Thoughts on and an Explanation of "Best Entertained, Least Informed..."

300 Dollar Wonder's subtitle "Commentary for the best entertained, least informed nation on earth" is essentially a reworking of the Neil Postman quote "We are the best entertained least informed society in the world." As such, I do not take credit for the phrase or the concept.

Neil Postman
(1931 — 2003) was a critic and an educator. He was a long time professor at NYU where he published many books and magazine articles examining the way that media and society interact.

His most well known work, Amusing Ourselves to Death, exemplifies the themes he pursued.

From the author of Teaching as a Subversive Activity comes a sustained, withering and thought-provoking attack on television and what it is doing to us. Postman's theme is the decline of the printed word and the ascendancy of the "tube" with its tendency to present everything - murder, mayhem, politics, weather - as entertainment. The ultimate effect, as Postman sees it, is the shrivelling of public discourse as TV degrades our conception of what constitutes news, political debate, art, even religious thought. Early chapters trace America's one-time love affair with the printed word, from colonial pamphlets to the publication of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. There's a biting analysis of TV commercials as a form of "instant therapy" based on the assumption that human problems are easily solvable. Postman goes further than other critics in demonstrating that television represents a hostile attack on literate culture.
Postman didn't just attack TV for dumbing down everything which it came into contact with, he examines how the inherent limitations of TV affect a society in which TV is the primary medium for all public discourses.

Every communication medium has an 'upper limit' to the level of discourse that it can sustain. Postman gives the example of trying to hold a discussion on philosophy using smoke signals to illustrate that the medium itself limits the depth of ideas communicated.

Postman shows that TV's 'upper limit' is far below that of print media. Then, using Aldus Huxley's Brave New World as a jumping-off point, Postman claims that TV acts as a "Soma," a drug that deadens society intellectually while leaving them happy.

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I think that Postman's critique of TV media is especially applicable to politics. Trillion dollar budgets, intricate tax laws, far ranging foreign policy, intricate science funding and domestic policy are all forced, at best, to fit within a few minutes coverage. At the worst, debates on war and peace are reduced to 10 second sound bites.

TV's inability to investigate the intricacies and implications of various political initiatives is only compounded by treating news as entertainment. FoxNews' penchant for using TV news to reinforce its audience's pre-existing conclusions destroys what little ability was left.

Neil Postman passed away in 2003. It would have been fascinating to hear his thoughts and opinions on the emergence of the blogosphere, both as a phenomenon, as a means of communication, and as a political power.

I think he would approve.

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