This essay provides an introduction to the ways in which Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman has been applied to Chinese cultural studies, and especially to media studies. It argues that the emerging phenomenon of “amusing ourselves to death” in China is fundamentally different from the phenomenon of “amusing ourselves to death” in the United States and that this difference has been masked by the decontextualized mechanical application of Western cultural theories, an increasingly common practice in Chinese cultural studies. In fact, Chinese-style “amusing ourselves to death” is a combination of George Orwell’s Big Brother and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, as well as a product of Chinese post-totalitarianism or, in other words, of advanced totalitarianism. As such, it resembles neither a totalitarian culture of the Stalinist model nor an American-style “amusing ourselves to death,” but rather a new culture that combines totalitarianism and consumerism and that calls for theoretical innovations and reconstructions in cultural studies.
Understanding Our Own “Death by Amusement”: The Hijacking of a Western Cultural Theory in China
Tao Dongfeng is a distinguished professor of Chinese literature and cultural studies at the Institute for Cultural Studies at Capital Normal University in Beijing. He is also the editor- in-chief of the Chinese journal Cultural Studies. His recent books include Cultural Criticism in Contemporary China (2006), Literature and Culture from the Perspective of Social Theory (2002), Cultural Studies: West and China (2002), and Literary Criticism and Public Discourse (2012).
Tao Dongfeng; Understanding Our Own “Death by Amusement”: The Hijacking of a Western Cultural Theory in China. Cultural Politics 1 July 2014; 10 (2): 194–205. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/17432197-2651774
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