Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

Postman, Neil

Penguin, 1986

p. 80

“Television’s way of knowing is uncompromisingly hostile to typography’s way of knowing; television’s conversations promote incoherence and triviality. The phrase ‘serious television’ is a contradiction in terms. Television speaks in only one persistent voice–the voice of entertainment. Beyond that, to enter the great television conversation, one American cultural institution after another is learning to speak its terms. Television, in other words, is transforming our culture into one vast arena for show business. It is entirely possible, of course, that in the end we shall find that delightful, and decide we like it just fine. That is exactly what Aldous Huxley feared was coming back in the 1930s.”

p. 90

“It is not time constraints alone that produce [television’s] fragmented and discontinuous language. When a television show is in process, it is very nearly impermissible to say, “Let me think about that” or “I don’t know” or “What do you mean when you say. . .?” or “From what sources does your information come?” This type of discourse not only slows down the tempo of the show but creates the impression of uncertainty or lack of finish. It tends to reveal people in the act of thinking, which is as disconcerting and boring on television as it is on a Las Vegas stage. Thinking does not play well on television, a fact that television directors discovered long ago. There is not much to see in it. It is, in a phrase, not a performing art.

p. 99

“’Now. . .this’” is commonly used on radio and television newscasts to indicate that what one has just heard or seen has no relevance to what one is about to hear or see, or possibly to anything one is ever likely to hear or see. The phrase is a means of acknowledging the fact that the world as mapped by the speeded-up electronic media has no order or meaning and is not to be taken seriously. There is no murder so brutal, no earthquake so devastating, no political blunder so costly–for that matter, no ball score so tantalizing or weather report so threatening–that it cannot be erased from our mind by a newscaster saying, “’Now. . .this.’”