Worcester Telegram & Gazette: 'A prophecy and US politics'

April 26, 2016

The "odd, endless and some would say insane political season of presidential campaigning" led Paul S. Ropp, research professor of history, to reflect on the "relevance of a prophetic book that was written more than 30 years ago, Neil Postman’s 'Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business.'" Ropp wrote a column in the April 24 Worcester Telegram & Gazette that recalled the wisdom of Postman,  "a sociologist who specialized in analyzing the media and the ways our television culture shapes our thinking or lack thereof."

Here is an excerpt:

"Now that our culture has become saturated with 'reality TV' and celebrity worship, the political debate on the Republican side (the party of the cultural conservatives) has descended into off-color insults of each other’s masculinity. In the eyes of a sizable portion of the American electorate, the primary qualification to become leader of the free world appears to be the ability to shout clever and amusing insults over whoever else is trying to speak.

"Neil Postman in 1985 described television as 'a medium which presents information in a form that renders it simplistic, nonsubstantive, nonhistorical and noncontextual; that is to say, information packaged as entertainment. In America we are never denied the opportunity to amuse ourselves.' Postman was probably unfair in blaming so much on television alone, but he was nevertheless remarkably prophetic. He died in 2003, and his critique of the trivialization of politics and public discourse in America has never been more relevant."