Amusing Ourselves to Death

Neil Postman 1931-2003

Every once in a while you read a book that changes your life.

Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman was such a book for me.

Although I read it in 1985, it was a book that made me see the world in a very different way, and had an enormous impact on my career and my life.

Postman’s basic thesis, boiled down to a sentence or two, was that television has come to dominate the arena of public discourse.  And television, almost by definition, must be entertaining. Hence, anything that is communicated by television must also become entertaining or it will not be able to hold our attention. This goes for politics as well.

Postman was once a guest on the Today Show. Bryan Gumbal was interviewing him.  Gumbal asked Postman a question and Postman simply stared at Gumbal.  The staring went on for a long time, at least a long time for television, as Gumbal become increasingly uncomfortable.  Finally, after about a minute of dead air, a lifetime for live TV, Gumbal turned to Postman and said, “Professor Postman….”

Postman turned irritable.  “I’m thinking!” said Postman.

It was a great piece of political theater.  Thinking, of course, is something you are not allowed to do in television. It is not entertaining to watch people think.

Neither is it entertaining to lay out the details of solutions to complex problems.

Entertainment TV much perfers snappy lines:  “John F. Kennedy was a friend of mine, and you sir, are no John F Kennedy”.  It’s what sells.

Last night, watching Sarah Palin deliver her opening speech at the RNC, I was reminded so strongly of Postman’s book.

Palin is entertaining.

She is good TV.

She is funny.

She delivers a line well.

She is also a die-hard Christian Fundamentalist who favors teaching creationism in the classroom, does not subscribe to global warming, is opposed to gay rights and gay marriage, is anti-abortion and feels that God has directed us into Iraq.

It is up to the media to dig this stuff up, but last night she and the RNC began the process of innoculating themselves against ‘the media’.

Who knows if ‘the media’ will even have the courage to take issues to the public.  Issues are not entertaining,

She is.

As Postman said: Amusing Ourselves to Death.


9 responses to “Amusing Ourselves to Death

  1. Jerry Fortenberry

    The McCain / Palin ticket is not “amusing” and it scares me nearly “to death.”

  2. Another Postman book changed my life: “Teaching as a Subversive Activity,” which I read as a teenager in the early 70’s, and which hurtled me into the counter culture for the next couple of decades. I had the pleasure of meeting him once, in Sun Valley, Idaho, and got to thank him personally.

  3. Jerry Fortenberry said:

    The McCain / Palin ticket is not “amusing” and it scares me nearly “to death.”


  4. And less we forget Obama… He was preached to by a hate filled bigot for 20 years, and still kept going back, had close business and political ties with a terrorist, voted for legislation that would kill a baby that was born as the result of a botched abortion.

    I dont get it Mike.


  5. Tom – you’re recycling neocon propaganda.

    I may not agree with all that he stands for – but he brings more to the table than the alternative.

  6. “I may not agree with all that he stands for – but he brings more to the table than the alternative.”

    Boy do you have that right. He will bring higher taxes, crappy medical care, higher fuel prices, weaker national security, higher unemployment… that’s one “table” I don’t want to go near.

    Buck up lib’s, I hear Putin is looking for a few good men.

    Hey, got to run, I got to do some clinging to my religion and guns.

  7. Cliff, perhaps – in the end, all we know is what others felt fit to tell us. And so you and I, having been armed with information supplied by the sources we choose, now, debate from such.

    Seems ridiculous.

    Either way, I like the Republican Party snake oil better this time. McCain deserves a chance after what he’s been through.

    As for Obama – he reminds me on one of those Clint Eastwood cut-outs you get at the party store.


  8. Avery – typical Neocon spin doctoring – when they Repubs can show the details of what they bring to the table to resolve the mess their party has wrought on this country for the past 8 years – as opposed to deriding those who give of themselves in community organizing, maybe I’ll give it a look.

    The conventions were night and day – the lesser of the two evils (Democrats) bring more positive change to the this country with a detailed list of what they plan on doing than the repub nightmare and their pitbull with lipstick who is currently in hiding. Why??? She has to be given cliff notes on what it means to be VP and it’s repub presidential candidate who campaigns on the amnesia platform and recycles the same POW story every chance he gets. He served his country and I respect him for that, but I personally don’t want some inexperienced barracuda a heart beat away from the presidency who is shown to clearly not having been vetted thoroughly trashing what’s left of the constitution or thinking she can rape the planet out of some religious doctrine about end times.

    There’s no room in this country for an elected political officials personal religious beliefs dictating policy for its citizens in this country – those beliefs having been shown to be so radical, it mirrors the very same fundamentalism the current administration says it’s trying to protect this country from – reminds me of the movie “V for Vendetta”

    As Joe Biden said in his speech “What the republicans didn’t say – the silence was deafening”

    This coming from a former evangelical repub

  9. Cliff,

    Based on most of your posts I have seen on this site, you seem like a decent guy… I hope nothing I say offends you or those of you ilk, but then again, if it does that’s too bad.

    For the record, I feel my party, the GOP, has lost its way and there isn’t much difference between the Dem’s and Rep’s these days.


    I personally believe in:

    God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost
    Marriage has been ordained of God and is between a Man and a Woman
    Life is sacred and Abortion is murder
    Families (traditional) are the fabric and back bone of this Nation and mankind
    This Country is the greatest of all Nations on this Earth
    The Freedom we enjoy is a gift from God
    The Constitution was inspired of God
    Capitalism is the best economic system going
    Individuals are and should be responsible for themselves
    Working hard and reaping the fruits of your labors
    Serving your fellow man is the most personally rewarding thing a person can do

    Well, you get the idea.

    But even if you don’t believe the way I do you still may have an opinion on the following.

    IF you are so well off that paying more taxes is no big deal or you don’t mind bureaucrats deciding when and what medical treatment you should be allowed to have,

    IF you like paying $4.00 plus gas because you buy into the drilling for oil is only contributing to the global warming farce/lie,

    IF you think showing weakness by “trying to talk it out” to those Nations that want to do us and other countries harm is the way to go, (Muslim extremist will not stop until infidels, all of them, are dead or converted, more “neocon” propaganda I suppose)

    IF you are comfortable with a man who has zero, zilch, nada, none- experience doing any thing other than “community organizing” (whatever that is), going to a leftists ivy league school and getting elected to the Senate not to mention having never been tested in any important way,

    IF you are in love with the notion that Government needs to control more of our lives based on the premise that the general populous is not smart enough to make good decisions on there own,

    IF IF IF.

    In my opinion, today’s political practitioners are Godless, self serving, power seeking, secret combination promoting, freedom denying, whore/war mongering, teeth nashing, new idea lacking scum bags.

    I would never, ever force my beliefs on anyone and part of the reason we are even here on this earth is so we can seek for and find truth- so vote for whom you will but as for me the choice is clear- as sad as it is.

    Take Care,


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