Watching (or truthfully trying to avoid watching) coverage of Michael Jackson’s memorial service made me think of how inundated we are with celebrity news, with gossip, with pop culture and how glutted we are by it. We read celebrity blogs instead of classics. We are drawn to what is new rather than what is old. We get our news from Comedy Central and SNL. We are a society that, in many ways, no longer thinks for ourselves.
Neil Postman in Amusing Ourselves To Death: Public Discourse In The Age of Show Business points out the difference between two apocalyptic scenarios given in George Orwell’s 1984 which predicts a society that is ruled by a totalitarian regime. We’ve avoided that, but Postman says we have forgotten Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World which describes a self-imposed captivity.
As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their captives 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.
In the United States we have avoided totalitarianism only to find ourselves enslaved by our own trivial desires.