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. And Postman has the insight to realize that TV is at its most dangerous when it is trying to be the most responsible, serious and educational, since this medium effectively equalizes all things to the level of entertainment. If one is still going to watch TV after reading this book, Postman effectively argues that the junk and pulp is the best and least dangerous thing to watch. As TV has raised dish soap and soft drinks to the universal, daily public consciousness, it has lowered political discourse, history, world events, economics, religion, philosophy, science, education, art, etc., to the level of TV commercials and mindless soap operas. TV has turned political and religious leaders into celebrities which has had the effect of trivializing their messages and placing them on equal footing with other celebrities (like talk show hosts, actors, and fictional characters, who are now more often looked to as authoritative figures - think Oprah, Dr. Phil, Larry King, etc.). In fact, most often, politicians and religious leaders, etc., are on a lower level than other celebrities since they are often working with a lower production budget. TV has deposed content and rational argument from the place of primacy in public discourse, a place once dominated by the written word, and replaced them with speed-of-light image and manipulative emotional appeal.
In my opinion, Postman puts too much faith in education to help save us from the plague of TV and electronic media. However, that we need saving from this and other mind-withering media is quite clearly argued. Postman does not advocate ridding the world of TV (as if that were even possible now), but he argues that people must be equipped and educated to see what TV and electronic media does to individuals and societies who don't understand the all pervasive power of such media.
"Amusing Ourselves to Death" should be read and taken seriously by everyone, but no one more than parents who want to teach their children to think critically and independently. Since it was originally written, this message is even more crucial since electronic media has broadened to include new and even more potentially subversive technologies. And we are being duped to thinking that something like the internet is increasing and improving public discourse. If I could, I would give this book 7 stars.