Social critic Neil Postman contrasted the futures predicted in Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World in the foreword of his 1985 book, Amusing Ourselves to Death. He wrote:
"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 egotism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance."
Neil Postman's book, (1985), had its origins at the Frankfurt Book Fair, where Postman was invited to join a panel discussing George Orwell's . He said that our present situation was better predicted by Huxley's . Today, he maintained, it is not fear that bars us from truth. Instead, truth is drowned in distractions and the pursuit of pleasure, by the public's addiction to amusement.
Postman sees television as the modern equivalent of Huxley's pleasure-inducing drug, soma, and he maintains that that television, as a medium, is intrinsically superficial and unable to discuss serious issues. Looking at television as it is today, one must agree with him.
The Wealth and Power of the Establishment
The media are a battleground where reformers struggle for attention but are defeated with great regularity by the wealth and power of the establishment. This is a tragedy because today there is an urgent need to make public opinion aware of the serious problems facing civilization and the steps that are needed to solve these problems. The mass media could potentially be a great force for public education but in general, their role is not only unhelpful–it is often negative. War and conflict are blatantly advertised by television and newspapers.
Newspapers and War
There is a true story about the powerful newspaper owner William Randolph Hearst that illustrates the relationship between the mass media and the institution of war: When an explosion sank the American warship USS Maine in the harbor of Havana, Hearst anticipated (and desired) that the incident would lead to war between the United States and Spain. He therefore sent his best illustrator, Fredrick Remington, to Havana to produce drawings of the scene. After a few days in Havana, Remington cabled to Hearst, "All's quiet here. There will be no war." Hearst cabled back, "You supply the pictures. I'll supply the war." Hearst was true to his words. His newspapers inflamed American public opinion to such an extent that the Spanish-American War became inevitable. During the course of the war, Hearst sold many newspapers and Remington many drawings. From this story, one might almost conclude that newspapers thrive on war, while war thrives on newspapers.
Before the advent of widely read newspapers, European wars tended to be fought by mercenary soldiers, recruited from the lowest ranks of society and motivated by financial considerations. The emotions of the population were not aroused by such limited and decorous wars. However, the French Revolution and the power of newspapers changed this situation; war became a total phenomenon that involved emotions. The media were able to mobilize on a huge scale the communal defense mechanism that Konrad Lorenz called "militant enthusiasm"–self-sacrifice for the defense of the tribe. It did not escape the notice of politicians that control of the media is the key to political power in the modern world. For example, Hitler was extremely conscious of the force of propaganda, and it became one of his favorite instruments for exerting power.