Online reading group and book discussion forum
  HOME FORUMS BOOKS LINKS DONATE ADVERTISE CONTACT  
View unanswered posts | View active topics It is currently Tue Sep 30, 2014 8:50 am

BookTalk.org Links 
Forum Rules & Tips
Frequently Asked Questions
BBCode Explained
Info for Authors & Publishers
Featured Book Suggestions
Author Interview Transcripts
Be a Book Discussion Leader!
    

Love to talk about books but don't have time for our book discussion forums? For casual book talk join us on Facebook.


Featured Books

Books by New Authors



Rationally Speaking
a monthly e-column by
Dr. Massimo Pigliucci

Author Biography      Column Index
# 60 April 2005 Useless feats Join Discussion

I may be going out on a limb here, but I just don't get it. I have just watched the ABC News coverage of millionaire Steve Fosset's solo flight around the world without refueling a plane. To put it bluntly: who cares? In the past few years we have seen people getting to the North Pole, around the world, on top of Mount Everest (all for the nth time), while abiding to a variety of artificial restrictions, just to make it a little bit interesting.




While these actions are billed by the media as stunts of human ingenuity, endurance, and courage, they are largely entertainment. Dangerous entertainment, but entertainment nonetheless. What really made history and made us feel part of a species that could achieve incredible feats was the first time that somebody – against all odds – reached the peak of the Himalaya, the Moon, and what not. But doing it again equipped with sophisticated electronic gadgets, under continuous satellite surveillance, with a bunch of sponsor's logos while hopping on a single foot? That's entertainment.

Not that there is anything wrong with entertainment, of course. Leisure is a fundamental element of what makes our lives interesting and lively – if we live in a part of the world where we can afford to maintain a class of professional entertainers (or academics such as myself, for that matter!). But as conservative social commentator Neil Postman aptly put it in the title of one of his books, we are turning into a society that is entertaining itself to death. Moreover, such entertainment is more and more based on blurring the distinction between reality and fiction, witness for example the infamous “reality shows” that keep afflicting our airwaves.

Take the Marta Stewart case. The Queen of Proper Manners who was convicted of lying to federal prosecutors about a stock sale is about to leave prison at the time of this writing. Now ABC's Good Morning America promises “to be there” for us, to cover every minute of the “event” and give us a glimpse of how Martha survived a few months of relatively cozy confinement, and of course to get the exclusive on her plans for prime time TV and the taking back of her financial empire. Moreover, a few days ago Newsweek run a cover story on Martha entitled “Martha's Last Laugh,” in which they were suggesting that the time spent in prison may actually end up having a positive effect on the celebrity's career outlook. That may be true, but what wasn't quite true was the photo of Martha featured on Newsweek's cover. You see, it wasn't really Martha, not entirely. The face was hers, but the body was somebody else's, an anonymous woman whose body was presumably chosen to highlight the subtitle of the story: “After prison she's thinner, wealthier and ready for prime time.” When asked about what should have been a big embarrassment for her weekly (which, after all, ain't no National Enquirer), assistant managing editor Lynn Stanley shamelessly pointed out that Newsweek clearly stated in the credits (in tiny font) that the cover “photo” was actually a “photo illustration.” Whatever.

The point is that we keep spending more and more time in a fantasy world constructed by the mass entertainment media for the sole purpose of selling us merchandise and make money in countless other ways. We actually think that Michael Jackson's trial is worthy of daily attention, to the point that the E! Channel is going so far as broadcasting a daily reenactment of the court proceedings, featuring a Jackson impersonator. Our dream vacations are to be spent at Disney World or Las Vegas, the quintessential realms of tackiness and fake. A frequent commercial for a well known hotel chain keeps telling us “I've been everywhere,” while showing us shots of a couple visiting replicas of famous places or monuments, from Paris, Texas to the Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee. And so it endlessly goes.

This, unfortunately, isn't just happening in the United States of America. Thanks to the US's aggressive export of its own cultural icons, Disney World can be found outside of Paris (France), of all places. Japanese consumers (have you noticed how rarely we use the word “citizen” anymore?) are legendary for soaking up everything American, and now even Egypt, with its culturally and religiously conservative community, has seen the appearance of Western-style comic books and super-heroes (though apparently the Middle Eastern variety fights Zionists, rather than communists or terrorists).

Back to the US: have you had the stomach lately of watching one of the major morning “news” shows that pride themselves in bringing you what you really ought to know about the world? No matter whether your favorite hosts work for ABC, CBS, NBC or even CNN (I will not consider Fox News, which is quite simply an insult to human reason), you will find only shallow entertainment dressed up as news. Ironically, in fact, a recent survey found that viewers of Comedy Central's The Daily Show with John Stewart are more informed about events and national news than people who watch the “serious” news outlets. Ouch!

In The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri has Odysseus defend his choice of life by saying “Fatti non foste per viver come bruti, ma per seguir virtute e canoscenza” (You were not made to live like brutes, but to pursue virtue and knowledge), a calling for which the mythical Greek hero paid the high price of wandering for ten years away from home, hopping from one dangerous adventure to another. The thing is, Odysseus didn't have CNN to follow his escape from the Cyclops, nor was his ship emblazoned with the Coca-Cola logo while perilously avoiding the two monsters Scylla and Charybdis. Of course, Odysseus himself was the child of Homer's (not Simpson) imagination, and hence a form of entertainment. But do you really think that Michael Jackson's exploits will be remembered for thousands of years to come? Let's hope not.

Back to Article Index | Home






BookTalk.org is a free book discussion group or online reading group or book club. We read and talk about both fiction and non-fiction books as a group. We host live author chats where booktalk members can interact with and interview authors. We give away free books to our members in book giveaway contests. Our booktalks are open to everybody who enjoys talking about books. Our book forums include book reviews, author interviews and book resources for readers and book lovers. Discussing books is our passion. We're a literature forum, or reading forum. Register a free book club account today! Suggest nonfiction and fiction books. Authors and publishers are welcome to advertise their books or ask for an author chat or author interview.


Navigation 
MAIN NAVIGATION

HOMEFORUMSBOOKSTRANSCRIPTSOLD FORUMSADVERTISELINKSFAQDONATETERMS OF USEPRIVACY POLICY

BOOK FORUMS FOR ALL BOOKS WE HAVE DISCUSSED
Oliver Twist - by Charles DickensSense and Goodness Without God - by Richard CarrierFrankenstein - by Mary ShelleyThe Big Questions - by Simon BlackburnScience Was Born of Christianity - by Stacy TrasancosThe Happiness Hypothesis - by Jonathan HaidtA Game of Thrones - by George R. R. MartinTempesta's Dream - by Vincent LoCocoWhy Nations Fail - by Daron Acemoglu and James RobinsonThe Drowning Girl - Caitlin R. KiernanThe Consolations of the Forest - by Sylvain TessonThe Complete Heretic's Guide to Western Religion: The Mormons - by David FitzgeraldA Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - by James JoyceThe Divine Comedy - by Dante AlighieriThe Magic of Reality - by Richard DawkinsDubliners - by James JoyceMy Name Is Red - by Orhan PamukThe World Until Yesterday - by Jared DiamondThe Man Who Was Thursday - by by G. K. ChestertonThe Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven PinkerLord Jim by Joseph ConradThe Hobbit by J. R. R. TolkienThe Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas AdamsAtlas Shrugged by Ayn RandThinking, Fast and Slow - by Daniel KahnemanThe Righteous Mind - by Jonathan HaidtWorld War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max BrooksMoby Dick: or, the Whale by Herman MelvilleA Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer EganLost Memory of Skin: A Novel by Russell BanksThe Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. KuhnHobbes: Leviathan by Thomas HobbesThe House of the Spirits - by Isabel AllendeArguably: Essays by Christopher HitchensThe Falls: A Novel (P.S.) by Joyce Carol OatesChrist in Egypt by D.M. MurdockThe Glass Bead Game: A Novel by Hermann HesseA Devil's Chaplain by Richard DawkinsThe Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph CampbellThe Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor DostoyevskyThe Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark TwainThe Moral Landscape by Sam HarrisThe Decameron by Giovanni BoccaccioThe Road by Cormac McCarthyThe Grand Design by Stephen HawkingThe Evolution of God by Robert WrightThe Tin Drum by Gunter GrassGood Omens by Neil GaimanPredictably Irrational by Dan ArielyThe Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel by Haruki MurakamiALONE: Orphaned on the Ocean by Richard Logan & Tere Duperrault FassbenderDon Quixote by Miguel De CervantesMusicophilia by Oliver SacksDiary of a Madman and Other Stories by Nikolai GogolThe Passion of the Western Mind by Richard TarnasThe Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le GuinThe Genius of the Beast by Howard BloomAlice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll Empire of Illusion by Chris HedgesThe Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner The Extended Phenotype by Richard DawkinsSmoke and Mirrors by Neil GaimanThe Selfish Gene by Richard DawkinsWhen Good Thinking Goes Bad by Todd C. RinioloHouse of Leaves by Mark Z. DanielewskiAmerican Gods: A Novel by Neil GaimanPrimates and Philosophers by Frans de WaalThe Enormous Room by E.E. CummingsThe Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar WildeGod Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher HitchensThe Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama Paradise Lost by John Milton Bad Money by Kevin PhillipsThe Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson BurnettGodless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists by Dan BarkerThe Things They Carried by Tim O'BrienThe Limits of Power by Andrew BacevichLolita by Vladimir NabokovOrlando by Virginia Woolf On Being Certain by Robert A. Burton50 reasons people give for believing in a god by Guy P. HarrisonWalden: Or, Life in the Woods by Henry David ThoreauExile and the Kingdom by Albert CamusOur Inner Ape by Frans de WaalYour Inner Fish by Neil ShubinNo Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthyThe Age of American Unreason by Susan JacobyTen Theories of Human Nature by Leslie Stevenson & David HabermanHeart of Darkness by Joseph ConradThe Stuff of Thought by Stephen PinkerA Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled HosseiniThe Lucifer Effect by Philip ZimbardoResponsibility and Judgment by Hannah ArendtInterventions by Noam ChomskyGodless in America by George A. RickerReligious Expression and the American Constitution by Franklyn S. HaimanDeep Economy by Phil McKibbenThe God Delusion by Richard DawkinsThe Third Chimpanzee by Jared DiamondThe Woman in the Dunes by Abe KoboEvolution vs. Creationism by Eugenie C. ScottThe Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael PollanI, Claudius by Robert GravesBreaking The Spell by Daniel C. DennettA Peace to End All Peace by David FromkinThe Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey NiffeneggerThe End of Faith by Sam HarrisEnder's Game by Orson Scott CardThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark HaddonValue and Virtue in a Godless Universe by Erik J. WielenbergThe March by E. L DoctorowThe Ethical Brain by Michael GazzanigaFreethinkers: A History of American Secularism by Susan JacobyCollapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared DiamondThe Battle for God by Karen ArmstrongThe Future of Life by Edward O. WilsonWhat is Good? by A. C. GraylingCivilization and Its Enemies by Lee HarrisPale Blue Dot by Carl SaganHow We Believe: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God by Michael ShermerLooking for Spinoza by Antonio DamasioLies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them by Al FrankenThe Red Queen by Matt RidleyThe Blank Slate by Stephen PinkerUnweaving the Rainbow by Richard DawkinsAtheism: A Reader edited by S.T. JoshiGlobal Brain by Howard BloomThe Lucifer Principle by Howard BloomGuns, Germs and Steel by Jared DiamondThe Demon-Haunted World by Carl SaganBury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee BrownFuture Shock by Alvin Toffler

OTHER PAGES WORTH EXPLORING
Banned Book ListOur Amazon.com SalesMassimo Pigliucci Rationally SpeakingOnline Reading GroupTop 10 Atheism BooksFACTS Book Selections

cron
Copyright © BookTalk.org 2002-2014. All rights reserved.
Website developed by MidnightCoder.ca
Display Pagerank