Almost thirty years ago, culture critic and media ecologist Neil Postman (1931-2003) wrote a book that became an instant classic: Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (Penguin, 1985; rev. 2005). The book began with a provocative and admittedly cryptic thesis: George Orwell was wrong; Aldous Huxley was right. ¶ Postman meant to bring to mind two contrasting possibilities for the future based on famous dystopian novels, Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World. Although both novels imagine a terrible future, they do so for very different reasons:
- Orwell feared a totalitarian future in which Big Brother takes away our freedom.
- Huxley satirized a future in which free citizens are overwhelmed by trite and insignificant choices.
As Postman summarizes,
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared that the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture. (vii)
Politics aside, it would appear that Huxley was right. We have no wardens or gatekeepers of truth in America today, no Ministry of Propaganda withholding information. But we do have a population "distracted by trivia," awash in a sea of information we can no longer meaningfully digest. We are, in Postman's words, "amusing ourselves to death."
The following book reviews reconsider Postman's classic book from different perspectives in the hopes of renewing a discussion about the relevance of these issues for the contemporary Christian life.