Commentary: "I don't want to be amused to death"

Jul 14, 2009

MURRAY, KY – We have a well-entertained electorate.

There has never been so many people with so many ways to amuse themselves than Americans today. John Lennon is quoted as saying that life is what happens when you're busy making other plans. Sometimes I think life is what happens when we're busy being entertained.

I recently, and finally, read Neil Postman's 1986 book amusing ourselves to death. The book is subtitled: public discourse in the age of show business. Postman's major premise is that for anything to have value in our culture, it must be highly entertaining. Anything that is not entertaining is minimized or simply ignored.

Serious things like war, the economy, health-care, and Supreme Court decisions just aren't sexy enough to hold our attention for long. And when these things are reported upon, we expect that reporting to be amusing. Commercial broadcasters are especially oriented toward the "show business" part of this public discourse. They don't give us news. They give us infotainment.

I don't want to be amused to death. I want to be informed. I want news. Real news. From around the world and from within my community. I want to know about the major issues of the day, presented with context and analysis. Give me perspective, not opinion. Give me interviews, not sound bites. I can get entertainment anywhere. News is hard to come by.

That's why I'm pleased to hear about WKMS's expanded news programming. Real news. From National Public Radio, Public Radio international, American Public Media, the BBC, and the local news that I need from WKMS.

It was this news service we all needed in the after-math of last winter's ice storm. XM satellite radio was still providing any type of music you might want to hear. Satellite and broadcast television were as absent as the electricity.
But WKMS news was in operation, telling us where to find water, food and fuel. WKMS reported on emergency services and the efforts to restore electrical power.

Suddenly, our emphasis on entertainment evaporated as we realized the real need for information. Although the ice-storm crisis has passed, our need for information has not.

Our country is struggling: Unemployment, foreclosures, the deficit, bank bailouts and fraud, war, health-care reform, Afganistan, North Korea and Iran, our enormous debt to China. The stakes are high and impact us all. We need information. We need to be an informed electorate, not an entertained one. Again, WKMS is stepping in to fill the gap with news programs like: NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered," Public Radio International's "The World" and "Marketplace." And originating from WKMS, "The Front Page."

This point here is not that news is good and entertainment is bad. Rather, the concern is that an exclusive diet of entertainment or even info-tainment comes at the expense of being informed.
Since Postman's "Amusing Ourselves to Death" was first published in 1986, our culture has placed an increasingly higher premium on entertainment. Consider the media's preoccupation with the lives of celebrities and that fact that you can watch movies on your cell phone. Postman's assertion that we are amusing ourselves to death describes the consequences to a nation that is too distracted from reality. Fortunately, I think there is an antidote a life-saver for those of us amusing ourselves to death: News from WKMS.
Where else will you find in-depth news? Where else will you find comprehensive news coverage that provides meaningful discussion of important issues? Borrowing from Postman's subtitle, where else will you find public discourse in the age of show business?

The truth is you have a staggering number of entertainment choices. But, real news is rare a scarcity. And now WKMS is giving us more of it at a time when we need it most.

This is Kevin Qualls hoping that you found this commentary to be informative.