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Essay Paper on “Amused, but still alive”

(review of “Amusing Ourselves to Death” by Neil Postman)

“Lovely weather, isn’t it”, – Englishmen usually started a conversation with this phrase. Americans are believed to make the acquaintance starting with a chat concerning the place of interlocutors’ birth for it will surely lead to recognition of community of their interests. But nowadays these affirmations can provoke nothing more but a smile on our faces, because we all perfectly know that it’s much easier to start a conversation with discussing the latest news on TV, or a new reality-show on TV, or a new Beyonce video on TV, whatever. Strangely enough, we no more discuss articles and journalists, books and their authors, we prefer not to go deep into philosophical discourses, maybe just because we are no longer able to do that.

Look at ourselves, even if we read something, it’s either a newest bestseller or … even a newer bestseller! If we watch movies, they should not bend our ears, they should entertain us and distract from everyday dull routine. Watching at least Oscar-nominated films is already considered an apogee of intellectual development of personality, but who says that precisely these movies and these actors are the best? The answer won’t be a surprise: the television does. So the probability of someone reading “Amusing Ourselves to Death” by Neil Postman is extremely low, because even if someone reaches out to open it, he might just read the title and the first page which indicates the year when this book was first published. “Hm…, – one might wonder, – what do the problems of society of 80’s have to do with our contemporary problems?” But if you are the one who holds this edition in your hands, don’t let it go, because you’ll be wonderfully surprised that this book was obviously printed a few decades earlier than it should have come out. For people of 80’s it was probably a call from the future, and an alarming one.

Neil Postman, one of the most famous media scholars and fierce critics of television, was in some way a profit of his time. In “Amusing Ourselves to Death” he brings up acute themes of cultural decadence of humanity. The title of the book can be explained with his words: “Our politics, religion, news, athletics, education and commerce have been transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business, largely without protest or even much popular notice. The result is that we are a people on the verge of amusing ourselves to death” [p.3]. Using the ideas of Marshall McLuhan, Postman paraphrases his “the medium is the message” into “the medium is the metaphor”, meaning that existing ways of presentation of information (oral, written, and televisual) fundamentally differ in it’s delivery to the people – listeners, readers and viewers correspondently. Here we approach to the main argument of the book – the author raises a question if the form excludes the content. Postman gives us examples of the importance of presentation of information which devaluates the information itself. For instance, it’s no more important WHAT information should be presented on TV, the vital question now is HOW it should be presented. The emphasis is placed on the form, not on the content.

Postman considers two theories of humanity’s possible future: the first is Orwellian one and the second is a Huxleyan one, and confirms the following: “In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us” [p.3]. Postman considers current circumstances and to describe our future in his own way chooses possibility of human progress described by Huxley…

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