you're reading...

Kitap İncelemeleri

Amusing Ourselves to Death; Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business / Begüm Uysalefe


Neil Postman emphases amusing ourselves to death; public discourse in the age of show business from effectiveness of the speech to writing; from telegraph to photography and lastly Postman want to show how television amuse us. Postman analyzed how is the development period from speech to television, how it is effects our culture, how our cultural development shapes with television. This book is written in 1985 which is the time for show business. Postman thinks that television is imposing thinking’s by using self-interests. Postman both answered whose interest are being served and how people became like a sheep. Postman tells about American culture with using show business, and how television became part of life and what television codes and perceives people. With the other words, television manipulates, shapes cultures. Neil Postman tells his main aim to write this book by saying these words, ‘ The main aim to write these in this book how our own tribe change from script magic to electronics magic with dreadful steps’ (Postman; 1994; 22). When Postman thinks America typographically, from establishment of United States of America; how politicians used show business and talks about politics wars by using media. Also Postman teases with television too much, Postman wrote some functions by boob tube is for only can use for lighting, or putting books; like using for library. Postman subjected that television is for reinforcing admire to America.

Postman also tells in this book how communication methods changed by developments in technology, television and how it is changed different and how realism decrease. So when we look at basic communication models, message sends by sender takes from receiver and that medium is changing while that medium is changing it takes different dimension because of developing technology and how technology use.

In this book Postman, analyzed relationship between reality and public discourse with the era of show business, Postman touch upon to how serious subjects became flippancy with television. Shortly; Postman talked about media, with television makes only one function, to entertain. While television doing other functions there is flippancy in television, so this situation brings narcotizing effect to the life and cultures. According to Lazarsfeld explains narcotizing effect with these words; ‘ In this peculiar respect, mass communications may be included among the most respectable and efficient social narcotics. They may be so fully effective as to keep addict from narcotizing has own malady. (Lazarsfeld; 1948;23 ) So, there are some social narcotics and they are provide with television culture. While Postman tells about these, he took argument between Orwell and Huxley, Postman became side of Huxley and Postman wrote all these with that point of view.

Postman analyzed developments in media and television with separating, first of all he takes some point with using this topic; medium is a metaphor; in American history, in some different cities became symbol, for example in 18th century Boston came out with political radicalism or in 19th century New York came out with syntheses of cultures, polycultural structure. Also Chicago in 20th century comes out with industrial developments or Detroit comes with Ford and General Electiric’s city and lastly as we know Las Vegas came out entertainment city and Hollywood became star city. This cities symbolizes some important and closure points. Postman tells that entertainment is not for only Las Vegas with coming show business era. In those years Ronald Reagan was an actor who is also in show business. Postman emphases this, politicians needs some make ups for elections in US. Physical appearance, weigh became important like propaganda script. Like this example, businessman starts to need some image for their products to sell their products. For example Apple co. started to need some new designs to sell products. These are all flippancy in serious topics. So these shows us firstly policy and companies became part of show business with emerging of television. Postman tells that old politicians, who are because media manipulating aim, cannot be politician today’s world because their appearance their make-ups are not suitable for manipulating media. When we look at Obama, Bush or Blair we can see what Postman want to say; here it is really easy to say for being good politician there should be smiling face with healthy, sportive body. These are all make-up dimensions however content became less important for today’s politicians, because time is show business time and people don’t need to know content of things, people interest with cover and image. When we look at public relations and advertising strategies it is possible to see how people can manipulate and what strategically steps done to effect people and how emotions sucked. Postman wrote typographical era is in the high level in American culture while he is looking these like that because with television culture wasn’t go back, it changed, shaped culture. Postman wrote that it is so easy to spreading of television because people don’t need to know literacy, everyone can understand easily and when we think that visually is effective in 85% in learning, we can see why television has important place in people’s life. However when we think about conditions in those days, television as a medium can give only one point of view; one message, this done for substrate and this means television’s quality became lower because of differences between classes. In those days there are only two-communication method, reading and watching, and differences between classes emerged different public discourses in that era. Postman thinks that each communication tool has different content and these contents can govern cultures eaisly. Postman is aware of there is a big difference between speech and writing, alphabet. This is not a small difference when people give a receiver can interpret this situation. With the emege of alphabet the knowledge concept totally changed. People can leave something writen to other generations, because leaving something on earth and is shows one of the differences between people and other animals.

Secondly Postman talked about epistemology as a media, in United States there is big media metaphor about changes and this emerged public discourses in very bad ways. While media was on the hands of printing press it was so different and we can say media was innocent but emergence of television changed all these concepts, because people started to put blinkers. Also academicians said that television is not too much bad side for people in that period, because this situation was not a big and serious problem in that period, they couldn’t estimate results of television. Postman generally took his examples from cultural programs and about public discourses, to want to show how people became like an empty bin. Postman thinks that television is popular communication tool to now on. (This thought was in 1985.) And also television has really big power and it is so hard to control television. Postman thought that, how culture change with a single communication tool and how this affects people slyly. This used with three way in media, firstly it should be easy and understandable for everyone; secondly; it should be repeat every time; thirdly; it should directs to emotional feelings and while television effects people generally this three point can be seen. Postman, took as a example a African tribe, where there is no written law, in that tribal people solve their problems with chef of tribe and that chef uses some proverbs and solves; Postman find this example, to show us how proverbs used in becoming thoughts together. However today’s, law there must be something written, we call as ‘written laws’ because this is more convince. But in USA jury cannot take some notes, from here we can see speeches are still important for today’s world. Postman gave some examples to show that written things have importance and they are more convince than speeches. In this part of book Postman touch upon three things, firstly; changes in media tools; changes people’s mind and changes capacities on people’s brain and that communication tool creates changes in discourses about that media tool. So, a new medium changes, discourse structure, usage of the brain, changes some concepts. These changes are really effects badly when we think about television. Secondly; Postman thought epistemologically media is in changes by developing technology, after the emerge of writing, speech was still in there and now there is television but writing will be, so in media with the technology there is diversity. Thirdly; Postman told us positive ways of television, for him of course television makes dirty public discourses, but in 1960s television was effective for racism in USA, in those years television made some propagandas to anti racist movements, this effects people in positive way in first years of its popularity. When new each technology coming the old one goes puts aside, but media never feel us changes, there is always smooth transactions between mediums, like between computer; Internet and television. As a result, in this part Postman emphases that, there is always communication tools and these can be popular with developing technology, new devices has popularity on media and also this diversity increase different public discourses.

Thirdly Postman talk about typographically America, in this part Postman gave some examples from religious doctrines, he talked that some true things are wrong some wrong things are true, in that point American society cannot trust religious speeches easily.  In this subject he touch upon that when written things are improve photography and when photography, newspaper and addition to television realism is improve. That’s why at first people cannot believe religious doctrines. When television emerged reality is improved so much and many of us says that ‘Should I believe my eyes or you’  from here we can see is visually on media increase reality so much.

Plus this Postman told about Mayflower ship which brings people to America, in that ship in cargos there are also books, many of them is about religious topics but there are some of them which is not religious. This helped to make library in USA and this increased literacy percentages in USA, from this Postman got a result that when we think learning this means is book, so learning can be done with books. While he is saying these he gave a song as an example; ‘ Knowledge going to blow from public schools because it is holy to know’ (Postman, 1994, 44). Shortly this song also we can see that learning has relationship with holy things like religious and reading, learning loved to people by using religious at first times. Literacy percentages were increased in those days however there is no colonial literature, so there is no common sharing’s and this effects ‘American Culture’ negatively, because if there is no common presents, wills, past and shares culture cannot shape easily. Addition to these there is some scarcity about paper and printing press, Benjamin Harris releases the first newspaper however that is censored because of some hard blames. In 18th century in USA there are much more newspaper than England, this was something really good for USA; because from here we can see that there are developments on media and communication tools. However emergence of newspaper decreased reading a book, because people have no time to read books because of reading newspapers. However addition to these developments in reading and writing, there were still some developments about speech’s. In 19th century there was halls for 1500 people and people gave a speech for full day in those halls with this activity people can reinforce what they read from books and newspapers. This started a Lyceum movement and by the year 1835, there were more than three thousand Lyceums in USA. From there Postman has an analyze, result; there are both written and oral communication which comes from Protestants; because they are first communicators between churches, and in 19th century communication is monopololized because there were only one source of communication that’s why people didn’t have a chance to see diversity like today’s media, this monopolization brought manipulation on media in those days. Shortly in 19th century emergence of printing press increased written sources and with oral discourses these are reinforced and developed.

 In fourth chapter, typographical mind; Postman talked about love to hall speeches, conferences, to show this he gave an example about Abraham Lincoln and Douglas, while they were giving a speech, Lincoln said that now time is not enough to listen me, go your homes and come after dinner because those speeches takes long times and it is so hard to concentrate on it. Why people gave speeches like this is to reinforce written things, people learn why and how, these speeches are both political and literacy, so Postman gave a name to that era, interpretation era, because people are curious about written things and they wanted to learn reasons for each written thing. Plus, for Lincoln- Douglas example people spent time to learn these things, because they took seriously. As a result in that time period language had a strong power in communication. In 18th and 19th centuries there were too much written things, printing press and via these there were improvement in literacy percentages. People loved to interpret and learn, they loved to give reactions; shortly they used their minds, because while they were reading they read alone and interpret without anyone and reading means, going to school, this means having ability to comprehension. As a result in that period there were power of printing press, people understood book when they think about knowledge. Language was innocent and plain in books in that interpretation period.

In fifth topic, Postman analyzed how television culture came to culture, by saying peek-a-boo world, by saying peek-a-boo, he would like emphases that, television came our culture, so fast and it occupied our culture, it became a part of our culture and with being part of it, gave a big chance to show business to show their selves. In 20th century interpretation era leaved of it seat to show business era, and with a development in technology, According to McLuhan; in The Medium as a Message;

This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium that is extension of ourselves result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by any new technology. Thus, with automation, For example; the new patterns of human association tend to eliminate jobs, it is true. That is negative result. Positively automation creates roles for people, which is to say depth to involment mechanical technology had destroyed. Many people would be disposed to say that it was not the machine, but what one did with machine, that was its meaning of message. (McLuhan; 1937; 38)

Here we can remember Appadurai techoscape concept; according to him; ‘Technoscape I mean the global configuration also ever fluid of technology and the fact that technology now moves at high speeds across various kinds of previous impervious boundaries’ (Appadurai; 1990; 34). With the help of technology; television emerged and shaped cultures, in those days communication means transportation, transportation means communication, before television people communicate with telegraphy signals and country became like a village, it became a easy to communicate from a tip from one end of, telegraphy was not only communication method. Printing press and telegraphy comes together and it was effective on newspaper. Shortly people can learn something from newspaper, it became source of information. To get those kind of news press patrons put telegraphy network to countries to increase source of news. However too much foreign news couldn’t interest people, because they don’t know people from there and they don’t need to know them, so it is easy to see there was no globalism in that period, but telegraphy was the first step for globalism. Postman touch upon this; foreign news only were effective in daily chatting between people. Addition to telegraphy, printing press and newspaper; photography had jointed. Photography increases reality of written language. With coming of photograph people started to see with only one point of looking, being partial looking to newspaper, this put limits to interpretation era. Postman gave example to this, by taking a photo of a tree cannot be a nature picture, tree is only one part of nature; taking a picture cannot show all reality of things and in here people have to believe this situation because they see and they read. However Postman wrote that this development about photography is only be effective in crossword puzzles, because those days news were not interest people that much. Shortly, media started to do only one function of media, to entertain; with starting crossword puzzles. With television show business era came people’s home. Show business are only one remove control distance, this was not for adult also for kids and young people too, this means not only entertainment for young’s, this is also gave some signals of changing’s in education, education needs to be more entertaining because of television. Television came life so fastly like ‘ peekaboo’ and it looks like our best friend however it is not because television can easily manipulates, can shape everything about information. Postman thinks that; television as a meta-medium can change everything, television can effect how we can reach information. In that era people accepted television to their life and their culture. Shortly; Postman emphases that television affected our culture structural and opened out curtains of show business.

Postman divided book to two to now on; before television come and how it came to our life and culture talked by Postman, now after television came our culture what happened is talked, name of sixth chapter is show business; Postman talked that television perceived wrongly because its content is totally different this time. Postman teased with television by telling a story about one of his student used television as a only lighting source when bulb bursts. With saying this he would like to say with emergence of television; literacy percentages are affected badly, culture cannot develop anymore and structure and meaning of life with television, entertainment is totally changed. Postman asked what is television and what functions do it have and how people affected from television. Postman said that the aim of television is, not directly but indirectly, as a exponent ideology is to entertain. Postman said that it is easy to see all things in our life in television; show business. Everything became part of show business. Although religious man became part of it, they told their beliefs, thoughts via television and advertising, also courts became alive program and people watches these courts like watching films, however this situation affected in really wrong way, because people started to perceive that alive, real things as a film or not real. So in that situation a person who is judge became both judge and part of show business; entertainer with television Postman says ‘There is no business but show business’ (Postman, 1994, 112). From here we can see how Postman adopted thoughts of Huxley.

In seventh subject is Coming Up, like we hear from television, to say what is coming after this program etc. television made us consumer, impatient. When we hear coming up… We always perceive something entertaining, we hear this even in serious real news programs, and these are all made us flippant like their selves. In this chapter, Postman told us how people idealized with television. Addition to this according to Fiske, ‘As a society, in a that or this history, to make it popular chooses some boys and girls as a hero. They embodied dominant values of society. Against to this they became popular bads or popular victims they are one’s while they want to reflect norms of culture however they not and they embodied against culture’ (Fiske; 1999; 165). They are also one’s who became standardized in culture.

For example television make people prototype, everyone became same, there is no fat, or disabled people on television shortly there is no place for ugly people. In television we can see people like from Victoria Secret Fashion Show, however while people watching them, or while people watching soccer, they idealized their selves while they are eating chips and becoming coach potato. How it idealized people is easy by doing prototype, not only choosing people also while choosing houses, decorations, cars what we see in television cannot understand easily, while people becoming a coach potato, they became like horse which is in horse-racing for their ideal life standards. People live for that ideal life standards, people see this in television every time it repeats especially in television series, this situation makes people unhappy because people feel that they are not ideal people, people put their selves that actors and beautiful actresses, and produce emotions like them.

Plus, Postman give importance that flippant in news programs, he touch upon while starting news program or while a news given to people, we hear sound in background. He says that even news program is designed for television, he gave one more example to this, while announcer tells news, he or she makes some gestures, this gestures perceived like something unreal and makes news programs flippant. There is flippancy in news, in Power Fm it is possible to hear ’90 saniyede dünya turu’  however news shouldn’t perceive this much easy.

In eighth chapter, Postman emphases that from taking Bethelem, in this chapter he talked about everything became part of show business even religious topics. According to Postman like other things, even religion started to become simple, ordinary. Religion showed in television like it can be only pray in temples. So this means people more started spent their time sitting in front of television. In other words, people believed that they couldn’t pray out of temples, because television attempts this with its manipulation workings. According to Fiske ‘Television tries to construct ideal subject position which it invites us to occupy, and if we do, rewards us with the ideological pleasure that is provided by experiencing, works; the meanings of the world and of our subjectivities that it produces appear to make sense, it is therefore, the pleasure of recognition. Of course, the degree of fit between these meanings and television’s preferred. Ones will be determined by how closely the ideological practices of our everyday life fit with the dominant ideology (Fiske; 1987; pp. 51,52). We can support Postman ideas with Fiske’s Television Culture.

In fact, television is something secular; this means television shows wrong shapes of praying, like not praying at home or restroom. Shortly; television shows not real religious things and with this it changes religious concept, it creates new religious concept for show business.

In nowadays world we can see this in Turkish televisions, for example for religion; Zekeriya Beyaz who is the part of show business, or in health topic Haydar Dümen. From these people we can see people who are ‘specialized’ about topic. They are part of show business, postman analyzed that society started to think about more simple because of television.

In ninth topic, lying and choosing one of them… 
In this chapter Postman liken policy to sport branches. In here the main aim is to be perfect, aim is not talking and doing good policy, the result is only important point, the way is not. In this topic Postman felt into contradiction by saying if policy liken a sport branch there should be clarity and honesty however policy don’t have because of being show business, in its own meaning show business means the image of thing content has no importance. Postman, says that stage and policy became together with show business world and this brings make up, image to policy. 
When we say make-up, image of course we should remember advertising. According to McLuhan and Powers ‘Video-related technologies are the critical instruments of such change. The ultimate interactive nature of some video-related technologies will produce dominant right hemisphere social patters of the next century’ (McLuhan, Powers; 1989, 83). This means that with show business and policy come together with technological developments, dominant parts of society showed it with a different points.  In 19th century in advertising the consuming became main point and that’s why consumer decisions with repetition, changing emotions and affects them. However this changing people’s emotion is something really affects people because people thought that when they used that product or thing they will be like that. In television advertisement, the value of products is not important; the main point in this is to giving some value to consumer. While this became main point, the image, make up for show business. 

In second point; Postman analyze television series as a reality, there is some good and bad realities, for example if there is a man who wears black suit is bad, who smiles is good. Also this is done in political parties too. Postman says that people generally vote for party presidents not for parties. This means people vote for image of presidents… Lastly he added to this topic, with saying television looks like has a freedom but however in fact it is not. While it is entertaining people it manipulates and canalize people one point of view.

In tenth chapter, Postman analyzed television for kids, as a entertaining education, Postman analyzed this topic with first educational program for kids, Sesame Street; when Sesame Street started to broadcast, families were being happy because their children spent their time with television and they were learning new things, however this entertainment system is really failure, because television grow up kids with entertaining culture, Postman emphases one positive way of Sesame Street, kids started to love school with it. One of the negative sides is, while kids are learning in front of television they cannot be disciplined like in school. Postman teases with television it lighten written things when you sit in front of television, Postman stresses; when television used for education this means that there is really big dangerous. Also when student see entertaining learning methods they don’t want to study with written materials, this means that teachers in schools have to be part of show business because kids cannot learn things with other ways. Shortly; Postman stresses in this chapter, television changes young’s, kids, adults mind changes they’re imagined live styles and television puts for imaginaries for people. While television does this, it behaves cruel.

At last; Postman told about Orwell and Huxley argument, from the side of Huxley, the main argument is; a culture can be consume by two ways; according to Orwell, culture is prison; to understand this prison discourse concept, it is better to look at Foucault’s panopticon concept; according to prison discourse; factories, schools, hospital, are like a panopticon and people are managed in these places through their body to their soul (Foucault, Hapishanenin Doğuşu; 2000). According to Orwell; government is like a prison, they manage people, people gets stuck in this prison, modern political power, dominant power watches us like a big brother. In this book 1984; he emphases, a world which there is dominant of despotism. For him; managers are only dominant and people get afraid from managers (Orwell, 2001).

According to Huxley, culture is satire. However Huxley tells us opposite of this; This means; however people don’t like and say bad things about television they watch and serious public discourses talked in show business and that public discourses became something empty, with this there is new empty entertainment culture created. Postman emphases that Huxley’s thoughts with the relationship between show business and technology, television helps consumer society in USA with the help of empty television culture. Postman why Huxley is right in this argument showed it during the book.

As a result; television shapes our emotions, thinking ways, what we idealize, our inhuman ways with reality shows, news programs, kids programs, television series etc. With television people started to be part of capitalist system, and we adopted capitalist system, because people became like in horse racing, and all these liked us like we are in fun fair, television reinforced capitalist system. Plus, while politicians show their selves in television, here people believe that there is democratizing place, people can talked easily, can interpret their selves but in fact there is not something like this in television; television as a medium, does only one real function which is entertaining, while entertaining it doesn’t learn or give you chance to interpret, there is only reality in television on the name of reality shows, television doesn’t reflects reality anymore. Appadurai’s one of fives, technoscapeaffectsmediascapeand this affectsethnoscape it affects ideoscape and whole life. Postman wrote this book in 1985, which television had so important period of life. However nowadays Internet has effective more than television. With the emergence of computer and Internet, the understanding of media is totally changed, it is totally facing to entertainment now. Today, education from Internet is more entertaining with vitamin, ttnet education programs, or games on Internet. Or there are some games like, World of Warcraft or Call of Duty for young’s and kids those kind of games are for wild parts of people and this has many negative side, the worst thing is with growing up with empty brain. Addition to this; Policy can be done with Twitter as Abdullah Gül done, now presidents are much more effective than political parties, shortly with the emergence of Internet all these things doubled, also people can use their computer; Internet as a television with the help of tivibu or video sites. This means that people maybe see on television for one time but on Internet, this can be repeat many times and reproduce entertainment. These are alienating people from reading and learning reasons of things, people just watch and take only partial information. Postman showed, how people changed with television, what happened our culture with new developments and how television as a boob tune, became people like itself.  What I see in this book is; television shows itself like a America, independent, like a statue of liberty; to adopt itself to people, to show that a part of country, to be articulated culture. After television, Internet did this, showed itself infinitive and free, as a dominant culture, west cultures stresses independence much and people accepted these innovations with the help of nationalist discourses. Because of effecting dominant cultures other cultures took inside very easily.  Television changed society; sometimes if felt us like a pop star; or rich person like Richie Richor felt us politician. People felt like this without feeling anything it is like a maelstrom. Society tries to follow things from media; television; Internet etc. However because of boob tube; people never create something, television and dominant classes creates and television; Internet gives you thinking their self-interests. In this book, Postman told us what television brings us and what television takes from us, television brings us distances, makes world; global village however takes our life with creating ideal life forms. While makes us in relation between distances takes our lives.


Appadurai A, Disjuncture and Difference in Global Cultural Economy,1990, 34

Fiske J., Television Culture, 1987, 51-52 TJ Press, Roudledge, Cornwall

Fiske J., Understading Popular Culture, 1999, 165, Bilim ve Sanat Yayınları; Ankara

Foucault M, Hapishanenin Doğuşu, (Çev: Mehmet Ali Kılıçbay), İmge Kitabevi, İkinci Baskı, Ankara 2000.

Lazarsfeld Paul F., Lyman Bryson, ed. Mass Communication, Popular Taste, and Organized Social Action In Communication of Ideas, 1948., 23, New York: Harper & Brothers

McLuhan M., Powers Bruce K., Global Robotism the Satisfactions, 1989, 83, Oxford University Press Inc.; New York

McLuhan M., The Medium is a Message, 1937,38

Orwell G., 1984 , Can Yayınları, 2000

Postman, N., Televizyon Öldüren Eğlence, 1994, Ayrıntı Yayınları, İSTANBUL

Begüm Uysalefe


August 2020
« Apr