A Jagged Contention: Commercialization of Our Minds

“The television commercial is about products only in the sense that the story of Jonah is about the anatomy of whales, which is to say, it isn’t. Which is to say, further, it is about how one ought to live one’s life. Moreover, commercials have the advantage of vivid visual symbols through which we may easily learn the lessons being taught. Among those lessons are the short and simple message are preferable to long and complex ones; that drama is to be preferred over exposition; that being sold solutions is better than being confronted with questions about problems. Such beliefs would naturally have implications for our orientation towards political discourse; that is to say, we may being to accept as normal certain assumptions about the political domain that either derive from or are amplified by the television commercial.  For example, a person who has seen a one million television commercials might well believe that all political problems have fast solutions through simple measures—or ought to. Or that complex language is not to be trusted, and that all problems lend themselves to theatrical expression. Or that argument is in bad taste, and leads only to an intolerable uncertainty. Such a person may also come to believe that it is not necessary to draw and line between politics and other forms of social life. Just as a television commercial will use and athlete, and actor, a musician, a novelist, a scientist or a countess to speak for the virtues of a product in no way within their domain of expertise, television also frees politicians from the limited field of their own expertise. Political figures show up anywhere, at any time, doing anything, without being thought odd, presumptuous, or in any way out of place. Which is to say, they have become assimilated into the general television culture as celebrities.”

-Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, pg. 131-132


The fact that Postman probably wouldn’t appreciate being a de-contextualized blog quote notwithstanding, he argues quite convincingly that the medium of television has effectively caused us to think about politics the same way we think about entertainment.  We are now at the point where a reality star is a candidate for president! What do you make of Postman’s analysis? Is he overreacting? How can we push back against such a dominant trend in our own thinking?

Share your thoughts in the comments below