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Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business [Paperback]

Neil Postman , Andrew Postman
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Dec 27 2005

Originally published in 1985, Neil Postman’s groundbreaking polemic about the corrosive effects of television on our politics and public discourse has been hailed as a twenty-first-century book published in the twentieth century. Now, with television joined by more sophisticated electronic media—from the Internet to cell phones to DVDs—it has taken on even greater significance. Amusing Ourselves to Death is a prophetic look at what happens when politics, journalism, education, and even religion become subject to the demands of  entertainment. It is also a blueprint for regaining controlof our media, so that they can serve our highest goals.

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About the Author

Neil Postman (1931–2003) was chairman of the Department of Communication Arts at New York University and founder of its Media Ecology program. He wrote more than twenty books.

From AudioFile

This McCluhanesque diatribe begins by observing that our present and future resemble the predictions in Brave New World more than those of 1984. Technology, in particular television, has shaped our politics, news, religion, education, every aspect of our world. Rigginbach's reading is a little too fast-paced for this material; furthermore, the material is not suited to an audio format. Why did the author allow his thought to be corrupted by allowing their promulgation through non-print media. In addition, the examples he cites are ten years old; this week's television better supports his conclusions. The message is valid, but the medium through which it's presented is flawed. S.F.W. (c)AudioFile, Portland, Maine --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Dictatorship of Entertainment Jan. 5 2010
By D Glover TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Neil Postman's scathing critique of the effects of television on American culture is hardly less applicable today than in the mid 80's when it was first published. In fact, with the advent of other potentially mentally debilitating electronic media like the internet, the message of "Amusing Ourselves To Death" is arguably more important then ever.

Postman's key point is that Aldous Huxley, not George Orwell, was right when he prophesied about how society would be controlled in the future (our present). Where Orwell envisioned "big brother" controlling thought and discourse with a strong-arm, dictatorial approach (which was and still is the case in many communist or dictator-run nations), Huxley saw that an even more powerful way to control the populace was through amusement and entertainment. If people can be effectively distracted with pleasure, they are even more effectively controlled than when they are subjects of a strict police state. In Orwell's world, their will always be a remnant of free-thinking rebels who refuse to submit. In Huxley's world, no one wants to rebel because conformity feels good.

This is a critique of electronic image media that takes the medium itself seriously as something that is not simply neutral. Most people or groups that have attempted to critique TV (and other media) usually remain in the realm of content, arguing that violence, language, sexual images, etc., are what is damaging to viewers. Postman has seen through this superficial buffet-item selection method of criticism and shown that the real danger is not what we are watching but that we are watching...the whole buffet is poisoned.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book - masterfully written. Jan. 4 2004
I read this book in 2003 and it is more relevant today than ever. A masterfully written book that tells the story of the TV Generation's addiction and its consequences. The quality of the writing challenged me also.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Epistemology of Media May 19 2004
I think author Neil Postman has a lot of valuable things to say and reflect on. Several years ago I read his book Technopoly, which, along with several other books and articles I read at the time, led me to present a session at the 2001 TCEA convention entitled, "Remember the Luddites: Asking Critical Questions about Educational Technology." Technopoly was published in 1993, but now I have gone back to Postman's 1985 work, Amusing Ourselves to Death. It seems a bit dated, with the advent of the Internet and all the changes which have come as a result, but I found the book to be none-the-less quite relevant and worthwhile. His overall theme of how our society (esp in the US) is tending to become more and more focused on entertainment via multimedia has many implications not only in an educational arena, but also for everyday life-- in the way we set our priorities, and in the final analysis-- the ways we choose (hopefully intentionally) to spend our limited heartbeats. Those small choices day to day add up to have a considerably dramatic cumulative effect. And his point is well taken about our typical, cultural LACK of intentionality when it comes to our consumption of multimedia content-- esp. television programming.
In the May 2004 edition of Wired magazine, an article entitled "Watch This Way" documents a conversation between various moguls and pundits of our ever-growing entertainment industry. I found Yair Landau of Sony Picture's comment that "There are three basic human entertainment experiences that go back to the cave: storytelling, game-playing, and music" to be compelling. Author William Gibson added to this list of basic entertainment experiences "being part of the tribe.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Devastating and Funny April 28 2004
Borrowing from Marshall McLuhan, Communication Arts professor Neil Postman adopts the thesis that the 'medium is the metaphor' by arguing that "each medium, like language itself, makes possible a unique mode of discourse by providing a new orientation for thought, expression, and sensibility" (10). McLuhan argued that the medium is the message; Postman carries it one step further by demonstrating that the 'medium is the metaphor." He illustrates this by showing how the Cherokee Indians would communicate to multiple peoples separated by distance via smoke signals. While not knowing the nature of the discourse, Postman draws the inference that it probably did not contain philosophical argumentation because you cannot use smoke to do philosophy. The metaphor's form excludes the content (7). Postman illustrates this in the negative using the second commandment: Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, any likeness of any thing in heaven above, in the earth beneath, or that is in the water beneath the earth. Wondering why God would make such a decree, Postman infers, "it is a strange injunction [second commandment] to include in part of one's ethical system unless its author assume a connection between forms of human communication and the quality of a culture" (9, emphasis his).
This book is more relavant today than when it was first written. I live in a dorm and see people wasting their brains on video games (which I deem more dangerous than television). By the way, and I do not know how many reviewers caught this, Postman is not categorically bashing television. He notes how this has been a blessing in the lives of the elderly and the infirm. I thought this was a master stroke of sympathy and I commend him for it.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Clearly an Accurate Inquiry
"Amusing Ourselves to Death" describes the modern age of cultural and societal development in relation to mass media entertainment propagated through television culture. Read more
Published 3 months ago by James 'error' Campbell
5.0 out of 5 stars Still going strong after all these years
I read this book for the first time this year, and I must say it gives away its age to some extent, but the core analysis of the difference between the typographical age and... Read more
Published on Aug. 20 2011 by Rodge
4.0 out of 5 stars Powerful critique of showbiz culture.
Powerful and engaging. Throw out your TV, and pick up another book...preferably another one by Postman. Read more
Published on June 4 2010 by Small town Menno
3.0 out of 5 stars "Technology is ideology"
Postman presents an interesting analysis of modern media and its resulting ideologies, with MacLuhan's "the medium is the message" as its starting point. Read more
Published on Oct. 26 2008 by MC
5.0 out of 5 stars Turn Off Your Television and Think For Yourself
Most educated members of society have long recognized the danger of television. The cover of this book is a powerful image to illustrate the problem. Read more
Published on April 3 2004 by JMack
5.0 out of 5 stars Still the best!
Although this book was written in 1986, it's still the best book of its type I've come across. It's pithy, focused, articulate, and smart, and devoid of the "academic gobbly-gook,... Read more
Published on March 29 2004 by JackOfMostTrades
3.0 out of 5 stars The problem is clear...who is to blame, though?
Neil Postman takes the reader through a historical tour of how informative images are ruining our brains. Read more
Published on March 23 2004 by J. GARRATT
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly a must read for Americans
I'm sure I won't have anything to say about this book that someone else hasn't already said here. Yes, the book is now almost 20 years old, so it takes some memory stretching to... Read more
Published on Feb. 22 2004 by Paul D. Baxter
5.0 out of 5 stars Startling expose of the future of our culture.
Neil Postman's thesis in Amusing Ourselves to Death is simple. In his eye-opening work, he demonstrates "how forms of public discourse regulate and even dictate what kind of... Read more
Published on Feb. 17 2004 by Joseph W. Hyink
5.0 out of 5 stars Aldous Huxley's soma
Neil Postman was a media ecologist. Las Vegas is entirely devoted to entertainment. Journalists spend more time with blow dryers than with scripts. Read more
Published on Jan. 27 2004 by Mary E. Sibley
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