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Chapter 7: Now… This (Amusing Ourselves to Death)

Chapter 7: Now… This

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

Robert MacNeil, the executive editor and co-anchor of he “MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour”, writes that the idea 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 is that Americans are the most entertained and least informed people in the world. They may have opinions about events happening in the Middle East and other areas, but these opinions are very different from eighteenth and nineteenth century opinions – they are more emotions than opinions, since they do not know much about what is really happening in Iran, for example, what their beliefs are, or even what their political history is.

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.

There is nothing Orwellian about this situation, the president does not control the press, the New York Times is not Pravda, and the Associated Press is not Tass. There is no Newspeak. Lies have not been defined as truth, or truth as lies. What has happened is that the public has adjusted to incoherence and has become amuse into indifference. Aldous Huxley would have been less surprised by this story – he prophesied its coming.

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show BusinessChapter 7: Now… This (Amusing Ourselves to Death) 1

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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