Amusing Ourselves to Death - the spell-binding allure of news entertainment
Updated: Sep 6
Orwell and Huxley's crystal balls: Dystopia defined
Consider the contrasting visions of two science fiction titans, George Orwell and Aldous Huxley, as they peered into the future through their literary works. In 1935, Orwell unveiled "Nineteen Eighty-Four," conjuring a dystopian world where books were banned and society was ruled by fear. In contrast, Huxley's "Brave New World" (1949) proposed that books would not be banned, but that society would lose interest in reading them and would sleepwalk to its downfall through the irresistible allure of pleasure-led distractions.
Postman's prophecy: "Amusing Ourselves to Death" - It all began with TV
Fast forward to 1985 and media theorist Neil Postman's masterpiece, "Amusing Ourselves to Death.” In it, he speculated that Huxley's vision might be more accurate than Orwell's.
Postman's insights danced around the critique of television and concerns that TV delivers ideas through captivating visuals rather than nuanced language, potentially reducing essential aspects like politics, news, and history to mere sensory experiences.
Television, born in the raw form of the late 1920s, became mainstream in the 1950s, molding public opinion and echoing traditional values that underpinned American culture. Diverse genres like comedy, crime, action, drama, fantasy, and reality sprang to life, captivating audiences. However, the allure of entertainment cast a formidable shadow over TV news in the 1970s and 80s. As networks buckled under competition and profit motives, entertainment infiltrated news, yielding narratives that sacrificed integrity for speed and emotion. The transition from objective journalism towards entertainment-oriented news, emphasizing sensational emotions over authenticity, pandered to our cravings for instant gratification.
The paradox of trivialities: Numbing us to existential issues
In the present day, we confront yet another challenge: a deluge of online trivialities diverting our focus from recognizing critical existential concerns, including the alarming ascent of dictatorships, the urgent need to address climate change, and the mounting threat of global resource depletion, while digital echo chambers continue to constrict us within the confines of our existing beliefs. The paradox is that even though we have access to a lot of information, our fixation on trivial things actually makes us pay less attention to the important issues that desperately need our focus and action.
In a world inundated by information and besieged by dwindling attention spans, where amusement overpowers enlightenment, and news is predominantly "infotainment," it's worth reflecting on the contrasting viewpoints of Orwell and Huxley. In their literary predictions, one envisioned a world without books due to bans, while the other foresaw a populace disinterested in reading due to all-consuming distractions. The convergence of these two futures reveals a chilling reality: we risk losing not only the content but the context, depth, and discourse that books and in-depth journalism once provided. As the line between news and entertainment becomes increasingly indistinct, Postman's "Amusing Ourselves to Death" underscores the blinding effects of a society overdosing on the trivial.