Amusing Ourselves to Death


Neil Postman

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Form and Content Theme Analysis

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 Theme Icon

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 content. Certain kinds of media are suited for certain kinds of discourse, information, or communication. For example, Postman argues that television, as a form of media, is simply not suited for rational discussion or any kind of “serious” content. On the other hand, he believes typography (print and writing) is a form of media perfectly suited for rational content—but not necessarily entertaining content. Spoken language, its own medium separate from print, also determines its own special content: sayings, proverbs, or aphorisms are the dominant kinds of content in oral traditions, where information is communicated primarily by the spoken word.

Postman believes that this determinate relationship between form and content is of vital importance for people, especially Americans, to understand. He notes that too many Americans believe they can get out of television what they once got out of books or other kinds of print media. The implications for this claim are indeed large: if the form of a medium determines its content, then the introduction and dominance of new media, Postman extrapolates, brings with it the dominance of altogether new kinds of content. The difference between print culture and television culture is not simply the difference between writing and watching: it is the difference between a culture dominated by reason and a culture dominated by entertainment.

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Form and Content ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Form and Content appears in each chapter of Amusing Ourselves to Death. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Form and Content Quotes in Amusing Ourselves to Death

Below you will find the important quotes in Amusing Ourselves to Death related to the theme of Form and Content.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Our languages are our media. Our media are our metaphors. Our metaphors create the content of our culture.

Page Number: 15
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Chapter 2 Quotes

Like the fish who survive a toxic river and the boatmen who sail on it, there still dwell among us those whose sense of things is largely influenced by older and clearer waters…

Page Number: 28
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Chapter 3 Quotes

The only communication event that could produce such collective attention in today's America is the Superbowl.

Page Number: 35
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Chapter 4 Quotes

The use of language as a means of complex argument was an important, pleasurable and common form of discourse in almost every public arena…

Page Number: 47
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Chapter 5 Quotes

The telegraph made a three-pronged attack on typography's definition of discourse, introducing on a large scale irrelevance, impotence, and incoherence.

Page Number: 65
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To the telegraph, intelligence meant knowing of lots of things, not knowing about them…

Page Number: 70
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Chapter 6 Quotes

At the end, one could only applaud those performances, which is what a good television program always aims to achieve; that is to say, applause, not reflection.

Page Number: 91
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Had Irving Berlin changed one word in the title of his celebrated song [There’s No Business like Show Business], he would have been as prophetic, albeit more terse, as Aldous Huxley. He need only have written, There's No Business But Show Business.

Related Characters: Aldous Huxley
Page Number: 98
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Chapter 9 Quotes

The television commercial is not at all about the character of products to be consumed. It is about the character of the consumers of products.

Page Number: 126
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Chapter 10 Quotes

We now know that "Sesame Street" encourages children to love school only if school is like "Sesame Street."

Page Number: 143
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