In the previous Neil Postman-inspired blog post, I attempted to demonstrate that our culture’s dominant means of communication infiltrate the fantasy worlds that captivate our imaginations. It was an argument in tacit agreement with Postman’s claim that the dominant medium becomes our cultural “command center.” In this post, however, I am disagreeing with Postman’s essential argument from Amusing Ourselves to Death that “under the governance of television,” discourse in America “has become shriveled and absurd” (16). Postman was right in the 1980s and 1990s, but his argument doesn’t hold up in the long term because he failed to make two essential predictions: quality television and convergence culture.
Television’s Golden Age
In the media marathoning manuscript, I argue that the practice of marathoning helps readers to work through complex questions of morality. The golden age of television boasts Breaking Bad, Dexter, The Walking Dead and other texts that present us with morally ambiguous characters who often find themselves making difficult choices in untenable positions. We are not watching Kelly Kapowski’s absurd conundrum of choosing between Zack and Slater. We’re looking at momentous issues of life, death, love, and loss. And why can we now engage with these topics on television? Because of convergence culture.
It is not television’s inane subject matter that Postman warns about, but rather television’s means of communication that favors a particular packaging of information. More specifically, he argues that television favors silly and absurd discourse. I argue that television can now carry a productive conversation about morality. Television can do this because its words, ideas, and images are no longer fleeing. Streaming services and DVRs (the stuff of convergence culture) make it “possible and convenient to subject thought to a continuous and concentrated scrutiny” (Postman 12)—characteristics Postman praises about the written word. You can marathon and focus on a cohesive story world. You can re-marathon and scrutinize a text. And, because a marathoned story often takes over your thoughts, you can dedicate long Thanksgiving car rides to a discussion about the plot lines in your current favorite show.
I recently initiated a Walking Dead-inspired conversation with my husband about un-medicated limb amputation, euthanasia, and zombie apocalypse survival. He offered an alternative I had not considered, saying he thinks he “could do pretty well as a zombie.” My husband’s choice was not one that I considered to be on the table. And, high-quality, scrutinizable TV was not a choice Postman predicted to be on the table in the future. This holiday season, I give thanks that convergence culture, and not the zombie apocalypse, is upon us.