excerpts from the book
Amusing Ourselves to Death
Public Discourse in the Age
of Show Business
by Neil Postman
Penguin Books, 1985, paper
We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy
didn't, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves.
The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror
had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian
But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell's
dark vision, there was another-slightly older, slightly less well
known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Contrary
to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did
not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome
by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision ...
people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies
that undo their capacities to think.
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 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, preoccupied
with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal
bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited,
the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert
to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost
infinite appetite for distractions." In 1984, Huxley added,
people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World,
they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared
that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love
will ruin us.
Our politics, religion, news, athletics, education and commerce
have been transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business,
largely without protest or even much popular notice. The result
is that we are a people on the verge of amusing ourselves to death.
... Thomas Paine's Common Sense, published on January 10, 1776,
sold more than 100,000 copies by March of the same year. In 1985,
a book would have to sell eight million copies (in two months)
to match the proportion of the population Paine's book attracted.
If we go beyond March, 1776, a more awesome set of figures is
given by Howard Fast: "No one knows just how many copies
were actually printed. The most conservative sources place the
figure at something over 300,000 copies. Others place it just
under half a million. Taking a figure of 400,000 in a population
of 3,000,000, a book published today would have to sell 24,000,000
copies to do as well." The only communication event that
could produce such collective attention in today's America is
"The Founding Fathers, were sages,
scientists, men of broad cultivation, many of them apt in classical
learning, who used their wide reading in history politics, and
law to solve the exigent problems of their time."
From Erasmus in the sixteenth century to Elizabeth Eisenstein
in the twentieth, almost every scholar who has grappled with the
question of what reading does to one's habits of mind has concluded
that the process encourages rationality; that the sequential,
propositional character of the written word fosters what Walter
Ong calls the "analytic management of knowledge." To
engage the written word means to follow a line of thought, which
requires considerable powers of classifying, inference-making
and reasoning. It means to uncover lies, confusions, and overgeneralizations,
to detect abuses of logic and common sense. It also means to weigh
ideas, to compare and contrast assertions, to connect one generalization
to another. To accomplish this, one must achieve a certain distance
from the words themselves, which is, in fact, encouraged by the
isolated and impersonal text. That is why a good reader does not
cheer an apt sentence or pause to applaud even an inspired paragraph.
Analytic thought is too busy for that, and too detached.
I do not mean to imply that prior to the
written word analytic thought was not possible. I am referring
here not to the potentialities of the individual mind but to the
predispositions of a cultural mind-set. In a culture dominated
by print, public discourse tends to be characterized by a coherent,
orderly arrangement of facts and ideas. The public for whom it
is intended is generally competent to manage such discourse. In
a print culture, writers make mistakes when they lie, contradict
themselves, fail to support their generalizations, try to enforce
illogical connections. In a print culture, readers make mistakes
when they don't notice, or even worse, don't care.
... in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, American public
discourse, being rooted in the bias of the printed word, was serious,
inclined toward rational argument and presentation, and, therefore,
made up of meaningful content.
"All national institutions of churches,
whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than
human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize
power and profit." Because of The Age of Reason, Paine lost
his standing among the pantheon of Founding Fathers.
Books ... are an excellent container for the accumulation, quiet
scrutiny and organized analysis of information and ideas. It takes
time to write a book, and to read one; time to discuss its contents
and to make judgments about their merit, including the form of
their presentation. A book is an attempt to make thought permanent
and to contribute to the great conversation conducted by authors
of the past.
The problem is not that television presents us with entertaining
subject matter but that all subject matter is presented as entertaining.
Televison is our culture's principal mode of knowing about itself.
TV news has no intention of suggesting that any story has any
implications, for that would require viewers to continue to think
about it when it is done and therefore obstruct their attending
to the next story ...
Newscasters do not pause to grimace or shiver when they speak
their prefaces or epilogs to the film clips. Indeed, many newscasters
do not appear to grasp the meaning of what they are saying, and
some hold to a fixed and ingratiating enthusiasm as they report
on earthquakes, mass killings and other disasters. Viewers would
be quite disconcerted by any show of concern or terror on the
part of newscasters. Viewers, after all, are partners with the
newscasters in the "Now . . . this" culture, and they
expect the newscaster to play out his or her role as a character
who is marginally serious but who stays well clear of authentic
Whereas we expect books and even other media (such as film) to
maintain a consistency of tone and a continuity of content, we
have no such expectation of television, and especially television
news. We have become so accustomed to its discontinuities that
we are no longer struck dumb, as any sane person would be, by
a newscaster who having just reported that a nuclear war is inevitable
goes on to say that he will be right 5, back after this word from
Burger King; who says, in other words, "Now . . . this."
One can hardly overestimate the damage that such juxtapositions
do to our sense of the world as a serious place. The damage is
especially massive to youthful viewers who depend so much on television
for their clues as to how to respond to the world. In watching
television news, they, more than any other segment of the audience,
are drawn into an epistemology based on the assumption that all
reports of cruelty and death are greatly exaggerated and, in any
case, not to be taken seriously or responded to sanely.
I should go so far as to say that embedded
in the surrealistic frame of a television news show is a theory
of anticommunication, featuring a type of discourse that abandons
logic, reason, sequence and rules of contradiction. In aesthetics,
I believe the name given to this theory is Dadaism; in philosophy,
nihilism; in psychiatry, schizophrenia. In the parlance of the
theater, it is known as vaudeville.
For those who think I am here guilty of
hyperbole, I offer the following description of television news
by Robert MacNeil, executive editor and co-anchor of the "MacNeil-Lehrer
Newshour. "The idea, he writes, "is to keep everything
brief, not to strain the attention of anyone but instead to provide
constant stimulation through variety, novelty, action, and movement.
You are required . . . to pay attention to no concept, no character,
and no problem for more than a few seconds at a time." He
goes on to say that the assumptions controlling a news show are
"that bite-sized is best, that complexity must be avoided,
that nuances are dispensable, that qualifications impede the simple
message, that visual stimulation is a substitute for thought,
and that verbal precision is an anachronism."
The result of all this is that Americans are the best entertained
and quite likely the least well-informed people in the Western
world. I say this in the face of the popular conceit that television,
as a window to the world, has made Americans exceedingly well
informed. Much depends here, of course, on what is meant by being
informed. I will pass over the now tiresome polls that tell us
that, at any given moment, 70 percent of our citizens do not know
who is the Secretary of State or the Chief Justice of the Supreme
Court. Let us consider, instead, the case of Iran during the drama
that was called the "Iranian Hostage Crisis." I don't
suppose there has been a story in years that received more continuous
attention from television. We may assume, then, that Americans
know most of what there is to know about this unhappy event. And
now, I put these questions to you: Would it be an exaggeration
to say that not one American in a hundred knows what language
the Iranians speak? Or what the word ``Ayatollah" means or
implies? Or knows any details of the tenets of Iranian religious
beliefs? Or the main outlines of their political history? Or knows
who the Shah was, and where he came from?
Nonetheless, everyone had an opinion about
this event, for in America everyone is entitled to an opinion,
and it is certainly useful to have a few when a pollster shows
up. But these are opinions of a quite different order from eighteenth-
or nineteenth-century opinions. It is probably more accurate to
call them emotions rather than opinions, which would account for
the fact that they change from week to week, as the pollsters
tell us. What is happening here is that television is altering
the meaning of "being informed" by creating a species
of information that might properly be called disinformation. I
am using this word almost in the precise sense in which it is
used by spies in the CIA or KGB. Disinformation does not mean
false information. It means misleading information - misplaced,
irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information - information
that creates the illusion of knowing something, but which in fact
leads one away from knowing. In saying this, I do not mean to
imply that television news deliberately aims to deprive Americans
of a coherent, contextual understanding of their world. I mean
to say that when news is packaged as entertainment, that is the
inevitable result. And in saying that the television news show
entertains but does not inform, I am saying something far more
serious than that we are being deprived of authentic information.
I am saying we are losing our sense of what it means to be well
informed. Ignorance is always correctable. But what shall we do
if we take ignorance to be knowledge?
Here is a startling example of how this
process bedevils us. A New York Times article is headlined on
February 15, 1983:
Reagan misstatements getting less attention
The article begins in the following way:
President Reagan's aides used to become
visibly alarmed at suggestions that he had given mangled and perhaps
misleading accounts of his policies or of current events in general.
That doesn't seem to happen much anymore.
Indeed, the President continues to make
debatable assertions of fact but news accounts do not deal with
them as extensively as they once did. In the view of White House
officials, the declining news coverage mirrors a decline in interest
by the general public.
This report is not so much a news story
as a story about the news, and our recent history suggests that
it is not about Ronald Reagan's charm. It is about how news is
defined, and I believe
the story would be quite astonishing to both civil libertarians
and tyrants of an earlier time. Walter Lippmann, for example,
wrote in 1920: "There can be no liberty for a community which
lacks the means by which to detect lies." For all of his
pessimism about the possibilities of restoring an eighteenth-
and nineteenth-century level of public discourse, Lippmann assumed,
as did Thomas Jefferson before him, that with a well-trained press
functioning as a lie-detector, the public's interest in a President's
mangling of the truth would be piqued, in both senses of that
word. Given the means to detect lies, he believed, the public
could not be indifferent to their consequences.
But this case refutes his assumption.
The reporters who cover the White House are ready and able to
expose lies, and thus create the grounds for informed and indignant
opinion. But apparently the public declines to take an interest.
To press reports of White House dissembling, the public has replied
with Queen Victoria's famous line: "We are not amused."
However, here the words mean something the Queen did not have
in mind. They mean that what is not amusing does not compel their
attention. Perhaps if the President's lies could be demonstrated
by pictures and accompanied by music the public would raise a
curious eyebrow. If a movie, like All the President's Men, could
be made from his misleading accounts of government policy, if
there were a break-in of some sort or sinister characters laundering
money, attention would quite likely be paid. We do well to remember
that President Nixon did not begin to come undone until his lies
were given a theatrical setting at the Watergate hearings. But
we do not have anything like that here. Apparently, all President
Reagan does is say things that are not entirely true. And there's
nothing, entertaining in that.
... we are by now so thoroughly adjusted to the "Now . .
. this" world of news-a world of fragments, where events
stand alone, stripped of any connection to the past, or to the
future, or to other events-that all assumptions of coherence have
vanished. And so, perforce, has contradiction. In the context
of no context, so to speak, it simply disappears. And in its absence,
what possible interest could there be in a list of what the President
says now and what he said then? It is merely a rehash of old news,
and there is nothing interesting or entertaining in that. The
only thing to be amused about is the bafflement of reporters at
the public's indifference. There is an irony in the fact that
the very group that has taken the world apart should, on trying
to piece it together again, be surprised that no one notices much,
For all his perspicacity, George Orwell
would have been stymied by this situation; there is nothing "Orwellian"
about it. The President does not have the press under his thumb.
The New York Times and The Washington Post are not Pravda; the
Associated Press is not Tass. And there is no Newspeak here. Lies
have not been defined as truth nor truth as lies. All that has
happened is that the public has adjusted to incoherence and been
amused into indifference. Which is why Aldous Huxley would not
in the least be surprised by the story. Indeed, he prophesied
its coming. He believed that it is far more likely that the Western
democracies will dance and dream themselves into oblivion than
march into it' single file and manacled. Huxley grasped, as Orwell
did not, that it is not necessary to conceal anything from a public
insensible to contradiction and narcoticized by technological
diversions. Although Huxley did not specify that television would
be our main line to the drug, he would have no difficulty accepting
Robert MacNeil's observation that "Television is the soma
of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.'' Big Brother turns out to
be Howdy Doody.
I do not mean that the trivialization
of public information is all accomplished on television. I mean
that television is the paradigm for our conception of public information.
As the printing press did in an earlier time, television has achieved
the power to define the form in which news must come, and it has
also defined how we shall respond to it. In presenting news to
us packaged as vaudeville, television induces other media to do
the same, so that the total information environment begins to
For example, America's newest and highly
successful national newspaper, USA Today, is modeled precisely
on the format of television. It is sold on the street in receptacles
that look like television sets. Its stories are uncommonly short,
its design leans heavily on pictures, charts and other graphics,
some of them printed in various colors. Its weather maps are a
visual delight; its sports section includes enough pointless statistics
to distract a computer. As a consequence, USA Today, which began
publication in September 1982, has become the third largest daily
in the United States (as of July 1984, according to the Audit
Bureau of Circulations), moving quickly to overtake the Daily
News and the Wall Street Journal. Journalists of a more traditional
bent have criticized it for its superficiality and theatrics,
but the paper's editors remain steadfast in their disregard of
typographic standards. The paper's Editor-in-Chief, John Quinn,
has said: "We are not up to undertaking projects of the dimensions
needed to win prizes. They don't give awards for the best investigative
paragraph." Here is an astonishing tribute to the resonance
of television's epistemology: In the age of television, the paragraph
is becoming the basic unit of news in print media. Moreover, Mr.
Quinn need not fret too long about being deprived of awards. As
other newspapers join in the transformation, the time cannot be
far off when awards will be given for the best investigative sentence.
It needs also to be noted here that new
and successful magazines such as People and Us are not only examples
of television-oriented print media but have had an extraordinary
"ricochet" effect on television itself. Whereas television
taught the magazines that news is nothing but entertainment, the
magazines have taught television that nothing but entertainment
is news. Television programs, such as "Entertainment Tonight,"
turn information about entertainers and celebrities into "serious"
cultural content, so that the circle begins to close: Both the
form and content of news become entertainment.
Radio, of course, is the least likely
medium to join in the descent into a Huxleyan world of technological
narcotics. It is, after all, particularly well suited to the transmission
of rational, complex language. Nonetheless, and even if we disregard
radio's captivation by the music industry, we appear to be left
with the chilling fact that such language as radio allows us to
hear is increasingly primitive, fragmented, and largely aimed
at invoking visceral response; which is to say, it is the linguistic
analogue to the ubiquitous rock music that is radio's principal
source of income. As I write, the trend in call-in shows is for
the "host" to insult callers whose language does not,
in itself, go much beyond humanoid grunting. Such programs have
little content, as this word used to be defined, and are merely
of archeological interest in that they give us a sense of what
a dialogue among Neanderthals might have been like. More to the
point, the language of radio newscasts has become, under the influence
of television, increasingly decontextualized and discontinuous,
so that the possibility of anyone's knowing about the world, as
against merely knowing of it, is effectively blocked. In New York
City, radio station WINS entreats its listeners to "Give
us twenty-two minutes and we'll give you the world." This
is said without irony, and its audience, we may assume, does not
regard the slogan as the conception of a disordered mind.
And so, we move rapidly into an information
environment which may rightly be called trivial pursuit As the
game of that name uses facts as a source of amusement, so do our
sources of news. It has been demonstrated many times that a culture
can survive misinformation and false opinion. It has not yet been
demonstrated whether a culture can survive if it takes the measure
of the world in twenty-two minutes. Or if the value of its news
is determined by the number of laughs it provides.
By substituting images for claims, the pictorial commercial made
emotional appeal, not tests of truth, the basis of consumer decisions.
The distance between rationality and advertising is now so wide
that it is difficult to remember that there once existed a connection
between them. Today, on television commercials, propositions are
as scarce as unattractive people. The truth or falsity of an advertiser's
claim is simply not an issue. A McDonald's commercial, for example,
is not a series of testable, logically ordered assertions. It
is a drama-a mythology, if you will-of handsome people selling,
buying and eating hamburgers, and being driven to near ecstasy
by their good fortune. No claims are made, except those the viewer
projects onto or infers from the drama. One can like or dislike
a television commercial, of course. But one cannot refute it.
Indeed, we may go this far: The television
commercial is not at all about the character of products to be
consumed. It is about the character of the consumers of products.
Images of movie stars and famous athletes, of serene lakes and
macho fishing trips, of elegant dinners and romantic interludes,
of happy families packing their station wagons for a picnic in
the country- these tell nothing about the products being sold.
But they tell everything about the fears, fancies and dreams of
those who might buy them. What the advertiser needs to know is
not what is right about the product but what is wrong about the
buyer. And so, the balance of business expenditures shifts from
product research to market research. The television commercial
has oriented business away from making products of value and toward
making consumers feel valuable, which means that the business
of business has now become pseudo-therapy. The consumer is a patient
assured by psycho-dramas.
We ought also to look to Huxley, not Orwell, to understand the
threat that television and other forms of imagery pose to the
foundation of liberal democracy-namely, to freedom of information.
Orwell quite reasonably supposed that the state, through naked
suppression, would control the flow of information, particularly
by the banning of books. In this prophecy, Orwell had history
strongly on his side. For books have always been subjected to
censorship in varying degrees wherever they have been an important
part of the communication landscape. In ancient China, the Analects
of Confucius were ordered destroyed by Emperor Chi Huang Ti. Ovid's
banishment from Rome by Augustus was in part a result of his having
written Ars Amatoria. Even in Athens, which set enduring standards
of intellectual excellence, books were viewed with alarm. In Areopagitica,
Milton provides an excellent review of the many examples of book
censorship in Classical Greece, including the case of Protagoras,
whose books were burned because he began one of his discourses
with the confession that he did not know whether or not there
were gods. But Milton is careful to observe that in all the cases
before his own time, there were only two types of books that,
as he puts it, "the magistrate cared to take notice of":
books that were blasphemous and books that were libelous. Milton
stresses this point because, writing almost two hundred years
after Gutenberg, he knew that the magistrates of his own era,
if unopposed, would disallow books of every conceivable subject
matter. Milton knew, in other words, that it was in the printing
press that censorship had found its true métier; that,
in fact, information and ideas did not become a profound cultural
problem until the maturing of the Age of Print. Whatever dangers
there may be in a word that is written, such a word is a hundred
times more dangerous when stamped by a press. And the problem
posed by typography was recognized early; for example, by Henry
VIII, whose Star Chamber was authorized to deal with wayward books.
It continued to be recognized by Elizabeth I, the Stuarts, and
many other post-Gutenberg monarchs, including Pope Paul IV, in
whose reign the first Index Librorum Prohibitorum was drawn. To
paraphrase David Riesman only slightly, in a world of printing,
information is the gunpowder of the mind; hence come the censors
in their austere robes to dampen the explosion.
Thus, Orwell envisioned that ( 1 ) government
control over (2) printed matter posed a serious threat for Western
democracies. He was wrong on both counts. (He was, of course,
right on both counts insofar as Russia, China and other pre-electronic
cultures are concerned.) Orwell was, in effect, addressing himself
to a problem of the Age of Print-in fact, to the same problem
addressed by the men who wrote the United States Constitution.
The Constitution was composed at a time when most free men had
access to their communities through a leaflet, a newspaper or
the spoken word. They were quite well positioned to share their
political idea-s with each other in forms and contexts over which
they had competent control. Therefore, their greatest worry was
the possibility of government tyranny. The Bill of Rights is largely
a prescription for preventing government from restricting the
flow of information and ideas. But the Founding Fathers did not
foresee that tyranny by government might be superseded by another
sort of problem altogether, namely, the corporate state, which
through television now controls the flow of public discourse in
America. I raise no strong objection to this fact (at least not
here) and have no intention of launching into a standard-brand
complaint against the corporate state. I merely note the fact
with apprehension, as did George Gerbner, Dean of the Annenberg
School of Communication, when he wrote:
Television is the new state religion
run by a private Ministry of Culture (the three networks), offering
a universal curriculum for all people, financed by a form of hidden
taxation without representation. You pay when you wash, not when
you watch, and whether or not you care to watch...
Earlier in the same essay, Gerbner said:
Liberation cannot be accomplished by
turning [television] off. Television is for most people the most
attractive thing going any time of the day or night. We live in
a world in which the vast majority will not turn off. If we don't
get the message from the tube, we get it through other people.
I do not think Professor Gerbner meant
to imply in these sentences that there is a conspiracy to take
charge of our symbolic world by the men who run the "Ministry
of Culture." I even suspect he would agree with me that if
the faculty of the Annenberg School of Communication were to take
over the three networks, viewers-would hardly notice the difference.
I believe he means to say-and in any case, I do-that in the Age
of television, our information environment is completely different
from what it was in 1783.; that we have less to fear from government
restraints than from television glut; that, in fact, we have no
way of protecting ourselves from information disseminated by corporate
America; and that, therefore, the battles for liberty must be
fought on different terrains from where they once were.
For example, I would venture the opinion
that the traditional civil libertarian opposition to the banning
of books from school libraries and from school curricula is now
largely irrelevant. Such acts of censorship are annoying, of course,
and must be opposed. But they are trivial. Even worse, they are
distracting, in that they divert civil libertarians from confronting
those questions that have to do with the claims of new technologies.
To put it plainly, a student's freedom to read is not seriously
injured by someone's banning a book on Long Island or in Anaheim
or anyplace else. But as Gerbner suggests, television clearly
does impair the student's freedom to read, and it does so with
innocent hands, so to speak. Television does not ban books, it
simply displaces them.
The fight against censorship is a nineteenth-century
issue which was largely won in the twentieth. What we are confronted
with now is the problem posed by the economic and symbolic structure
of television. Those who run television do not limit our access
to information but in fact widen it. Our Ministry of Culture is
Huxleyan, not Orwellian. It does everything possible to encourage
us to watch continuously. But what we watch is a medium which
presents information in a form that renders it simplistic, nonsubstantive,
nonhistorical and noncontextual: that is to say information packaged
as entertainment. In America, we are never denied the opportunity
to amuse ourselves.
Tyrants of all varieties have always known
about the value of providing the masses with amusements as a means
of pacifying discontent. But most of them could not have even
hoped for a situation in which the masses would ignore that which
does not amuse. That is why tyrants have always relied, and still
do, on censorship. Censorship, after all, is the tribute tyrants
pay to the assumption that a public knows the difference between
serious discourse and entertainment-and cares. How delighted would
be all the kings, czars and fuhrers of the past and commissars
of the present to know that censorship is not a necessity when
all political discourse takes the form of a jest.
We now know that "Sesame Street" encourages children
to love school only if school is like "Sesame Street."
Which is to say, we now know that "Sesame Street" undermines
what the traditional idea of schooling represents. Whereas a classroom
is a place of social interaction, the space in front of a television
set is a private preserve. Whereas in a classroom, one may ask
a teacher questions, one can ask nothing of a television screen.
Whereas school is centered on the development of language, television
demands attention to images. Whereas attending school is a legal
requirement, watching television is an act of choice. Whereas
in school, one fails to attend to the teacher at the risk of punishment,
no penalties exist for failing to attend to the television screen.
Whereas to behave oneself in school means to observe rules of
public decorum, television watching requires no such observances,
has no concept of public decorum. Whereas in a classroom, fun
is never more than a means to an end, on television it is the
end in itself.
Yet "Sesame Street" and its
progeny, "The Electric Company," are not to be blamed
for laughing the traditional classroom out of existence. If the
classroom now begins to seem a stale and flat environment for
learning, the inventors of television itself are to blame, not
the Children's Television Workshop. We can hardly expect those
who want to make good television shows to concern themselves with
what the classroom is for. They are concerned with what television
is for. This does not mean that "Sesame Street" is not
educational. It is, in fact, nothing but educational-in the sense
that every television show is educational. Just as reading a book-any
kind of book -promotes a particular orientation toward learning,
watching a television show does the same. "The Little House
on the Prairie," "Cheers" and "The Tonight
Show" are as effective as "Sesame Street" in promoting
what might be called the television style of learning. And this
style of learning is, by its nature, hostile to what has been
called book-learning or its handmaiden, school-learning. If we
are to blame "Sesame Street" for anything, it is for
the pretense that it is any ally of the classroom. That, after
all, has been its chief claim on foundation and public money.
As a television show, and a good one. "Sesame Street"
does not encourage children to love school or anything about school.
It encourages them to love television .
When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural
life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainment, when
serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when,
in short, a people become an audience and their public business
a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk: culture-death
is a clear possibility.
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