Bite-Sized Bits of Info Rule Society
In a previous article featuring a look at Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, we highlighted introductory aspects of Postman’s work. I want to take a bit more time to go into things a bit deeper, to flesh out important points Postman makes.
Amusing Ourselves to Death brings to light Neil Postman’s opinion on what has been happening in society for some time. Written originally in the early 1990’s with a reprint in 2005, it almost seems that Postman’s book is more appropriate and applicable to society today. More importantly, he points out why he believes that is the case.
I don’t want to ruin it for you, so I’ll not try to give too many spoilers, but I want you to understand at least some of the depth to which Postman goes to pull out the truth for us so that it becomes very easy for us to see and comprehend. With that in mind, let’s get to some of the more important and very relevant aspects of information revealed to us in the book.
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 say it still another way: 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.’ (Amusing Ourselves to Death, p. 87)
So even news itself is not designed to inform primarily, but to entertain. This appears to most certainly be the case when there exists an invited guest (or “talking head”) where that person is interviewed by the anchor (“host”). The discussion then becomes heated, where the two talking heads even tend to move into a form of verbal sparring, which can and too often does, become heated where one person finally has to cut off the other person with vehemence and finality. What is oftentimes lost on many viewers is the actual subject matter being “discussed” and what is usually remembered is the demeanor between the individuals as well as possibly one or two one-liners stated. Think World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) but in the talking form. In WWE, everything is over the top; the names, the costumes, the characters, the language, the “wrestling” – all of it is designed for entertainment purposes. People get really caught up into seeing actual human beings doing what cartoon characters have done for decades.
Postman argues that the entirety of a news show is designed so that we will not take things very seriously.
Everything about a news show tells us this – the good looks and amiability of the cast, their pleasant banter, the exciting music that opens and closes the show, the vivid film footage, the attractive commercials – all these and more suggest that what we have just seen is no cause for weeping. A news show, to put it plainly, is a format for entertainment, not for education, reflection, or catharsis. And we must not judge too harshly those who have framed it in this way. They are not assembling the news to be read, or broadcasting it to be heard. They are televising the news to be seen. They must follow where their medium leads. There is no conspiracy here, no lack of intelligence, only a straightforward recognition that ‘good television’ has little to do with what is ‘good’ about exposition or other forms of verbal communication but everything to do with what the pictorial images look like. (p. 87-88)
Postman states that there is no conspiracy here and certainly on one level, he may be correct. However, when considering – as I pointed out in our last article – the fact that nearly all media are owned by just six corporations, it becomes a matter if there is an agenda. If there is an agenda, then we must also ask what that agenda is all about and who controls it?
While it is nice to think of the news simply being innocuously present in our lives, there may well be a deliberate attempt to obfuscate. Let’s face it, there is a tremendous amount of information and actual news that happens throughout the world on a daily basis. When my wife and I visited Europe not too long ago, the amount of articles and information presented by European news bureaus was often far different from what passes as news on American stations. In other words, someone is determining what qualifies as newsworthy and it is interesting when considering that the main news bureaus in the United States cover many of the same subjects, but from a different slant. Watching European news sources means that some of the same subjects are covered but also from a different slant. Moreover, there were many things that were covered by these European sources (related to the United States) that were not covered by news bureaus in the United States.
If we stop to consider it, numerous politicians have made “guest appearances” on sitcoms and evening soap operas over the years. I recall vividly during the run of “Parks and Recreation,” starring Amy Pohler, a comedy about life and government work in the fictitious town of Pawnee, Indiana, where names of politicians were constantly dropped throughout many episodes. Pictures of said politicians adorned the walls of offices. In at least one episode when Pohler goes to Washington, DC, several senators and VP Joe Biden appeared on the episode. It was almost as if there was a wink and a nod between television actors and political “actors” who are voted into office.
What Postman brings out throughout his book reminds me of the “soap opera” that is referred to as “congressional hearings.” We’ve all seen these hearings, where one or two senators will question someone and not hear the response for which they are looking, then they’ll get angry with the person being interviewed and through clenched teeth make veiled threats. Then, other senators on the opposing team will rush to the aid of the person being interviewed apologizing and complain about their ill-treatment, etc., etc.
People watching this at home (or in airports or doctor’s offices!), will side with the team they generally support. It’s all like one huge sporting event where people have their favorite team and that’s who they root for during and even after the event. Talking about politics (or arguing about it), is very much like talking sports or religion. None of it is all that different really. Don’t get me wrong. I’m passionate about theology, doctrine, the Bible, and my beliefs. I want to be right in understanding what God has revealed. I don’t want to read “into” His Word. But all too often, religion especially as expressed in society is little more than a form of entertainment. That has truly become what people expect from “church.” Above all things, they want to be entertained, which is why the Emergent Church took off so well. It moved away from things like “sin” and the need for repentance, introduced upbeat, happy music with loud instrumentation. The “preaching” – such as it is – in these type of churches must entertain in order to hold people’s attention. The “preacher” must be part teacher, part stand-up comedian, part all-around entertainer.
Not long ago, I saw Billy Graham join with Shecky Green, Red Buttons, Dionne Warwick, Milton Berle and other theologians in a tribute to George Burns, who was celebrating himself for surviving eighty years in show business. The Reverend Graham exchanged one-liners with Burns about making preparations for Eternity. Although the Bible makes no mention of it, the Reverend Graham assured the audience that God loves those who make people laugh. It was an honest mistake. He merely mistook NBC for God. (p. 5)
Ultimately, Postman notes that the main areas of society – “…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,” (p. 3-4). He then goes onto point out examples from just about every one of those areas. Tragically, whether this is a conspiracy theorist’s dream or not, the truth is that the negative effect it has had on society cannot be ignored. One can only wonder where Postman says we are going?
Certainly, this entire affair has created a generation of individuals who do not want to read either thoroughly or critically. In fact, too many today are not capable of that pursuit. They have been trained for too long to simply accept the information doled out to them in pieces that require only a few chews (if at all), then swallowed. When I was growing up, critical thinking was developed as we learned to read and because of the books we had access to. Today, it’s all digital and in fact, for people who are interested in reading, that’s not even necessary because you can buy books on CD where you’ll hear someone read it to you. You’re then free to let your mind float without having to concentrate on the words being said that were written in order to create a mind picture.
Society has been dumbed down and that is certain. Postman says that is the effect of our complete and total reliance on technology of the digital age and where we have been forced to accept the bland, monotonous, and culture-lacking appeal of information that is given to us in carefully sliced and diced bits of information; something that is reflected in the title of his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death. Is it really that different from what the Roman Empire sought to achieve for the masses by offering them “bread and circuses”? The people were fed and entertained. They didn’t care about things after that and because of that, were easily amused and directed. Unfortunately, it may well be where not only America is at or heading to but all of global society.
Life was far simpler during my days of growing up without the massive amounts of technology we have and rely on today. It has caused us to think less and think less critically. Is there hope?
Only in Jesus…
Entry filed under: Agenda 21, Cultural Marxism, emergent church, Emotional virtue, Political Correctness, Politically Correct, Politics, Religious - Christian - End Times, Religious - Christian - Prophecy, Religious - Christian - Theology, salvation. Tags: amusing ourselves to death, athletics, education, entertainment, neil postman, news as entertainment, Politics, religion.