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


Question:

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

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3 thoughts on “A Jagged Contention: Commercialization of Our Minds

  1. You must be talking about the liar, Hillary Clinton.

    Postman’s contention on the issue would hardly apply to the work and efforts of Donald Trump, who beat the GOPe at the top of its own game because he knew their game better. It is almost trivial to refer to him as a reality star turned luck politician, and it is his being characterized as such that proves Postman’s point far more about those opposing Trump.

    jb

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  2. I suppose, like so many things, yes and no. People are not, fortunately, made up only of mind. Appeals can also be made, properly, to the emotions and the instincts and the spirit of any person. I would say, from personal experience, that anyone can easily appeal to one or another of those properties and seem to succeed for rationally appealing reasons. The one who assumes that is often mistaken. Who among us has not decided something, even something important, with very little information to appeal to reason – and be correct. People in the adrenalin business do this all the time – first responders, soldiers, or someone found in the midst of an emergency. Human emotions are helpful in decisions, likewise instinct, subconscious responses from training, and spiritual responses. God made us this way. It is also just as valid to remember that all of those instruments are corrupt with sin, and make a lot of mistakes, even with excellent information.

    Human beings are what they are in any moment of time, a combination of those essences. Judgments like Mr. Postman’s are often just wrong, or narrow-sighted, or misfocused, or even right. He’s out of his depth, I’d say. And so are we all, when we try to say what a group is responding to or ignoring as though there is some monolith at work.

    I apologize for being so philosophical. I don’t even like that.

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  3. I think he’s right that TV is dumbing us down. There’s no doubt about that. Having someone constantly market products to you has to effect the way you view and interact with the world. Our obsession with “celebrity” has cheapened the idea, so that the old school, classy, Hollywood star is a thing of the past, really. Nothing is important enough to last more than 5 minutes. That’s certainly got to have an effect on our attention spans.

    I think it helped fuel Donald Trump’s rise, but I think we should be cautious that we don’t write off the entire Trump phenomenon to celebrity culture. That’s one aspect to it, but I think it’s much more complex than that, as others have pointed out above.

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