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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Amusing Ourselves to Death, Chapter 2

Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman

Chapter 2: Media as Epistemology

"And so I raise no objection to television's junk.  The best things on television are its junk, and no one and nothing is seriously threatened by it.  Besides, we do not measure a culture by its output of undisguised trivialities but by what it claims as significant.  There in is our problem, for television is at its most trivial and, therefore, most dangerous when its aspirations are high.... The irony here is that this is what intellectuals and critics are constantly urging television to do."

Oh, so guilty here.  How often do I feel more enlightened by my viewing choices.  We do better to chose to watch television to be entertained than we do to be educated.  He'll go on to develop this idea much more later.

"...the concept of truth is intimately linked to the biases of forms of expression.  Truth does not, and never has, come unadorned.  It must appear in its proper clothing or it is not acknowledged, which is a way of saying that the "truth" is a kind of cultural prejudice.  Each culture conceives of it as being most authentically expressed in certain symbolic forms that another culture may regard as trivial or irrelevant."

 How truth is presented, the mode of presentation, must be considered and examined.  Not only that, we must recognize the prejudice we bring from our own culture and era.  It makes recognizing the "adornment" of truth in our culture by television more clear.

". . .the equation we moderns make of truth and quantification.  In this prejudice, we come astonishingly close to the mystical beliefs of Pythagoras and his followers who attempted to submit all of life to the sovereignty of numbers."

Think about how often our society determines value or worth based on usefulness or productivity.  It is why the arts are becoming rare in public schools - a beautiful picture or lovely song has no quantifiable benefit to education.  Unless of course they can be used for fund-raising.  Sadly, I've seen this happen even in private schools - those committed to excellent and broad education.  Theatre productions, art shows, musical concerts are put on for the purpose of raising money.  While raising money from a show or concert is not a bad thing, if it is the main purpose than that will affect the end product by dictating what is produced for the will be based on what will "sell".  And thus we have placed productivity over creativity.