Posted tagged ‘literacy’

Ch. 6 – The Age of Show Business

February 2, 2008

(Continuing with my book blog club…)

Presidential Debates as Entertainment

In this chapter of Amusing Ourselves to Death, Postman begins with the claim that “Television does not extend or amplify literate culture. It attacks it.” He also continues on with his thesis that technologies are merely machines and that a ‘medium’ is the social and intellectual environment a machine creates. If this is so, then the computer and Internet are the “machines” that create a new medium of social and intellectual discourse. Since Postman clearly argues how the television has detracted from intellectual discourse and literacy throughout the world, I want to contrast this with the powerful emergence of the social and intellectual environments created on-line.

Television appeals largely to emotional and visual gratification and entertainment. Television does not embrace conversation, dialog, or debate. The presidential ‘debates’ are not really debates at all. They are entertainment with a little substance thrown. These debates are more about looking good, giving off good impressions, being witty, controlled, speaking well, showmanship, … There is really little room in the televised format for true debate. Issues are brought up, candidates respond within the constraints of allotted time and set format, and then a new question or issue is presented. Issues are not exhausted, argued in depth, or resolved. The media seems more concerned with who beat whom with little in-depth analysis of their ideas or arguments…. because there really was no depth at all. Hillary’s tear received more press than did her ideas. Barack’s slight of Hillary at President Bush’s state of the union address was given more importance than were Bush’s ideas analyzed. During the address, the cameras had to continue with rapid cut-aways to celebrities and candidates, as their visual expressions were more interesting than what the President had to say. Perhaps the cameras could catch something that would be newsworthy for days… an untimely frown from Obama, Hillary dozing off or secretly smiling at Schwarzenegger flexing his muscles, or Kennedy and Obama playing rock, paper scissors…

As Postman writes, “Thinking does not play well on television, a fact that television directors discovered long ago. There is not much to see in it… It must suppress the content of ideas in order to accommodate the requirements of visual interest.”

Americans “do not exchange ideas; they exchange images. They do not argue with propositions; they argue with good looks, celebrities and commercials.”

Then there is Web 2.0…… This is a “medium” that is giving the television world a run for its money. As educators, if we can capitalize on students’ natural proclivity for working and thinking in this environment, we just may have a chance at turning them from knowing the world through the lens of television media to truly understanding the world through personal perspective, through intelligent thinking and meaningful discourse, through communication locally, nationally, and globally with others and getting first-person perspective that does not get filtered through any other lens.

If anything, Postman’s ideas here give credence to this new 2.0 medium that has emerged. I shudder to think about all of the money that has been spent on getting television into schools and the return that it has brought – the advertising that students have been subjected to and the passive entertainment that has been disguised as learning (I am not saying that television has no value in the classroom.) How can administrators NOT get on board with this new environment that begs for intelligent thought, active literacies, collaboration, conversation, connection, creation, reflection, analysis,… Of course, it takes teachers to get on board and orchestrate all of this at some level. But it also takes informed and visionary administrators and I.T. personnel to make it happen.

As an example of the level of analysis and intelligent thought that television will not ever show (since television cannot show thought), check out Wesley Fryer’s recent post over at the Moving at the Speed of Creativity blog about NCLB.

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