Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, indeed
October 8, 2003 8:29 PM   Subscribe

"Now, this:" Neil Postman dies at 72, on the same day Americans elect a "talking hairdo" to high political office. If that doesn't seem ironic, you probably didn't read Amusing Ourselves to Death, his best-known book. But I did, and as I only realized today, it deeply and permanently affected my worldview. Anybody else? (via Atrios)
posted by soyjoy (21 comments total)
From another obit: "The lives of our children are shaped by what they will see and hear in the media," he wrote. "Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.''
posted by soyjoy at 8:33 PM on October 8, 2003

Bread! Circuses!

No wonder the roman empire only lasted a few thousand years.
posted by delmoi at 8:37 PM on October 8, 2003

My faith aside, few things have informed my worldview more than his writings.


Rest in Peace.
posted by silusGROK at 8:38 PM on October 8, 2003

One of the most important media scholars ever. Reading Postman as an undergrad changed the way I thought.
posted by marcusb at 8:42 PM on October 8, 2003

I've been meaning to read that book for awhile, but I've been terribly busy. Perhaps this Christmas, when I have some free time, I'll give it a go.
posted by The God Complex at 8:44 PM on October 8, 2003

The third paragraph on page four seems particularly timely.

Ironic, indeed. RIP.
posted by squirrel at 8:55 PM on October 8, 2003

Thanks for posting this.

An important writer.
posted by philfromhavelock at 9:31 PM on October 8, 2003

"It did so, he contended, by steeping the minds of children in vast amounts of information once reserved for their elders and subjecting them to all the desires and conflicts of the adult world. "
This reminds me of Joesph Campbell, destroying the ritual of passing down information, kids are taught the mysteries of adulthood by an uncaring tv exec

Not only electing arnie but also now the f-word is allowed on tv.
and the internet too let's kids access all sorts of adult mysteries.

This may be the next book I buy
posted by klik99 at 9:42 PM on October 8, 2003

He drew national attention with "The Disappearance of Childhood" (Delacorte, 1982), in which he asserted that television conflated what should be the separate worlds of children and adults. It did so, he contended, by steeping the minds of children in vast amounts of information once reserved for their elders and subjecting them to all the desires and conflicts of the adult world.

If all the secrets of adulthood, including sex, illness and death, are opened to children, he wrote, cynicism, apathy or arrogance replace curiosity for them, short-circuiting education and moral development.

I got ready to post this quote and just noticed that klik99 picked part of it too. I've read most of Postman's books, and thought he was — what a silly last name, really, like someone who hung out with Mr. Rogers — delivering the truth. Reading the childhood one, right after the birth of my son, probably had the most impact on me.

Thanks for the post, soyjoy.
posted by LeLiLo at 10:23 PM on October 8, 2003

so. hows 'bout we go to that LOTR marathon screening over at the Star?
posted by quonsar at 10:34 PM on October 8, 2003

Sesame Street does not teach children how to become better at reading or writing, but it does teach them how to watch television. That's what I remember of his writings. But I like Sesame Street- it's cre-a-tive.
posted by mildred-pitt at 10:48 PM on October 8, 2003

Really sad.

posted by Quartermass at 11:01 PM on October 8, 2003

Can someone familiar with the man's work do something about the currently awfully stubbish article about him on Wikipedia, i.e. turn it into something worth reading?
posted by Eloquence at 1:55 AM on October 9, 2003

It should be required reading, Amusing Ourself to Death, is about as important a book as I can ever remember reading. His opening metaphor of the Brave New World Bumblepuppy being a trenchant metaphor for discourse today makes it worth the price of admission alone. Simply written, powerfully argued. I can't recommend the book enough. Go. Buy it and read it. Please.
posted by GiantRobot at 4:03 AM on October 9, 2003

My favorite Neil Postman quotes:

To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. To a man with a pencil, everything looks like a list. To a man with a camera, everything looks like an image. To a man with a computer, everything looks like data.
-Neil Postman, "Technopoly"

Naturally, bureaucrats can be expected to embrace a technology that helps to create the illusion that decisions are not under their control. Because of its seeming intelligence and impartiality, a computer has an almost magical tendency to direct attention away from the people in charge of bureaucratic functions and toward itself, as if the computer were the true source of authority. A bureaucrat armed with a computer is the unacknowledged legislator of our age, and a terrible burden to bear. We cannot dismiss the possibility that, if Adolf Eichmann had been able to say that it was not he but a battery of computers that directed the Jews to the appropriate crematoria, he might never have been asked to answer for his actions.
-Neil Postman, "Technopoly"

An intelligence test is a tale told by an expert, signifying nothing.
-Neil Postman, "Technopoly"
posted by basilwhite at 7:34 AM on October 9, 2003

And one of mine:

"The problem is, if you are overwhelmed by information, you lose your sense of what information is for, and what sort of information you need.... There was a time when input was in fact related to output. When you took in information, you were able to use a fairly high percentage of it for some purpose in your life. Now, there is almost no relation between input and output. You get people who are information junkies - they get information and they don't do anything with it, they don't remember much of it - and that's a new situation in our culture."

Because of Neil Postman I have become much more aware of how much -- and what types of -- information I take in, and how I think about it and use it.

An extremely important thinker. Sad to hear of his passing.
posted by Dean King at 8:05 AM on October 9, 2003

Neil Postman dies at 72, on the same day Americans elect a "talking hairdo" to high political office.

Postman died on Sunday. Der gropenfuhrer was elected on Tuesday.
posted by rcade at 8:18 AM on October 9, 2003

Yeah, my bad. I only noticed that after posting it, because I was, I guess, fixating on the entertainment aspect rather than the actual information. Think of it as just another layer of irony rather than garden-variety sloppy posting.
posted by soyjoy at 8:40 AM on October 9, 2003

This is too bad. While I enjoyed his works, I found he tended gloss over history in favour of "golden age" concepts.

That said he was a giftedwriter with many great ideas. He will be missed.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 10:14 AM on October 9, 2003

For those who don't wish to jump through Salon's "Premium Service" hoops, the above article can also be found in its original location, with extra links and comments, at Jay Rosen's PressThink.
posted by Dean King at 2:33 PM on October 9, 2003

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