the New Pantagruel

Hymns in the Whorehouse

A Tribute to Neil Postman, page 3

by Read Mercer Schuchardt


That last sentence, where Neil acknowledges the possibility that he may be mistaken, with the phrase, “even if I am wrong in these conjectures,” was the essence of what made him such a great force in teaching. He felt things strongly, and articulated them wisely—often with a wink and a smile—but was always willing to concede the possibility that his feelings were stronger than his facts, which made us all the more likely to agree with him, and admit, that at the end of the day, we largely felt the same way about the world. I remember what he said about marriage in his class Language and Human Behavior—that what made a good marriage was neither a set of gender roles nor a pretense to equality in all things, but an agreement by each spouse with themselves and each other on just what roles each would play. He illustrated this by telling us of his dinner with Al Gore. The then-Vice President was standing in the middle of three or four guests, exchanging political quips when his wife came up to him and said, “Do you hear those kids? Go upstairs and tell them to quiet down.” Whereupon, Neil related, Mr. Gore’s VP hat came off and his agreed role as father and household lawgiver took over: far from being humiliated by his wife in public at a politically significant moment, the Vice President immediately bounded upstairs and took care of his children. Neil said he thought it was that kind of flexibility that made for a good marriage. His lifelong marriage to his wife Shelley, who I only met once (at the 5th anniversary of the Media Ecology Association at Fordham University, a month before Neil died), seemed to have a similar flexibility and underlying commitment.

Neil Postman put me on the path of my life. There are many in my shoes, and many whose lives he impacted in other significant ways. To those he inspired by thought, word, book, and deed, his own life was a gift, for which we are all grateful.

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