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

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Item Specifications...

Pages   184
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 7.68" Width: 5.12" Height: 0.56"
Weight:   0.35 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Dec 1, 2005
Publisher   Penguin Group USA
Age  18
ISBN  014303653X  
EAN  9780143036531  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
Examines the ways in which television has transformed public discourse--in politics, education, religion, science, and elsewhere--into a form of entertainment that undermines exposition, explanation, and knowledge.

Publishers Description

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 significance. Amusing Ourselves to Death is a prophetic look at what happens when politics, journalism, education, and even religion become subject to the demands of entertainment. It is also a blueprint for regaining controlof our media, so that they can serve our highest goals.

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More About Neil Postman

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Neil Postman was University Professor, Paulette Goddard Chair of Media Ecology, and Chair of the Department of Culture and Communication at New York University. Among his twenty books are studies of childhood (The Disappearance of Childhood), public discourse (Amusing Ourselves to Death), education (Teaching as a Subversive ActivityandThe End of Education), and the impact of technology (Technopoly). His interest in education was long-standing, beginning with his experience as an elementary and secondary school teacher. He died in 2003."

Neil Postman currently resides in New York City, in the state of New York.

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Another "Thin" Classic From Postman  Jun 22, 2007
This is Postman's most famous and widely read book (as is attested by the more than 100 customer reviews here on this site) and it is, as other reviewers have suggested, a classic in the Media Studies field. The songwriter Roger Waters was inspired enough to title his album "Amused to Death" after reading Postman's book (although Postman states in one of his later works that he himself would never stoop to listening to the likes of a "Roger Waters").

Instead of giving the usual plot synopsis here as other reviewers have done, I would like instead to perform for you a Media Studies reading of the book. That is to say, instead of reviewing the book's contents, I would like to draw your attention to the medium and format of the book itself, and in doing so, point out what this reveals about Postman as a philosopher.

To begin with the most important point: there are no pictures. Anywhere. And not only is this true of Amusing Ourselves to Death, it is true of every single one of Postman's books. This should alert us to something very important here about Postman: he is iconophobic. He is engaged in a battle against images of any, and every, kind. Not even Marshall McLuhan was so antipathetic to the use of images and illustrations, for his very first book, The Mechanical Bride, is a series of commentaries upon advertisements. In the age old battle of the Word vs. the Image -- a battle which goes way, way back before the twentieth century to the Iconoclastic debates amongst the Greek Byzantines whose iconophobes were in fact influenced by the aniconism of Islam, an entire religion which, like Judaism, had been based upon a rejection of images -- Postman, in this tradition, definitely aligns himself on the side of the Word against the iconophiles, be they Catholics or Hindus or lovers of comic books, or whomever.

Also, you will not find any references to works of art of any kind in this book. Postman apparently has an antipathy to painting and imagery of any kind whatsoever, be it "classical" or electronic. It is important to point this out because it reveals, in the tradition of Harold Innis, Postman's essential "bias" in this book. Indeed, Postman's dialogue with Camille Paglia, published in an old issue of Harper's, underlines this point, for Paglia is as much an iconophile as Postman is an iconoclast. "In the beginning was the Word," Postman quotes, as though to clarify his own personal theology, before proceeding onward with his dialogue with Paglia.

The next thing to notice about the book is its brevity. It is very short, as in fact, are all Mr. Postman's books, for Postman has been quoted as saying that he does not believe in writing long books, and that if one cannot express oneself in two hundred pages or less, then one has no business writing a book. The bibliography, accordingly, is also short, and so apparently Mr. Postman did not feel the need to read many books in order to write this book.

For Postman really only has a single point to make here, and it is an important point which he argues persuasively and eloquently: television is taking over our culture, and all our thought patterns in every aspect or division of our culture is taking its cue from the syncopated, discontinuous and ahistorical "mentality" of television. How this has affected our reading habits, and whether those reading habits still continue, albeit in a changed manner, Postman fails to address. For people have not stopped reading books; instead, they continue to read books, but their expectations of the book have changed. The brevity of Postman's book is itself perhaps an example of what happens to sustained intellectual discourse in the Electronic Age: books get shorter because our attention spans (Postman's included) have shrank. Nobody wants to wade through books on the scale and magnitude of Spengler's Decline of the West or Hegel's Phenomenology of the Spirit. I notice, furthermore, that the sorts of books which Postman exhibits in his Bibliography are, one and all, short books.

Thus, here is the secret of Postman's book: Postman himself suffers from the very same attention deficit disorder that he castigates others for having suffered at the hands of Electronic Society.

Hmm. One would expect a professor of Media Studies who was as well read and thoughtful as Postman to engage our attention for a while longer. If this book is the greatest thing Postman ever wrote, then we must confess, alas, that Postman's work does not contain a single magnum opus on the level of a Gutenberg Galaxy or an Understanding Media. Perhaps this fact in itself is evidence of a general decline in intellectual and literary ability in our culture during the latter half of the twentieth century.

The reader should not understand that I am saying that there is anything wrong with Amusing Ourselves to Death. But we should learn to understand its limitations in order to appreciate its place in the pantheon of Media Studies classics, upon which list, after all is said and done, Amusing Ourselves to Death places relatively low.
--John David Ebert, author Celluloid Heroes & Mechanical Dragons: Film as the Mythology of Electronic Society
Deserves to be Called a Classic  Jun 19, 2007
It seems unlikely that a book labeled "Current Affairs" could have a shelf life of more than a few years. It seems preposterous that a book dealing with television and referring to Dallas and Dynasty could have anything to see twenty two years after being published. Yet Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death, now in it's "20th Anniversary Edition" continues to be read and studied and to hold influence. Even today it is used as required reading in many high school and college level courses. Though written by a man who made no claim to Christianity, few modern books written by an unbeliever have been more widely read and quoted by Christians. It truly is a remarkable little book.

Postman had that rarely quality of being able to see behind a fad, behind what was late and great. He saw the significance of the rise of the image and the fall of the word, the rise of amusement and the decline of discourse. He saw that television would soon saturate every area of our lives and taint the way we understand politics, religion, education and every other area of importance. As we now transition from a television-based culture to a computer-based culture the image remains central. Perhaps we have already amused ourselves past the point of no easy return. Television is remarkably effective at doing what it does best--entertaining. Postman had no argument with television is a tool of entertainment. In fact, the best things on television are its junk and no one is seriously threatened by this. Where television fails is in attempting to do the more serious work that has traditionally been carried by the written word.

Postman makes it his goal in this book to make the epistemology of television visible, demonstrating that television's way of knowing is hostile to typography's way of knowing, and not only that, but it is inferior to it. "Serious television" is a contradiction in terms for television speaks only in the voice of entertainment, never of serious, weighty, discourse--the kind of discourse that is essential to politics, religion and education. Television's influence has been relentless, transforming our culture so that every area is now considered a venue for entertainment.

Electronic media, led by television but being superseded by the computer, has changed the way we view the world and the way we carry on any kind of public discourse. Gone are the days when content was of overwhelming importance. Instead we deal with sound bites, with discordant images torn from any kind of context, and with style when in former days we relied on substance. Politicians win and lose election campaigns not on the basis of what they say, but on the basis of how they look when they say it.

Throughout the book is an interesting interplay between Huxley's Brave New World and Orwell's 1984. In the latter an oppressive regime dominates the world while in the former the people allow themselves to be overcome by levity, by entertainment and by pleasure so that they have no need of an oppressive regime. They were controlled by their amusements. Huxley, Postman argues, had it right. And I would tend to agree.

Amusing Ourselves to Death is a good read, a disturbing read, a thought-provoking read and, dare I say it, a must-read. It deserves its status as a classic and, though already two decades out of date, it is as timely as ever.
Great Book  Jun 9, 2007
People Need to Open their minds to the truthsof television. Neil Postman has done a great job on presenting the fall of literacy and th erise of entertainment. Great Book
Hence the bumper sticker: 'Shoot Your TV'  May 25, 2007
Enlightening and ominous observations of how large media influences society. Seems to go over the top with some (not all) of the conslusions and predictions in the closing chapters of the book, though. This was written pre-high-volume: cable-TV, internet, blog, Google, MySpace, XM... Not sure if the author is still alive, but it would be interesting to read Postman's assessment of effects of these new media saturation "vectors" that were unforseen by him in the early 80s.
Excellent identificaiton of problem  Apr 2, 2007
As pointed out by numerous other reviewers, Postman has pointed out a central problem in U.S. society (as well as in many other "developed" nations). As the book is a good few years old at this point, we can look at the predictions and see how many have come true. A disturbing number of the predictions have. Something that has occurred even beyond Postman's predictions, however, is the extent to which actors and singers and athletes shape the "average citizen's" opinions. Why does anyone care what a particular singer or actor thinks about an issue, as opposed to anyone else? That anyone allows their opinions to be shaped in this manner, and to spend hours reading magazines about celebrity lives and relationships, is as troubling to me as any television program. That all being said, the solution may not be to turn off the television. Television is here, it isn't going anywhere, and there are a few nuggets of value there. The key, as has been repeated by countless others, is to be selective in what is being watched, and to be particularly careful in helping to shape our children's viewing choices. I make sure I am aware of what my son is watching and THEN I DISCUSS THE PROGRAM with him. Did we get anything out of the show, or was it just entertainment? There is intelligent media out there. Television is not evil in and of itself, and you can find mindless media in any form. I would be happier with my son watching an episode of "House, M.D." or "Meet the Press" than his reading many of the books on the best sellers list. Mindless is mindless, whatever the medium. Postman himself points out that some occasional entertainment is not the issue, only when this becomes our main way of receiving information. One can watch SOME tv and also be a serious reader. One can develop the patience and analytical abilities necessary to truly analyze complicated issues. We all have a duty to find books and programs (be they television, radio or video or whatever) and to ignore or severely limit the fluff.

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