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

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4.1 of 5 stars 4.10  ·  rating details  ·  6,798 ratings  ·  826 reviews
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 signific...more
Paperback, 208 pages
Published December 27th 2005 by Penguin Books (first published 1985)
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Trevor
This really is a book that needs to be read. I’m going to start with the quote that got me to read this book:

“We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn't, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares. But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell's dark vision, there was another - slightly older, slightly less well kn...more
s.penkevich
Mar 20, 2013 s.penkevich rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Infinite Jesters
Recommended to s.penkevich by: School
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.'

The modern era is an age of endless information and entertainment. Media looks to the public for what they want, and then sells it back to them wrapped up in the most irresistible packaging they can create, and we eat it up. However, if entertainment is what we desire most, and if everything we receive must compete for our atten...more
David
Well, yes, Mr Postman. You're undoubtedly right in much of your analysis. And I suppose it was prescient of you to be so right way back in 1985 when you wrote this book.

But having said that, I'm not sure what else to add. Here we are in 2009. Arnold Schwarzenegger is governor of the state I live in. But the republic hasn't fallen. The barbarians are just an annoyance, not a threat. Newspapers may be undergoing a steep decline, but it would be premature to declare this a complete tragedy. I read...more
Hadrian
Amusing Ourselves to Death is a doom-and-gloom prophecy about the dangers of television and the hazardous effects of passively receiving information instead of critically engaging with it. All other factors become subsumed to the desire to entertain and draw as many viewers as possible, whether in education, news, or even religion, with the rise of the TV preacher.

In 1985, this might not have been wrong. But we are now in 2014, and the situation of the media has changed significantly in the past...more
Joseph
If someone held a gun to my head and asked for a precise and concise definition of irony (it could happen!), I would say only this: Neil Postman died two days before Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor -thus narrowly missing out on the single best example of what he was screaming about all those years ago. This book was foundational for me. Postman delivers a passioned polemic about the entertain-at-any-cost ethos of our current culture, and how the irrestible siren song of triviality is...more
booklady
Jun 18, 2008 booklady rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: any parent!
I think this was my introduction to Postman and I read this book in a day; it's 163 pages. Yes, I like to read, but even so back then with two little kids, I rarely read that much in month much less a day! I had two nearly-hyperactive (okay yes they were girls) kids of four and five. I only mention this so you know just how big an impression this book made on me at the time.

Up until then I frequently resorted to letting the kids 'do' videos several hours a day--not that they would ever sit stil...more
Anne
There's a good feeling you get when you read a book that accurately criticizes something that needs it. If you've ever felt like watching TV was a waste of time, this book will impart such a feeling.

Not to mention, providing an arsenal of reasons why TV is a general waste of time.

Why, just two days ago my 3rd grade students asked me why the 4th graders at our school always get to watch videos in class and we don't.

With Postman's support in my back pocket I explained that TV was nothing more than...more
Giacinta
This was an astonishing book. I picked it up from the library but I really want my own copy now. I was nervous about it because it was written a while ago, before the Internet was the all-pervasive force it is today. I thought it's a book about media, it will be dated, it will say television is bad for you, etc. But it really surprised me.

The point of the book is about how the advent of television influenced public discourse and politics. The book speaks at length about pre-television society i...more
Tracey
This book had been on my To Read list for quite some time; a mention in The Geography of Nowhere was the final spur to check it out from the library.

Postman takes a look at how our perception of the world is affected by the medium in which we receive information about it; contrasting the Age of Print (the 18th & 19th centuries) with our current age - starting with the telegraph and continuing through to the computer. Obviously, the main focus is television, as it is the most ubiquitous info...more
Malbadeen
Aug 22, 2007 Malbadeen added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: headless people
I read a paragraph of this? or a page? or a chapter? or most of it? What I read to the point where Postman said, basically that there is so much information out there that we can not or do not act on that it's pretty ludicrous to keep taking it all in. And I was like cool! I can finally stop paying attention to that war that they're having in that place and all that talk about those hungry people in that one country is now in one ear and out the other. And then I was like double cool cuz I know...more
Shelley
Whenever I challenge my students to think critically about the value of television and the amount they consume, they almost always respond, "But Mrs. B! What about all the educational stuff on TV?"

This is exactly why I encourage them to read this book. Neil Postman doesn't believe our culture is threatened by shows created for the sole purpose of entertaining audiences. Instead, Postman argues, "...television is at its most trivial and, therefore, most dangerous when its aspirations are high, wh...more
Rickeclectic
Feb 18, 2009 Rickeclectic rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Not many folks
Shelves: about-meaning
Disappointing. Read it if you have to (it is considered to be an "important" book for media folks), but otherwise, just read the following and skip the book. Mr. Postman is obviously a well read person and the book claims the values logic and argument, but his arguments are off kilter. This is especially disappointing because the topic is important and he is a good writer in the classic sense of being able to put interesting sentences together.

His thesis is "Some ways of truth telling are better...more
Jon
Feb 04, 2012 Jon added it
"This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right." - Neil Postman

In 1854 Stephen A. Douglas presented a three-hour speech against Abraham Lincoln's ideas, and in return, on that same night, Lincoln responded with a three-hour argument of his own. The surprise? People actually stayed long enough to hear both men out.

Contrast that with the Republican debate that happened last night: 8 candidates were forced to answer leading, disjointed questions in 30 seconds or less. And th...more
Jacob Kovacs
In three words, read this book.

Why?

1. Neil Postman's skill in argumentation is a beautiful thing. Whether or not you agree with him, you can learn something by paying attention to how he structures his argument -- so transparently, for one thing; he tries to let you know what he's up to, tries to anticipate and address criticisms, tries to bare his definitions, tries to work within specific and specified historical and disciplinary contexts, tries to explicitly define the scope of his argument....more
Rebecca
Note to self: It's time to read Brave New World again...

Despite having been published in 1985 on a topic (media) that is currently changing faster than ever before and has come light years (almost literally) since its release, this is a book well worth reading for anyone interested in social thought, politics, media, constructive analysis of our society, or fomenting revolution among the plebeian masses.

Beginning with a very interesting scholarly consideration of how a medium shapes its content...more
Josh
A very readable and highly insightful commentary on the information age and how it's reduced our collective attention span to vapor. Mostly Postman was right on, even though this is from 1985, minus a few minor quarrels I'd have with some of his targets. I agreed with him most when it came to politics, which has become a total quagmire of shallow image-wrangling and blathering idiocy in the information age.

While it's hard to dispute much of anything he writes, I think ultimately there's not much...more
Paul Gier
Postman provodes an insightful analysis about how the medium of communication (speech, writing, television) has a significant effect on the information that is communicated. Television is limited to providing information without context because the communication happens only in a single direction and has strict time limitations. Television is a great medium for entertainment, but it is generally counter-productive as a medium for for communicating more complex ideas such as news, education, and...more
Inggita
i translated this book into Indonesian ("Menghibur Diri Sampai Mati" - Pustaka Sinar Harapan press) back in the 90s - i was taken by the clarity of the analogy that he provides even though it makes little sense to those who doesn't read (where i come from there's a lot, therefore we can't say Postman will be effective over here): Orwell's vision of a totalitarian nation where everything's monitored and controled vs. Huxley's where we will gladly let go of our role as watchdogs in return of endle...more
Courtney
As someone who doesn't watch a lot of tv, and laments about the general populace's lack of understanding about politics and the nuances of life in general, I found this an easy read. I would be interested in how this argument would play out now, in the age of the internet and social media. If anything, I imagine the general public actually reads more now than ever, from a wider variety of sources. But this doesn't necessarily mean that we understand any better. Our understanding of the world has...more
Erika RS
This book makes two good points: the media used to communicate affects the nature of the communication, and much of modern communication on serious matters is frivolous.

That covers the first part of the book. The rest is a tiresome rant about how TV is ruining us all. The details of the rant are not worth covering, but I do think that Postman misses some important points. First, he never looks to see if there is any good in a visual based communication style. It is true, as he states, that a med...more
Andy Kenway
In order to seek freedom from the adverse influences of modern society, we must first understand those influences. We are captive to those influences that we do not recognize, understand, and consciously resist.

Amusing Ourselves to Death is without doubt one of the five most penetrating and thought-provoking books that I have ever read. Postman's analysis of the effects of television on society is a must-read for those who want to fully comprehend the cultural changes that have taken place in t...more
David
I just re-read this with a book group. Most fascinating and insightful for me this time around were the introductory chapters in which Postman undergirds his later specific critique of TV culture.
Zach
I first heard about this book from a comic online, which you should read:

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The text of the comic is taken pretty much verbatim from Postman's own introduction, and his book is an attempt to prove the thesis hinted by the comic: that the preeminence of television as the medium of culture trivializes, demeans, and corrupts the nature of public discourse. He makes a convincing case, and in light of today's broken political process, in which television plays a prime role of culpability,...more
Xavier Shay
Everyone needs to read this. A nuanced yet hard hitting critique of television culture. Investigates the medium, and the types of messages it can convey, and how it has transformed public discourse. Hard to believe how relevant this is despite being 25 years old.

"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."

On trivia: "A pseudo-context is a structure invented to give fr...more
Jacob Aitken
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 com...more
Ammar
Neil Postman starts his book “Amusing Ourselves to Death” by describing the cities that most reflected the American culture and spirit. In the late eighteenth century it was rebellious Boston, in the mid-nineteenth it was New York representing a melting pot, in the early twentieth century Chicago symbolized industrialization and vigor, and today it is Las Vegas the focal point of entertainment which has so saturated the modern-day American spirit. Postman looks at this change as a regrettable de...more
Shelby Stafford
I had not read this book for a while so I thought I should read it again. It made so much more sense, now that have more background knowledge for the subject. It is a very thought provoking read. It is interesting, Postman does not claim to be a Christian and that is obvious by his worldview (he equates Jesus with Buddha, Mohammed and Luther), but his criticisms of tv evangelists and the like are right on.

2 conclusions: " The first is that on television, religion, like everything else, is presen...more
Alexis Neal
Pretty much an amazing book. I realize I am way behind the times, and lots of folks discovered this gem years ago, but better late than never, right? The only thing that could have made this book any better is if Postman had offered more in the way of solutions to the problem he so skillfully and persuasively describes.

In fact, Postman was so persuasive that I became suspicious that perhaps he was over-arguing his point. So I looked around a bit to see if the book was universally lauded as an in...more
Swamy Atul
Neil Postman asks us whether we are dumbing down with the barrage of entertainment. He takes on the medium of television to evaluate the intellectual evolution of the society. Written in the mid-1980's, this is much before the internet rose as an alternative to television. I will love to know what he thinks of these changes.
My understanding of media, from smoke signals to language to television, has been greatly enriched with savory helpings of this book. Postman opines that we do not measure a...more
A.J.
Let's have a chat, you and I. We can talk about anything you want. I won't be good for everything, but if you like movies, politics, books, religion, philosophy, or something like that, we should have a pretty good time. I'm almost certain we can find some common ground. If all else fails we can bitch about the weather (it's been particularly hostile this winter where I live) or how much we're looking forward to spring, all the while watching the thermometer creep steadily upwards. But wait a se...more
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41963
Neil Postman, an important American educator, media theorist and cultural critic was probably best known for his popular 1985 book, Amusing Ourselves to Death. For more than four decades he was associated with New York University, where he created and led the Media Ecology program.

He is the author of more than thirty significant books on education, media criticism, and cultural change including Te...more
More about Neil Postman...
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“We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn't, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.

But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell's dark vision, there was another - slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions." In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us.

This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.”
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“Everything in our background has prepared us to know and resist a prison when the gates begin to close around us . . . But what if there are no cries of anguish to be heard? Who is prepared to take arms against a sea of amusements? To whom do we complain, and when, and in what tone of voice, when serious discourse dissolves into giggles? What is the antidote to a culture's being drained by laughter?” 58 likes
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