Amusing Ourselves to Death


Neil Postman

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Amusing Ourselves to Death Themes

Themes and Colors
Form and Content Theme Icon
Typography vs. Image Theme Icon
The History of Public Discourse and Media Theme Icon
News and Entertainment Theme Icon
Progress, Prediction, and the Unforeseen Future Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Amusing Ourselves to Death, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Form and Content

At the heart of Postman’s argument is a claim about a relationship between the form of a medium (where “form” refers to the form the medium takes, e.g. television, spoken language, writing, etc.) and the content of that medium (where content is the information the medium communicates). Postman says that there is a determinate relationship between form and content. This means that the form of a media determines, or has a definitive impact on, its…

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Typography vs. Image

The fundamental tension in Postman’s account is the opposition between typography, or print, and the image (as in a photograph or on a television screen). This tension is fundamental to Postman’s argument largely because (he claims) it is this opposition between print and image which is at the heart of the transition occurring in American discourse and culture at the time of his writing.

America, once highly literate and dependent on print-based forms of communication—including…

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The History of Public Discourse and Media

Much of the book’s argument takes the form of a historical account that tracks the development of public discourse over time. Postman’s historical account is actually quite vast in scope: The Iliad, Plato, Jesus, the Protestant Reformation, and American history from its colonization to the present are all included in the story Postman tells about the history of media and their effects on culture. His argument essentially articulates how, in many ways, the history…

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News and Entertainment

A central consideration of Postman’s argument is the role that the news (whether in the newspaper or on television) plays in the development of the new American culture. Postman believes that the news is a particularly insidious force in the transformation of America from a culture of reason into a culture of entertainment.

While the news seems at first glance like an objective dissemination of knowledge and information, Postman maintains that the news actually represents…

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Progress, Prediction, and the Unforeseen Future

Much of Postman’s text—which was written in 1985—involves working towards a kind of prediction or projection of an imagined future. As contemporary, 21st century readers, we must then ask ourselves which parts of Postman’s argument resonate with our present reality, and which parts ring false given advances in technology. These questions are central to the thematic content of book—and though Postman cannot know the answers, his text certainly asks them as well.

Postman’s entire text…

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