Sunday, March 9, 2008

Are We Really Amusing Ourselves to Death?

Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman was a critique of the media’s influence on American culture in the early 1980’s. Postman viewed many different types of television programs in an effort to explain how they negatively shaped society. While many of the points that Postman made might have been relevant at the time the book was written, it is clear that some parts of the book have become dated.

In the Part I, the focus was on the evolution of communication. The pattern of development moved from the oral word, to the written word, to television. The author clearly believed that the written word was the best source of information and communication. While he made some valid points, Postman failed to address any of the advantages of television. This part of the book could have been strengthened if the author had written from a less biased perspective.

In Part II of the book, Postman focused on television as an established media form. He described some of the different ways that television was used to communicate messages: the news, religious programming, political companioning, and educational programming. Postman basically claimed that using television to broadcast these messages presented viewers with a biased view at best, and destructive understanding of the real world at worst.

Postman made a good point when he said that all messages on television need to be entertaining to capture the attention of the audience. This means that the news cannot simply relay the stories of the day. They need to tap into the stories that people will connect with most. Additionally, news casters appear to be trained to display no signs of emotion or understating. This almost robotic reporting is what Postman referred to as “ Now… This.” This point is one example of something that can still be accurately applied to television today. Along with news, Postman’s comments about religious programming being more concerned with entertainment value than their messages also holds true today. In contrast, educational programming for children does not undermine formal schooling like Postman claimed. This difference demonstrates that while Postman was able to predict something about television, he was not always correct. This last sentence sums up the book well. Postman made many good point and predictions about television, but looking in back retrospect, he was not always correct.

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