of beauty is a powerful witness to the God of all beauty. Czeslaw Milosz wrote in his poem, “One more day,” “Though the good is weak, beauty is very strong.” And when people cease to believe there is good and evil, only beauty will call to them and save them so that they still know how to say, “this is true and that is false.” Being curators of beauty, pleasure, and delight is therefore and intrinsic part of our mission, a mission that recognizes the reality that truth is beautiful. These moments of loveliness, good tea, bare trees, and soft shadows, or church bells, in my dimness, they jolt me to attention and remind me that Christ is in our midst. His song of truth, sung by His people all over the world, echos down my ordinary street, spilling even into my living room.
Tish Harrison Warren (Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life)
It is my intention in this book to show that 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.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Censorship, after all, is the tribute tyrants pay to the assumption that a public knows the difference between serious discourse and entertainment—and cares. How delighted would be all the kings, czars and führers of the past (and commissars of the present) to know that censorship is not a necessity when all political discourse takes the form of a jest.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
We know enough about language to understand that variations in the structures of languages will result in variations in what may be called “world view.” How people think about time and space, and about things and processes, will be greatly influenced by the grammatical features of their language.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Now ... this” idea: the phenomenon whereby the reporting of a horrific event—a rape or a five-alarm fire or global warming—is followed immediately by the anchor’s cheerfully exclaiming “Now ... this,” which segues into a story about Janet Jackson’s exposed nipple or a commercial for lite beer, creating a sequencing of information so random, so disparate in scale and value, as to be incoherent, even psychotic.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
is an irony that I have confronted many times in being told that I must appear on television to promote a book that warns people against television.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
America is engaged in the world’s most ambitious experiment to accommodate itself to the technological distractions made possible by the electric plug.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Require all political commercials to be preceded by a short statement to the effect that common sense has determined that watching political commercials is hazardous to the intellectual health of the community
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
the principal difficulty we have in solving problems stems from insufficient data—will go unexamined. Until, years from now, when it will be noticed that the massive collection and speed-of-light retrieval of data have been of great value to large-scale organizations but have solved very little of importance to most people and have created at least as many problems for them as they may have solved.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
We may say then that the contribution of the telegraph to public discourse was to dignify irrelevance and amplify impotence. But this was not all: Telegraphy also made public discourse essentially incoherent
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Theirs was a “language” that denied interconnectedness, proceeded without context, argued the irrelevance of history, explained nothing, and offered fascination in place of complexity and coherence.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
It is in the nature of the medium that it must suppress the content of ideas in order to accommodate the requirements of visual interest;
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
The phrase is a means of acknowledging the fact that the world as mapped by the speeded-up electronic media has no order or meaning and is not to be taken seriously.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
The result of all this is that Americans are the best entertained and quite likely the least well-informed people in the Western world.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Walter Lippmann, for example, wrote in 1920: “There can be no liberty for a community which lacks the means by which to detect lies.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
And in its absence, what possible interest could there be in a list of what the President says now and what he said then?
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Lies have not been defined as truth nor truth as lies. All that has happened is that the public has adjusted to incoherence and been amused into indifference.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Huxley grasped, as Orwell did not, that it is not necessary to conceal anything from a public insensible to contradiction and narcoticized by technological diversions.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
In a sea of information, there was very little of it to use.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
For on television the politician does not so much offer the audience an image of himself, as offer himself as an image of the audience.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
This is the lesson of all great television commercials: They provide a slogan, a symbol or a focus that creates for viewers a comprehensive and compelling image of themselves.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
One would have thought that the school room is the proper place for students to inquire into the ways in which media of all kinds—including television—shape people’s attitudes and perceptions.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
It is my object in the rest of this book to make the epistemology of television visible again. I will try to demonstrate by concrete example that television’s way of knowing is uncompromisingly hostile to typography’s way of knowing; that television’s conversations promote incoherence and triviality; that the phrase “serious television” is a contradiction in terms; and that television speaks in only one persistent voice—the voice of entertainment
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Huxley grasped, as Orwell did not, that it is not necessary to conceal anything from a public insensible to contradiction and narcotized by technological diversions. Although Huxley did not specify that television would be our main line to the drug, he would have no difficulty accepting Robert MacNeil's observation that 'Television is the soma of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.' Big Brother turns out to be Howdy Doody.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
I will try to demonstrate by concrete example that television's way of knowing is uncompromisingly hostile to typography's way of knowing; that television's conversations promote incoherence and triviality; that the phrase "serious television" is a contradiction in terms; and that television speaks in only one persistent voice-the voice of entertainment.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
This perception of a news show as a stylized dramatic performance whose content has been staged largely to entertain is reinforced by several other features, including the fact that the average length of any story is forty-five seconds. While brevity does not suggest triviality, in this case it clearly does. It is simply not possible to convey a sense of seriousness about any event if its implications are exhausted in less that one minute's time.
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)
Radio, of course, is the least likely medium to join in the descent into a Huxleyan world of technological narcotics. It is, after all, particularly well suited to the transmission of rational, complex language. Nonetheless, and even if we disregard radio's captivation by the music industry, we appear to be left with the chilling fact that such language as radio allows us to hear is increasingly primitive, fragmented, and largely aimed at invoking a visceral response;
Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)