Aesthetics or Epistemology?
Mr. Postman addresses the question:
from Amusing Ourselves to DeathWhat is notable here is not that it is not an exploration of a cultural wasteland in aesthetics, but rather in a rather more serious aspect of our theory and understanding of knowledge. And when that theory takes seriously such things as Supernanny, The Apprentice, and Cleaning House. We have moved beyond a theory of beauty into the theory of what is real and what comprises knowledge. Add to that the fact that many college graduates have gotten used to gleaning what they "know" from such sources as wikipedia and other internet archives and compendia. Primary sources seem to vanish under the welter of opinion and opinion wearing a thin skin of "objectivity" to become fact. You can find holocaust deniers, hydrogen peroxide drinkers, chelation therapy fanatics, and flat-earthers by the score. This doesn't even begin to count conspiracy theorists, moon-landing deniers (perhaps one of the scarier trends, because it is one that could be the fate of all of us in this new world of easily doctored photographs AND video). What are we to make up the information glut that provides no real information, but a ton of conjecture wrapped around a sentence fragment of uncited "information." And then there is the problem I have commonly in the post-modern world--how do I know if this work I just read represents conjecture, opinion, or reliable research? How do three people look at the same information and come up with the very different pictures they do of Pope Pius XII, unless they have arrived at their conclusions and back up to the facts that support them? How can we know the truth in the world of the internet?
. . . I must first explain that my focus is on epistemology, not on aesthetics or literary criticism. Indeed, I appreciate junk as much as the next fellow, and I know full well that the printing press has generated enough of it to fill the Grand Canyon to overflowing. Television is not old enough to have matched printing's output of junk.
And so, I raise no objection to television's junk. The best things on television are its junk, and no one and nothing is seriously threatened by it. Besides we do not measure a culture by its output of undisguised trivialities but by what it claims as significant. Therein is our problem, for television is at its most trivial and, therefore, most dangerous when its aspirations are high, when it presents itself as a carrier of important cultural conversations.