The Sunday Magazine

How Neil Postman predicted TV could create a Donald Trump

The seminal argument about celebrity's corrosive effect on society was developed by the late media theorist and cultural critic Neil Postman, in his 1985 book, Amusing Ourselves To Death. His son Andrew Postman says his father's ideas — now magnified by social media — explain Donald Trump's meteoric metamorphosis from reality TV star to the world's most powerful man.

Neil Postman's "Amusing Ourselves to Death" posits that TV and celebrity corrode public discourse.

Donald Trump attends the first stop of the 16 city 'The Apprentice' Recruiting Tour on July 9, 2004 at Universal Studios Hollywood in Universal City, California. (Amanda Edwards/Getty Images))

In 1985, media theorist and professor Neil Postman published Amusing Ourselves to Death.

It was a searing indictment of the influence of television, a medium that cultivated style over substance, not just in the world of entertainment, but in decisions of profound public importance — such as the election of a president of the United States.

He described our trajectory from a society dependent on the printed word to television, which spawned an electorate with the attention span of a goldfish — hooked on messages that are short, shiny and memorable. This, he argued, has had profound consequences on our collective wisdom, on our public priorities and on our political leadership.

Neil Postman died of lung cancer in 2003. Three years later, a twentieth anniversary edition of Amusing Ourselves to Death appeared, with an introduction by his son, author Andrew Postman.

Michael spoke to Andrew Postman about how his late father's ideas explain Donald Trump's meteoric metamorphosis from reality TV star to the world's most powerful man.

Click the 'play' button above to hear Michael's interview with Andrew Postman. 


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