Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Amusing ourselves to death

I have just finished reading another book from the late Neil Postman. And again, I’d have to say that it was a real eye opener for me. The title is “Amusing ourselves to death: public discourse in the age of show business”. Although the book was written in the mid 80’s, it’s still very much relevant even for today. Perhaps that is why the book is being re-published over and over again.

He tells us that we are living in times where everything is trying to be made as a form of entertainment. And by saying everything, he really meant everything. Even education, politics and religious matters have been transformed into a form of entertainment. So much so, it is planted in our mind that in order for an idea to be successful, they must be packaged in an entertaining way. The main agent that created such an environment is none else but the television set. The TV changed dramatically our way of life and our way of viewing things.

In the case of education, in the US at least, “edutainment” was pioneered by Sesame Street of the children’s television workshop. I had my childhood in the 80’s, and I remembered vividly the “education” (or entertainment) from that show. From what I understand from Postman’s book is that this kind of “education” is unnatural and in many ways destructive for the children who watch it. It makes the children think less and entertained more. And to tell the truth, I feel that it’s exactly the case. Of course there is no doubt that children can still benefit from the show, but the long term loss outweighs it by far.
In the case of politics, one example is in presidential elections. It’s no longer a secret that the candidates who win the elections are the ones who spend more time on air, and can manage to make a good impression on the viewers. They don’t need to be intellectually superior or have a better track record. What they need to do is look good on TV. And this is indeed the case in many countries. In the TV culture, the image that the candidates build on TV outweighs their other virtues.

The book also mentions about how people treat religiosity in this age of entertainment. Normally, nowadays, people tend too steer away from religious matters. However, things could change if they are packaged with elements of entertainment.The preachers who will be listened to are those who are able to commoditize what they say in an entertaining way, regardless of what they say. Perhaps through songs, through their style of speech, and gimmicks, among many things.

So for many people living in this age, life is nothing but a continuous cycle of jumping from one entertainment to another. As mentioned in the book, we live in an almost realized Huxleyan reality. In which we are being imprisoned, out of our own free will, and enjoy the imprisonment that we are in. This holds us back from transcendence in becoming the amazing creatures that we were created to become.

"The Day of Resurrection draws near, None besides God can avert it.  Do you then wonder at this Quran?  And you laugh at it and weep not, wasting your (precious) lifetime in pastime and amusements.  So fall you down in prostration to God, and worship Him (Alone)"
(Qur'an - An-Najm 53:57-62)

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