Media Critic Neil Postman Gives A Masterclass In Communication
This 1988 interview clip with late professor and media critic Neil Postman is brilliant on two levels— (1) what the message is and (2) how it's delivered.
When I see something well-communicated, I like to:
Notice what about it pulled me
Brainstorm how I could replicate the tactic
I call this Idea Connoisseurship. It's about consuming not just for message, but also for craft.
And, I think it's a critical but forgotten stage of thought leadership. The more Idea Connoisseurship we do, the more we:
Develop our voice by understanding what we like and don't.
Understand what works and what doesn't on a craft level.
Normally, I just keep these thoughts for myself and students in my thought leadership course, but I thought I'd do a little experiment, share what I notice, and see if it's helpful in this context.
If I get good feedback on it, I’ll do more Idea Connoisseurship posts like this.
Insight #1. Postman is embarrassed by the news
I try never to watch television when it's serious because I always find that an embarrassment when people like Tom Brokaw or Walter Cronkite pretend that they're doing something serious. I'm always embarrassed by that and prefer to watch old movies and sports.
Sharing the emotion of embarrassment immediately roped me in. Most of the time, people share whether they (dis)like or (dis)agree with something, but they don't share emotions like embarrassment.
Not only that, Postman uses embarrassment in a unique way. We're normally just embarrassed by things we or people we know do. We're not embarrassed by strangers or institutions (ie - second-hand embarrassment).
I also find it interesting how he doubles down by saying he prefers movies/sports over the top news anchors of the time. It would be normal to compare a movie and a sport, because they're both entertainment. But, Postman puts the "serious" news in the entertainment bucket, which is an insult because the news takes itself so seriously. Then, he says that even as entertainment, it's not as good as movies or sports. So, it's a double insult.
In just two sentences, Postman pulls me and communicates a ton. He signals that he isn't a dry academic speaker. Rather, he signals that he's not afraid to speak his mind even if it breaks cultural taboos (ie - insulting the media while on a media show).
A lot of thought leadership is about standing out. And, on a fundamental level, we can't stand out unless we're different. Postman's quote shows me that we can standout on several dimensions beyond just the idea.
We can express unique emotions in unique ways
We can make unusual connections between things
We can callout people and institutions who we view as culpable