Amusing Ourselves to Death


Neil Postman

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Amusing Ourselves to Death: Chapter 11 Summary & Analysis

“There are two ways by which the spirit of a culture may be shriveled,” Postman says. “In the first—the Orwellian—culture becomes a prison. In the second—the Huxleyan—culture becomes a burlesque.” For Orwell, the danger comes from people full of hatred and resentment, while for Huxley, the danger comes from people with a smiling, loving face.
Postman is careful, in his conclusion, to affirm that nothing about television seems threatening on its face. Television is fun, enjoyable, and pleasurable—but Postman wants to emphasize that many cultural dangers appear, as it were, in such disguises. In fact, it is precisely television’s charisma that is the problem.
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So what is to be done? Postman notes that “Americans will not shut down any part of their technological apparatus, and to suggest that they do so is to make no suggestion at all.” Rather, Postman says that media become less dangerous when they are properly understood. He imagines the remedy to this problem is the education of people regarding the power of the medium of television to shape our national discourse. Once we understand what television does, we can be more proactive about promoting other forms of media (like print). After all, says Postman, “Brave New World was not that they were laughing instead of thinking, but that they did not know what they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking.”
Postman rightly points out that it is unrealistic to ask Americans to avoid or reject new technologies. But Postman does believe we can consciously promote media that help to fight entertainment culture. What might this look like, then? Postman is not specific—he only gestures at a kind of general solution. Have we moved closer to or away from Postman’s hypothetical improved future? Are we still in an “Age of Show Business?” These are questions Postman clearly wants to ask future readers.
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