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Globalization in Bentham’s Panopticon and Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death” Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Dec 31st, 2020

Introduction

In contemporary times, the phenomenon of globalization has had great impacts on the world economy, global trade, currency, and communication. In Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon, Jeremy made visibility a kind of trap. Visibility among prisoners made them control their behaviors as they were constantly being watched. In this case, visibility was a mechanism of endearing the public to the authorities, homogenizing societal behaviors, and limiting people’s autonomy (Bentham 32).

In contrast, Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, the public was oppressed by their addiction to media, particularly television entertainment. Based on these readings, this paper makes three main arguments; first, that Panopticon control exists in contemporary society as well, especially with regard to our online culture; second, online surveillance and data mining by law enforcement make the public conform, as complete anonymity is not possible; and third, television commercials have implications on public life and modern politics.

The Panopticon Writings

Bentham’s panopticon was a structure with a central tower where the warders could see each prisoner. It represented an inclination of society towards normalizing behavior and discouraging dissent. In contemporary terms, it is a symbol of disciplinary power, a form of control. The panopticon building provides a surveillance environment where inmates or people are conscious of their behavior (Bentham 54). According to Bentham, the authority should be visible and felt by all prisoners. The panopticon perfected the operations of power as it reduced the number of staff/warders operating it as well as the number of prisoners under control.

In different aspects, the theoretical basis of panopticon lies in how punishment and control work in contemporary society. Modern society, as sophisticated as it is, offers many opportunities for control that compel subjects to conform to the “norm.” While this is largely true in most prisons, the deployment of panoptic systems such as surveillance by closed-circuit television cameras in cities is indeed an extension of the dominating power of law enforcement authorities.

Similarly, panoptic observation has been extended to online users. People feel that their online activities are being monitored. Even in institutions, ISPs record the user’s activities through an account tied to a specific computer. Moreover, organizations use cookies to compile the user’s profiles, and data mine their buying practices. Law enforcement also monitors online users in the pretext of preventing criminal activities or terrorism.

Through the Internet Protocol addresses, online activities can be traced to a particular identity. Thus, with this form of surveillance, the public has to conform, which is to engage in simple and acceptable activities when online so as not to stand out. Individuals have to monitor their own behavior and autonomy to ensure that they coincide with societal expectations. This has the effect of controlling than freeing people as it forces them to control their behavior, as well as those of others. Dissents or those who act differently are treated with suspicion. This enhances conformity at the expense of diversity. Moreover, contemporary society, through techniques such as identification documents and passports, pushes the public towards a panopticon-like state, where visibility enhances conformity (Barton 163).

Amusing Ourselves to Death

The main cause of problems that contemporary society is facing emanates from the medium through which these problems are presented to the public. The digital age has not only resulted in the proliferation of information sources but has created a new discourse where even serious issues are packaged as entertainment products. This has resulted in an age dominated by show business at the expense of intellectual and spiritual growth.

Neil Postman compares utopian and contemporary societies. He argues that public addiction to television entertainment has become a means through which people voluntarily sacrifice their individual rights (Postman 78). The central argument extended in this book is that “form excludes content” (Postman 26). In other words, television news is a form of a packaged commodity for the target audience. Thus, information on religion or politics is diluted to suit or entertain the target audience. Television sacrifices the quality of the information in a bid to satisfy the far-reaching entertainment needs of the audience (Postman 89).

Television news presentation often is accompanied by theme music and commercials, which erode the conditions for rational criticism and intellectual involvement. As societal issues have remained constant with time, cultural aspect has evolved and changed typography, thus appealing to rationality and passion of the television medium.

Presentation of programs such as educational, religious and the news is central to Postman. Television has incorporated entertainment in all programs including programs that, previously, represented serious issues of our culture (Postman 72). This has caused serious implications on public life in America, both spiritually and intellectually. Of particular importance is the impact of television on modern politics, which are closely linked to what people see on television commercials.

According to Postman, television commercials are representations of the many aspects of political discourse in America (91). Indeed, in the capitalist economy, competing business interests among manufacturers has undermined the very spirit of capitalism and to some extent, the democratic process. Modern politicians are like celebrities, who crave media attention and have little, if any, interests or plans to improve the lives of the populace.

Works Cited

Barton, Ben. “Modes of Power in Technical and Professional Visuals.” Journal of Business and Technical Communication 7.1 (1993): 138-162. Print.

Bentham, Jeremy. The Panopticon Writings. New York: Verso Publisher, 1995. Print.

Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Discourse in the Age of Show Business. New York: Penguin Group, 1985, 26-97. Print.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Globalization in Bentham’s Panopticon and Postman’s "Amusing Ourselves to Death"." December 31, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/globalization-in-benthams-panopticon-and-postmans-amusing-ourselves-to-death/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Globalization in Bentham’s Panopticon and Postman’s "Amusing Ourselves to Death"'. 31 December.

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