The Biblio-Files

bib·li·o·phile (bĭb'lē-ə-fīl') n.

1. A lover of books.
2. A collector of books.

17.5.07

New Glasses With Which to See...

[Before I post on this book let me say this: I just got my syllabus for History of the Baptists, and let's just say, if I don't start reading for June 11 right now, I'm going to get way behind. So, I'll either post on my reading for that class, or maybe some of you who signed up as contributors would, well, contribute something soon. Ok.]

The name of this post says it all.

I mean, I'll just jump right into my "My Recommendation" portion. AOtD is a must read--a 5! I might just be full of zeal right now, but everyone, especially anyone who regularly watches TV, needs to read this immediately and very slowly. AOtD is readable, yet tremendously thought provoking. Turn off the TV and go get you one.

What is This Book For?

Neil Postman's agenda in AOtD is to argue that television, for the most part, has softly lullabied people's intellects to sleep. In order for TV programs to succeed they must entertain, period. Thus, everything from commercials to news is steeped in entertainment strategies (music, good-looking people, etc.) to evoke emotion and interest. Thus, people don't care why a product is good, but rather if it (or the person accompanying it) looks good. TV content is intentionally fragmented and superficial--if it were otherwise, people would have to "endure" the exposition of some argument. (Did you know that product advertisements used to come in the form of a carefully argued paragraph so people could decide what product to buy?) Television gives the illusion of though provocation and learning, but in reality the information given through media is so fragmented and devoid of sound argument that people tend to know a lot of facts, but very little about facts. This is why people are good at crossword puzzles and 'Trivial Pursuit,' but remain superficial, easily swayed, and contradictory in their thinking; 'superficial' in that although one may know a historical happening, they do not know how it developed or its relevance; 'easily swayed' because people are more image driven than thought driven (This is one major reason why people are suckered by TV evangelists); and 'contradictory' because people are now more accustomed basing their thoughts on sight and feeling rather than reason and logic. Television in it's most common form actually teaches people very little, if anything. This creates a culture that has a small attention span and thinks books are an outdated form of learning.

True thought strengthening takes time primarily through the hard work of reading.

Key Chapters

Chapter 3: "Typographic America." ("Typographic" simply refers to the written word) Basically, early Americans, from peasant girl to doctor, were literate and hungry for the written word. At one point, America boasted of the highest concentration of literate persons in the world.

Chapter 4: "The Typographic Mind." Due to America being so inundated with literate people, most people were thinkers and had a capacity for lengthy written and spoken exposition.

Chapter 8: "Shuffle Off to Bethlehem." This chapter discusses televangelists and how television drastically affects the deliverance and substance of preaching. I don't agree with Postman's theology, but this is a very insightful chapter.

Chapter 10: "Teaching as an Amusing Activity." Possibly one of the most important chapters for teachers and parents as they consider the best way to teach their children. Postman examines and gives a good critique of 'Sesame Street.' Let's just say Elmo is at his best when he is being tickled, not teaching. Very good.

Quotes

I want to leave only one. It's long, but, it was one of my favorites:
It would be a serious mistake to think of Billy Graham or any other television revivalist as a latter-day Jonathan Edwards or Charles Finney. Edwards was one of the most brilliant and creative minds ever produced by America. His contribution to aesthetic theory was almost as important as his contribution to theology. His interests were mostly academic; he spent long hours each day in his study. Hid did not speak to his audiences extemporaneously. He read his sermons, which were tightly knit and closely reasoned expositions of theological doctrine. Audiences may have been moved emotionally by Edwards' language, but they were, first and foremost, required to understand it. . . . Unlike the principle figures in today's "great awakening"--Oral Roberts, Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, et al.--yesterday's leaders of revivalist movements in America were men of learning, faith in reason, and generous expository gifts. . . . No clearer example of the difference between earlier and modern forms of public discourse can be found than in the contrast between the theological arguments of Jonathan Edwards and those of, say, Jerry Falwell, or Billy Graham, or Oral Roberts. The formidable content of Edwards' theology must inevitably engage the intellect; if there is such a content to the theology of the television evangelists, they have not yet made it known. (p. 54, 56)
You could say that this book is summarized in one sentence: The best use of a TV is to use it's light to read a book.


Thoughts? Comments? Questions?

Peace. Go read.
Contributors it's your time to shine.

6 comments:

Jamie Butts said...

Plev,
From my skimming thus far (and I will read your post carefully soon) and the chapters I've read from it, this book does make some excellent posts. I like the format that you use for posting book reviews. And finally, the only reason I have not read/written yet is that my summer doesn't begin until June. I got a great new book though and I'm really excited about this blog, just so you know. I just have to be diligent right now and grade research papers, fill out student profiles, teach and other such tasks. Dustin's reading! He'll post soon.
Keep bookin,
James

The Once Dead Poet said...

Plev,

I've read a good bit of AOtD and, like you think he makes some excellent points. Makes me glad that we don't have a TV. I do think that the book is dated though. With the introduction and growing popularity of the interent, media has once again morphed. People are reading again, but they aren't reading books. They are reading blogs, journal entried on myspace, internet stories on MSN, etc. Print media has re-emerged as a prominent form of communication, but it isn't the same as reading a book. I'd like to see someone come out with a book that deals with the shift and what it is doing to the American mind.

Great thoughts on the book...I love the quote about Edwards.

D

The Once Dead Poet said...

One quick clarification...when I say "dated," I don't mean irrelevant. It is still highly relevant for a culture that spends a large portion of its life sitting in front of the TV. I just think the shift toward internet based media, and even forms of communication like text messaging need to be considered as well for the book to be considered up to date. Of course, Postman is not longer living, so someone else will have to take those issues into consideration.

Eron said...

James,

Hey, thanks for the comment. Take your time when it comes to reading and posting. I know you are probably just as swamped now as any of us at the end of seminary. So, don't view this as another deadline or anything. I am glad you are excited about it though. As far as my format goes, I just thought that a quick summary, recommendation (or not), and quotes would capture enough to give people a good window into the book. Glad you like.

D,
I am with you. Postman wrote that back in the 80's. The internet, reality TV, and the various news shows (Fox, CNN, Larry King, etc.) were not even on the radar, for the most part. I wonder who the equivalent of Postman would be today. I would love to read him/her. However, Postman's son reported (in the intro to my edition) that students back only a few years ago felt that he was writing to their situation under different names and situations. Thanks for the comment.

P

blake white said...

Dang. That makes me excited about preaching 40 minute expositions to folks who have spent at least 10 hours in front of the tube during the week. It's funny and sad to watch people drift off after 2 minutes when discussing theology. You are discussing the things of God and they are looking at the black bird on the ground thinking about lunch. Only if we lived in the age of the Puritans, although I probably wouldn't make the cut.

Eron said...

B,

Yeah, if we lived in the age of the Puritans we would be long ago excommunicated for something like, "drinking too many spirits," and what have you.

Peace.