Saturday, June 28, 2008

Stepping out with Neil Postman

I’ve been “reading” Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death.” I put “reading” in quotes because I’m really being read to — by an audio book “edition.”

I fear, given Postman’s passion for the printed word, that he would have looked down on my being read to. In audio form, his words march inexorably on, offering no opportunity to stop, ponder, re-read, check sources, etc.

So be it. I’ve chosen an Audio Book “edition” of Postman’s indictment of television because it can accompany me on my 10,000-Step hikes. That way I can exercise body and mind at the same time.

Postman is a great workout. Lucid, provocative, glib and insightful.

The introduction to “Amusing Ourselves to Death” offers an example. Here is Postman contrasting the worlds of Orwell’s “1984” and Huxley’s “Brave New World,” and declaring Huxley’s futuristic vision frighteningly close to what we have in the Television (and, I might add, Computer) Age.

“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban books for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we could become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy… In short Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us … This book (“Amusing Ourselves to Death”) is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.”

As I hike around the neighborhood, iPod buds stuffed in my ears, I’m certain that I am closer to Huxley’s zoned out, somnambulant world. But when I think about the perversions and atrocities of the Bush Administration, its torture chambers, its manipulations of the language, its Big Brother eavesdropping intrusions into our private lives, I’m not so sure.

We may have one foot in 1984 and the other in Brave New World. And we are sinking fast.

Postman, who died in 2003, would no doubt have been pleased that I am here writing, pondering and trying to bring my own understanding to his premise.

If an Audio Book of “Amusing Ourselves to Death” delivered me this point, it’s all to the good.

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