11.09.2010

Booking It Update: November


I started my November book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, in mid-October while spending evening after evening at a job site where hubby was working on electrical stuff. I was cruising through it, until I hit a brick wall - another book that stole my attention, and after that, a hubby who needed actual hands-on help (not just a wife in a camp chair with her nose in a book). So when I realized yesterday that the November Booking It report date was upon us, I realized I could either hurry up and finish the thing or put off writing a review until December. I just couldn't put it off - so last night I curled up with my book and a blanket and today I'm sharing my thoughts about... 

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

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman. My copy of the book was required reading for an English class during my sophomore year of college. That was ten years ago, just before the elections of 2000 - a lot has changed, not only since the book was originally written in 1985, but since I read it in 2000. One thing I noticed was how the world changed post-9/11. When Postman writes of the news media making sure nothing ever knocks their composure so the audience is always assured that all is well, I kept mentally replaying the shocked faces of our news anchors when they realized a second plane hit the Trade Center or when they sat there with mouths wide open as the towers fell. I'm no defender of the media, but it was one aspect of the book that stood out to me - the post-9/11 world is a different place. 

I, who am not a believer in marking up books by underlining or writing notes in the margins (the Bible is my exception for this self-made rule), have spent the last month writing and underlining all over this book! There were already some marks from college, but this time I was able to read it all and really think about it in the context of what I know now, rather than looking at it as a "how do I include this in my exam paper" experience. Just like the post-9/11 world is a different place, I am a different - and I hope, better informed - person than I was ten years ago when this was a class assigned reading. It made a difference in what I walked away with after this reading.

Because I think Postman can write better than I can, I want to share a few quotes with you from his book - I highly encourage you to read it for yourself! Keep in mind that this was written in 1985 - one year after the world held it's breath through 1984 and wondered if Orwell was going to be right. Postman's premise for Amusing is that Aldous Huxley hit closer to the truth in Brave New World, than Orwell did in writing 1984. But on to the quotes...(if it's in bold, it's something that really caught my eye)

"In Mumford's great book Technics and Civilization, he shows how, beginning in the fourteenth century, the clock made us into time-keepers, and then time-savers, and now time-servers. In the process, we have learned irreverence toward the sun and the seasons, for in a world made up of seconds and minutes, the authority of nature is superseded. Indeed, as Mumford points out, with the invention of the clock, Eternity ceased to serve as the measure and focus of human events. And thus, though few would have imagined the connection, the inexorable ticking of the clock may have had more to do with the weakening of God's supremacy than all the treatises produced by the philosophers of the Enlightenment; that is to say, the clock introduced a new form of conversation between man and God, in which God appears to have been the loser. Perhaps Moses should have included another Commandment: Thou shalt not make mechanical representations of time." (Pgs. 11, 12)

"What reading would have been done was done seriously, intensely, and with steadfast purpose. The modern idea of testing a reader's 'comprehension,' as distinct from something else a reader may be doing, would have seemed an absurdity in 1790 or 1839 or 1860. What else was reading but comprehending? As far as we know, there did not exist such a thing as a 'reading problem,' except, of course, for those who could not attend school." (Pg. 61)

"Nonetheless, everyone had an opinion about this event [the Iranian Hostage Crisis], for in America everyone is entitled to an opinion, and it is certainly useful to have a few when a pollster shows up. But these are opinions of a quite different order from eighteenth- or nineteenth-century opinions. It is probably more accurate to call them emotions rather than opinions, which would account for the fact that they change from week to week, as the pollsters tell us. [...] And in saying that the television news show entertains but does not inform, I am saying something far more serious than that we are being deprived of authentic information. I am saying we are losing our sense of what it means to be well informed. Ignorance is always correctable. But what shall we do if we take ignorance to be knowledge? [...] Walter Lippmann, for example, write in 1920: 'There can be no liberty for a community which lacks the means by which to detect lies.'" (Pg. 107-108) 

And there you have it. Sitting here some twenty-five years after the book was originally published it was amazing to me how much insight Postman (and Huxley) had about the way the country was headed. My husband helps teach a boy's Sunday school class, and he comes out every week shaking his head over the boys lack of attention, their preoccupation with television, sports, and video games, and their parents (apparent) enabling and condoning of the behavior. On the flip side, I recently heard from two friends with kids who decided that enough was enough and they pulled the plug on the TV and video games - at least temporarily. The difference it has made, they say, is amazing. Their kids are finding other things to do, they are reading, they are playing together, they are inventing games and using their creativity to fill their time that used to be spent in front of a TV set. Anyone else recall the poem I shared a while back? Sound familiar? 

Am I anti-TV/movie/video game? No, I'm not. But I believe there should be moderation in everything, and if, as a parent, you see your child becoming addicted to being "entertained" - well, watch out! To close with the words of Postman, "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." (Pg. 4)

Make sure you head over to visit Jessica at Life as MOM when she hosts the November Booking It update - just one more month!

Disclaimer: All Amazon links are part of the Amazon Associates program - all opinions are my own.

2 comments:

  1. This book sounds totally fascinating!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. That sounds like a good book, one that is very relevant to what's going on today.

    I enjoy the Mitford series, too, which is why I'm not reading them all in a row. I want to enjoy the series as long as possible!

    ReplyDelete

There are more than 400,000 words in the English language. My only request of you is this: Use them wisely.

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