Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves To Death is as relevant now as it was more than 30 years ago

Back in 1985, NYU communication professor Neil Postman published his book Amusing Ourselves To Death. This book has had an influence on me my entire academic career.  Among the reasons it had such an impact on me was this interview C-SPAN founder did with Dr. Postman in the early days of the public affairs network:

Neil Postman on C-SPAN

Neil Postman on C-SPAN

In  Amusing Ourselves to Death, Dr. Postman argues that the primary effect of television is that it changes how people see the world; that is, with television, people start viewing everything as entertainment. Young people get their news in a comedy format, watching The Daily Show the same way they watch MTV. They learn about politics on the same channel that shows a professional football game.

In an interview with Robert Nelson for the Civic Arts Review, Postman described the major point of Amusing Ourselves to Death:

“Television always recreates the world to some extent in its own image by selecting parts of that world and editing those parts. So a television news show is a kind of symbolic creation and construction made by news directors and camera crews. . . .

“Americans turn to television not only for their light entertainment but for their news, their weather, their politics, their religion, their history, all of which may be said to be their furious entertainment. What I’m talking about is television’s preemption of our culture’s most serious business. It is one thing to say that TV presents us with entertaining subject matter. It is quite another to say that on TV all subject matter is presented as entertaining and it is in that sense that TV can bring ruin to any intelligent understanding of public affairs. . . .

Unfortunately, the link to Dr. Nelson‘s interview is no longer active (Hey, the article is from 28 years ago!), but you can read a lot more of material about Dr. Postman on the Neil Postman Online Archive page.

I was reminded about Amusing Ourselves To Death today when The Weekly Standard editor Stephen Hayes tweeted this out:

Do yourself a favor and watch the C-SPAN interview and pick up a copy of this classic book.


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