In Neil Postman’s speech, “Amusing Ourselves to Death”, he compares the 1984 world to classic dystopian novels “A Brave New World” and “1984” by Aldous Huxley and George Orwell respectively.
It was Postman’s opinion that, “Orwell missed the mark almost completely” and that Huxley’s work greater detailed life as we new it. The point of his speech focused on our “love of oppression” through our addiction to entertainment.
Postman cites the 1983 Nielsen Report on Television stating 98% of all American homes own a television and proceeds to list statistics in regards to television viewing habits of the time. In addition, Postman also makes note of the growing trend of American politicians cropping up in entertainment as well as the fact that the President at the time was a former actor as well as newscasters chosen as much for looks as any actual journalistic skills. To further drive his point home that “we would dance ourselves [into oblivion], with an idiot smile on our face”, Postman discusses televangelism and the waning desire for more traditional religious services and the “turning [of] theology into a vaudeville act.”
As he concludes his remarks comparing Orwell’s vision of society to a prison and Huxley’s to the burlesque. Postman leaves the listener with questions about their own entertainment consumption and concerns for the impact on society as we further ensconce ourselves in the immediate here and now of entertainment and distance ourselves further from that which should matter most.
I would be curious to learn his thoughts in 2016. We certainly gravitate even more towards that which will give our brains endrophins such as pornography, games, social media, and the like. However, are we perhaps finding ourselves trapped by all the advancements we’ve made? Can we manage without Google, Pinterst, and smartphones keeping all of our contact information or do we flounder at an outage? With apps like Periscope, webcams in so many homes, social media, and the rising nanny state fears from our doctors and neigbours, are we experiencing more of a Big Brother world?
In 1984, I do believe all signs pointed towards “A Brave New World”, however in 2016 I believe we’ve merged that with “1984” in a worriesome way. Even worse, with the rising number of people reporting that they no longer read, are we risking a world where the Firemen will come and burn our books like in Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451”? As logn as we aren’t headed for “The Hunger Games”…
Feel free to sound off in the comments. Have you read Postman’s address or the three dystopian classics mentioned herein? What do you think about 1984 versus 2016 in regards to societal trends?