I have been reading through Neil Postman’s book Amusing Ourselves to Death for sometime now, and I came across this quote:
“Entertainment is the surpraideology of all discourse on television” (87).
Postman’s quote reveals that no matter what the show is about its main purpose is our amusement and pleasure. Simply put everything on TV is entertainment.
On TV, All Subject Matter is Entertaining
Postman believes television “has made entertainment itself the natural format for the representative of all experience” (87). In other words, “all subject matter is presented as entertaining” (87).
Jack Johnson’s song The News speaks to Postman’s claim. Here are a few choice lyrics:
A billion people died on the news tonight
But not so many cried at the terrible sight
Who’s the one to decide that it would be alright
To put the music behind the news tonight
Well mama said
You can’t believe everything you hear
The diagetic world is so unclear
Why don’t the newscasters cry when they read about people who die?
At least they could be decent enough to put just a tear in their eyes
Johnson recognizes that even the nightly news is entertainment first and informative second.
We are just as guilty as the Newscasters in Johnson’s song. Why?
Because to us, the news is not to be taken seriously, it is entertainment. Where did we learn this from? The show itself teaches us.
Think about it
The most attractive people are selected, the music is exciting, the commercials are fun and light hearted, the video footage is high quality, and the banter between the newscasters is exciting, not to mention you are given only a few seconds to process the events presented before you are ushered off to think about another story presented in the same way. It is no wonder the newscasters never shed a tear, nor anyone at home.
What does this do to our society?
(1) I teaches us that life is all about entertainment.
If we are not entertained, then we are not living.
(2) It teaches us there is no place for feelings.
Especially, the kind of feelings that should surface when someone dies.
(3) It provides us with a kind of morbid craving.
Nothing short of a terrible accident or someone hurting themselves will entertain us. It is no wonder shows and movies such as Jackass and Faces of Death are a regular attraction. We have been taught that death and pain are entertainment, and we learned it from something as innocent as the nightly news.
Technology is not Bad
You may not come to the same conclusions that I have. I believe, however, these ideas will give you something to think about the next time you turn on the 10 o’clock news.
Not only should we think when we turn on the news, but also when we use any piece of technology. Each piece of technology affects us in different ways. Sometimes the effects are good and sometimes they are bad. Let me be clear, I am not saying technology is bad. I use it everyday. What I am saying is understanding how it affects us is important, so we can approach it in a discerning manner.
Questions for Reflection
- What are your thoughts? Do you agree or disagree with Postman?
- Have you ever thought about how the technology you use affects you?
- Do you believe the medium also contributes to the message, or do you see the medium as neutral?
Post adapted from Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death.