Sign in

Professor of Journalism, Lehigh University. Reader. Writer. I write about what I read.

I travel often to Cuba, leading a study abroad program with university students. Any study of Cuba, of course, has to include a discussion of the social, cultural, political and economic importance of — rum or ron.

A number of museums, including the Museo de Ron in Havana, a Havana Club creation, provide some of the history and even the processes involved.

Conspicuously absent is any discussion of what was, for a century, Cuba’s leading manufacturer and distributor of rum — Bacardi.

I knew a little of the story. Bacardi, founded in Santiago, Cuba, in 1862, was the dominant rum…

Amusing Ourselves to Death is not a long book — 163 pages of text. But it is not a “fast read.” There is much to contemplate and ponder. I have dedicated 11 different posts to its important arguments.

In Chapter 10, “Teaching as an Amusing Activity,” Postman looks at another area of social life that has been transformed by television — education.

He starts with an apt subject: the long-running “Sesame Street,” an educational television program, designed by the Children’s Television Workshop, with colorful puppets, celebrities, sing-alongs and fast-paced editing.

Readers of Amusing Ourselves to Death at this point will not be surprised by Postman’s dour view of this sunny show. He compares it to children being taught by a series of television commercials.

He writes: “We now know that ‘Sesame Street’ encourages children to love school only…

In Chapter 9, “Reach Out and Elect Someone,” Postman turns his focus to politics. Although much of Postman’s attention throughout the book is American civic life, this chapter narrows to elections. It is one of the best in Amusing Ourselves to Death.

He starts with a nod to Joe McGinniss’ great book on Richard Nixon’s campaign, The Selling of the President 1968.

Postman finds though that selling politicians is just a starting point: “For though the selling of a President is an astonishing and degrading thing, it is only part of a larger point: In America, the fundamental metaphor for…

Television evangelist Jimmy Swaggart in a emotional moment

After the apocalyptic Chapter 7, “Shuffle Off to Bethlehem” seems muted and narrow. Its argument is relatively simple: Religion too has been bastardized on television and by television.

Postman tells us that to prepare himself for writing this chapter, he watched forty-two hours of television’s version of religion. (The names of the television preachers from the 1980s might be unfamiliar to a younger generation — Robert Schuller, Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggart, Jerry Falwell, Jim Bakker and Pat Robertson.) But Postman says, “Forty-two hours were entirely unnecessary. …

In Part II, Postman devotes separate chapters to areas of social life he feels have been transformed by the medium of television. The chapters offer excellent insights into American social life.

But Chapter 7, “Now . . . This,” in my opinion, is the tour de force of Amusing Ourselves to Death, a devastating takedown of the damage wrought by television news.

Postman takes up — he excoriates — the two words of his title. The two words, of course, are commonly used in U.S. radio and television newscasts to introduce the next, new, unrelated story.

Now . . .This

Postman hates the phrase…

Postman begins Part II, which focuses on aspects of American social life altered by television, with a brief overview chapter on “The Age of Show Business.”

He starts by ridiculing television as a literary device. He offers three parodic examples of TV supporting literature: as a light source to read books by; as an electronic bulletin board in hotels, and as a bookcase foundation on which to stack books.

He offers this ridicule to drive home McLuhan’s argument on the wrongness of “rear view thinking” — that a medium is merely an extension or amplification of an old one (83–84).

Did this lead to the erosion of truth?

In Chapter 5, Neil Postman is in the midst of tracing the demise of the age of typography and exposition and the rise of the Age of Show Business. But he declines to title the chapter, “The Age of Show Business.” Instead, he offers the playful title, “The Peek-a-Boo World.” The chapter is anything but playful. By the time he finishes, the reader is joined in a battle for truth itself.

He says that two ideas, old and new, brought about the end of his beloved age of print, the Age of Exposition.

“The new idea,” he says, “was that…

People came to listen to seven hours of debate.

In Chapter 4, Postman continues his meticulous dissection of the evolution — devolution — of American culture.

Chapter 3 outlined what Postman calls, “Typographic America.” Chapter 4 looks at the implication of such an America — “The Typographic Mind.”

He opens the chapter with a description of the Lincoln-Douglas debate. He stresses that Douglas spoke for . . . three hours. And Lincoln followed with his own three hours with an hour of rebuttal for each. It was seven hours of political discourse attended closely by people from all walks of life.

These were people with a “typographic mind.” …

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store