A Classic Print vs. Television Debate

The debate between Neil Postman and Camille Paglia displays a classic argument between the ideals of print and television. Yet the debate goes beyond a mere clash between these two mediums. While the discussion of the mediums took the forefront, the arguments presented were done by two different people living in two different times. Although there is only a small gaps in years between Postman and Paglia, the rapidly changing times that separate them contain a battle between traditional and modern cultures. Both debaters present a valid case, yet in the end Paglia clearly wins over Postman; her wide variety of techniques winning over the narrow viewpoint of Postman.

Although both debaters begin on fairly equal ground, it is when the baked sea urchin is served that Paglia forces Postman to go on the defensive. The introduction to the article “Two Cultures – Television versus Print” points out that Paglia’s approach employs “a rush of images, juxtapositions, and verbal jump cuts.” Paglia clearly displays her versatile skill by jumping from dancers and education, to an attack on what she believes to be a narrow-minded view that Postman’s generation holds:

“I’ve found that most people born before World War II are turned off by themodern media. They can’t understand how we who were born after the war canread a book and watch TV at the same time. But we can.”

After Paglia’s sudden offense, Postman attempts to adopt a similar strategy by debunking television and claiming it to be pointless in aspects such as advertising. Unfortunately for Postman this only plays directly into Paglia’s versatility. Paglia enters into long sweeping monologues in which she dances between ideas and throws multiple examples that counter Postman’s narrow-minded ideas on Television. She continues this into the seared scallops section, with her brilliant wordplay and constant of ideas and images with Postman quickly reduced to a mere spectator.

Postman does manage to regain some ground shortly thereafter with a comment about the absurd nature of Charlie’s Angels:

“At the end, they shoehorn in a vestigial narrative. Once I saw an episode in which, in order to explain everything, the voice at the end had to mention characters and action that hadn’t even been in the program…Those sixty secondsbefore the credits – when the show was actually already over – were meant to givea show about hair a sense of sense of logic or coherence.”

Yet even after this great point, Paglia manages to twist it into something positive. She points out that this idea of hair has had a lasting impact on society.

Paglia’s barrage of examples and images continues through the rest of the debate, and Postman is simple unable to keep up with this new line of reasoning. Postman’s archaic views on society simply cannot hold a candle to the changing face of media that Paglia represents. Although the printed word will likely remain an influential media for some time to come, Paglia’s ideas of a flood of images through the television medium often holds a greater impact on the more recent generations.

Works Cited:

Paglia, Camille and Neil Postman. “Two Cultures – Television versus Print.” Communication in History. Comp. David Crowley and Paul Heyer. New York: Pearson Education Inc., 2007.



Filed under Miscellaneous

3 responses to “A Classic Print vs. Television Debate

  1. Anna

    You make some great points and support Pagila well. However, you don’t mention the irony that television and advertisement all boil down to words. Images are scripted and edited in print before they go onto the screen. The power of an image can also be evoked by a good reader, in the same manner as Pagila speaks. BUT, does not she read her notes, write her books? Perhaps Postman was not all wrong. What do you make of the quick emotional jumps television precipitates? You analyze Pagila’s ideas well and with an open eye; perhaps give the same treatment to Postman. You may not find him right but his points may mesh with her’s better.

  2. easieli

    I totally agree with your argument; Paglia won the argument. However, do you really think that she won the battle of ideas? Being able to confound an elderly man over dinner by jumping from idea to idea, regardless of their validity, doesn’t indicate a better argument. Just because the hair of Charlie’s Angels has had an impact on society, does not mean it is a point in television’s favor. What are some of the specific images or wordplays that convinced you of Paglia’s point?

  3. Angela

    I think it’s interesting that you mention how Postman and Paglia presented their arguments separated by a few years, but how because times change so rapidly, the argument could be interpreted as traditional(print) vs. modern(television) culture. This raises the further argument of how the argument between Postman and Paglia, and ultimately the “winner,” would be different had Postman and Paglia lived during the same time.

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