Amusing Ourselves to Death



In Chapter 8 of his book Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman talks about the phenomenon of religious programming on television. He concludes that
...there are several characteristics of television and its surround that converge to make authentic religious experience impossible. (p. 118)
I believe that though it\'s not explicitly stated, the concept of boundaries which I have been discussing is an essential element of his argument. He says that
...there is no way to consecrate the space in which a television show is experienced. It is an essential condition of any traditional religious service that the space in which it is conducted must be invested with some measure of sacrality. Of course, a church or synagogue is designed as a place of ritual enactment so that almost anything that occurs there, even a bingo game, has a religious aura. (p. 118-119)
I think that he is basically saying that when one enters a church, one is crossing a boundary into someone else\'s private space; more specifically, God\'s. In someone else\'s space one must acknowledge that the owner of the space is in control of it and sets the rules for all who occupy it. The very act of entering a church, by this interpretation, is acknowledgement of willingness to submit to the control of another, to put oneself in the hands of the Lord, so to speak. A tone of respectful reverence is thus set by the private nature of the church space, the property of God, as well as by the trappings and rituals of the religion itself.
Anything that occurs on television, on the other hand, is invading the space of the viewer. Once it enters our home, we have complete control over it-- we can adjust the volume, put the TV anywhere we want, buy whatever size screen we want, and turn it off or change channels at the slightest whim. In this environment it is we who are in control of the service, because it is in our space, not God\'s.
This is why, according to Postman,
The activities in one\'s living room or bedroom or--God help us--one\'s kitchen are usually the same whether a religious program is being presented or "The A-Team" or "Dallas" is being presented. People will eat, talk, go to the bathroom, do push-ups or any of the things they are accustomed to doing in the presence of an animated television screen. (p.119)
Taken away from the church, God\'s home territory, and introduced into our own private strongholds, televangelism is at a huge disadvantage for actually evoking a religious experience from viewers. "If an audience is not immersed in an aura of mystery and symbolic otherworldliness," says Postman, "then it is unlikely that it can call forth the state of mind required for a nontrivial religious experience." (p. 119)
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Neil Postman\'s Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business was published in 1985. The theories and concepts described in the book could easily apply to today\'s world. Postman goes to great detail in his book about the development of public discourse (verbal and written communication) over the centuries. He explains how the development and evolution of communication over mankind\'s history has changed at critical points. These critical points include the development of the alphabet, the development of the printing press, the development of the telegraph and the development of the television. Postman argues that American society in particular is in danger since it relies so much on television.
Postman\'s book is divided into two parts. Part one documents the development of communication in Western civilization. The main course of his documentation is that the oral and printed methods of communication tend to be held in higher prestige because they take more "brain power" to learn and perfect. If a person wants to learn in an oral or printed communication based culture, he or she must learn the language, memorize customs, learn to read, learn to write, etc. Postman even goes so far to say that print communication controls your physical body as well -- that a person\'s body must remain at least semi-mobile in order to pay attention to what the words are trying to say.
In chapter 4, Postman details how the development and success of the printed word in Western civilization created what he calls