Amusing Ourselves to Death
Neil Postman wrote a book back in 1991 called, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. It was republished in 2005 as an anniversary edition. I wholeheartedly recommend it because Postman goes off the beaten path by a long shot. While he absolutely discusses the “dumbing down” of American society, unlike many who take the Orwellian approach, he prefers Aldous Huxley’s approach from Brave New World. The way Postman explains it makes a great deal of sense too.
Here is a rundown of the contents:
- The Medium is the Metaphor
- Media as Epistemology
- Typographic America
- The Typographic Mind
- The Peek-a-Boo World
- The Age of Show Business
- Shuffle Off to Bethlehem
- Reach Out and Elect Someone
- Teaching as an Amusing Activity
- The Huxleyan Warning
What makes Postman’s book so evocative is not only the way he wends and winds through things to paint a picture of American (and world) society, but he does it with panache. His dry wit moves us along from idea to idea, concept to concept, and truth to truth. While speaking of the more primitive forms of communication, he provides an example.
While I do not know exactly what content was once carried in the smoke signals of American Indians, I can safely guess that it did not include philosophical argument. Puffs of smoke are insufficiently complex to express ideas on the nature of existence, and even if they were not, a Cherokee philosopher would run short of either wood or blankets long before he reached his second axiom. You cannot use smoke to do philosophy. Its form excludes the content. [p. 7]
Postman is just getting started. He becomes even more droll, with a dryness that forces the reader must pause and consider before the light turns on, or it will be missed. He takes us through the history (briefly) of the printing press to the telegraph line, to the phone, the radio, and the television. The emphasis today is clearly on vision. Radio programs worked during a time when that was all that existed. They would not work today except for a throwback to nostalgia.
Today’s technology has made everything extremely visual and fast. Images change from one thing to the next creating a society that is literally being amused to death. People in general, do not think today. The thinking is done for them. This is the purpose of “news” today. In fact, it is the purpose of the three main realms: religion, news, and education. These areas are clearly covered. While many who realize this are tempted to believe it’s part of the Orwellian plan that George Orwell allegedly warned us about decades ago (when he taught allegorically that the government would become Big Brother and control everything in our lives), as noted, Postman prefers a nod toward Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, with “soma” being our television sets.
I think in many ways, Postman has it correct. While it appears that the government has been hard at work dumbing us down and increasing the control over our lives, in reality it may well be the corporate media that has been doing that since they likely control the government.
The problem, as noted by Postman, is the danger of today’s electronic society that tends to portray important information in small bits of information. Because everything is “image-oriented,” this can and does drastically affect the way people think because of the way the information is perceived. This is true as depicted on many social mediums where information is often normally shared in a one-panel picture with some meme associated with it. Often, when research is done on the bite-sized information in the pictured meme, the truth comes to the surface and it rarely agrees with the meme itself. Unfortunately though, people are all-too willing to simply accept as the truth the meme because it’s something they can easily memorize and carry with them to use when that particular subject comes to the surface.
For instance, look at this pictorial meme about Christians and Chick-Fil-A. At first glance, it appears to be true. Since these types of slogans or memes are designed to prick the conscience, amuse, or irritate, it does the job, doesn’t it? However, a closer consideration reveals that it’s not at all true. The truth is that without Christians, many food banks, homeless shelters, and the like would never have even started. Cities and municipalities do not ordinarily start these types of things because the funding is simply not built into their budgets. Christians and religious people are the ones who have been at the forefront of these types of charities that have helped the poor, the homeless, the hungry, for centuries. But that truth is boring. It’s better to create a slogan or meme that appears to attack Christians based on what might seem like truth at first glance. A person’s emotional reaction to it determines the truthfulness for them. It’s very unfortunate.
But the slogan pictured with Chick-Fil-A in the background is designed to cause people to respond with something like, “Yeah, that’s right! Why are Christians picking on gay people and supporting a business that seems to do the same, when they should be out feeding the hungry and helping the poor?!” This is the hoped for response. Never mind that there are food banks in many churches where a person who has the need can simply stop by and receive free grocery supplies. Never mind that Christians are often at men’s and women’s homeless shelters or providing food and other supplies to those shelters. Without the gracious giving of many Christians and religious people, these shelters and food banks would have absolutely no chance of surviving because the government cannot do it because it is not designed to do it.
However, people opposed to Christians or Chick-Fil-A will see that meme and their ire will rise to the occasion. From there, they will be confirmed in their thinking that Christians are simply hypocrites. This is the tragedy today with respect to the way information is disseminated and social networks have helped create this type of information flow. Twitter is among the worst because each “tweet” is limited to 140 characters. Because of these, folks have to get very creative with the way they spell. Words are abbreviated and special symbols used. It’s almost a code in and of itself, which has furthered the decline of true communication and critical thinking in global society. Even though my spelling and grammar is not perfect, I strive to make it so. Because of that, I rarely post on Twitter anymore because it was driving me crazy that I had to deliberately misspell or abbreviate words all the time. Trying having a conversation with someone when everything has to be shortened, abbreviated, or misspelled. It can be exhausting.
Another problem with cute pictures with a bite-sized slogan is that they become so general in nature that they mean nothing. People have heard them a million times before so they don’t stand out. They simply take up space on the page. “Today is the first day of the rest of your life,” is supposed to make us think about the beauty of our lives and give us a fresh start. Okay, next. Do people really take the time to do that? On their favorite social network, they’ll “like” it or “share” it and then move on.
The other problem with society’s penchant for and reliance on bite-sized information in the form of easy t0 remember slogans and memes is that we become addicted to that form of “entertainment” and make the mistake of thinking that we are “learning” because of it. If we’re learning, we are becoming better people, right? Wrong. If we are learning things that are provably untrue, this does not make us better in any way, shape, or form. Unlike smoke signals at one time used by American Indians to share the most basic information from tribe to tribe, modern day slogans are used the same way, except intended to share complex truths. This is ridiculous, yet it has become the standard practice throughout society. This is also why, I believe, political correctness has become the way the average person determines truth these days. It’s all about how you feel about something.
We’ll be back to talk more about Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, because he has some extremely worthwhile opinions to share with us. I hope you’ll join me then.
Entry filed under: christianity, Cultural Marxism, Emotional virtue, eternity, Global Elite, Life in America, new age movement, Political Correctness, Politically Correct, Politics, Religious - Christian - End Times, Religious - Christian - Prophecy, Religious - Christian - Theology, salvation. Tags: 140 characters, amusing ourselves to death, bite-sized information, communication, electronic technology, memes, neil postman, slogans, tweet, twitter.