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TV weight loss: Neil Postman recommends consuming less Dr. Oz to stay fit

During a recent Senate hearing investigating false advertising for weight-loss products, Sen. Claire McCaskill, chair of the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Insurance, admonished Dr. Mehmet Oz, host of "The Dr. Oz Show," to glow about how good walking and biking make you feel instead of how quickly elixir x or y melt away the fat, according to The Huffington Post. But how would unexceptional and boring advice to exercise regularly and eat sensibly affect the ratings for the good doctor's show?

His ratings would likely plummet without the sensationalized get-thin-quick gimmicks he and other television doctors often promote. "Miracle" weight-loss products surprise and awe his television audience, one that arguably confuses being well entertained with being well informed.

In his seminal 1985 analysis of the adverse effects of television on public discourse titled "Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business," the late media theorist and culture critic, Neil Postman, cautioned that the entertainment mandate of television programming degrades discourse on matters of public import, such as politics, education and health.

On a TV program, a communications medium whose main business is show business, entertainment value and brevity trump substance and critical thinking, according to Postman. Viewers tune in to "The Dr. Oz Show" for his striking good looks, his charismatic and "passionate" oratory and the surprise value of the content of each episode.

Dr. Oz protested to the Senate committee that he "passionately studies" and "believes in" the products he's promoted on his show, so much so that he has even "given [his] family" the products specifically mentioned by the lawmakers. He acknowledged, however, that he may have erred by using "flowery language" to promote the products in order "to engage viewers."

In one case he promoted a "fat-burner" called "Pure Green Coffee" (green coffee bean extract), but in May of 2014 the Federal Trade Commission sued those behind "Pure Green Coffee" for, in part, making "bogus weight-loss claims" about the product.

Sen. McCaskill pointed out that "The scientific community is almost monolithic against [Dr. Oz] in terms of the efficacy of … three products [he] called 'miracles" on his show and website, showing apparent concern that many viewers under the influence of what's known as the "Oz Effect" would try to get thin by consuming ineffective weight-loss supplements promoted by him without healthy eating and exercise.

Postman worried that people would soon become too trusting in the slogans and skits that pass for public discourse and education on television. He warned that television audiences who turn to the medium for learning on matters of public import and health would someday lose the capacity to even tell the different between cogent and coherent discourse and TV entertainment and that they would, paradoxically and tragically, even find that transformation "delightful."

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