I had a really great high school teacher named Mr. Wallingford. At least, Neil Postman, author of Amusing Ourselves to Death (published 1985) would have thought so. This is because Mr. Wallingford taught my 9th grade Civics class and my 11th grade American History class about television commercials and all their wily ways and how to analyze exactly what they were saying to us with all of their smiles, smirks, lighting and camera pans.
The premise of Mr. Postman’s book lies one step beyond the communication mantra, “The medium is the message,” or in other words the form of a message dictates it’s content. In Postman’s book he declaims in chapter one, “the medium is the metaphor” or that the way we process things becomes the way we think about them. Television has so saturated our communication style that we are now unable to think without images, and our thinking is emotionally laden and driven by trivial, banal (an oft repeated word within the book) and amusing detail.
Which is why I would present this book to youth along the same time that they read 1984 and Brave New World. For myself, this was that 9th grade class, flush with the emerging knowledge that I could read and analyze books. (Looking back at some of these essays of course, I smile at my own simplistic rhetoric and jarringly obvious attempts at ethos, logos, and pathos.) But get it through your brain child, you’re not in charge of what is being thrown at you, and even should you attempt to censor your own television viewing, and your own magazine reading, and choose whatever news sources you consume you’re still being spun a web of entertainment and perspective.
I’m talking to my younger self, and I’m talking to my emerging adulthood self here at the same time. And even should I know what is good for me, or educational now, I often choose instead to listen to “My Chick Bad” by Ludacris, to the detriment of my own brain cells. It’s entertaining, and analyzing his implicit assumptions about women’s work and what they should be paid for (apparently pole dancing?) as well as attempts to discern his specific iambs do little to make up for the simplicity of language and the fact that it’s only four minutes of music shortening my attention span.