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Al Gore. The Assault on Reason. New York: Penguin, 2007.

Al Gore, like Neil Postman, contends that the republic of letters (print media) has been invaded and occupied by the republic of television and the result has been a dumbing down of the news we get and a dumbing down of discourse in general. Such "thought regression" is not good for democracy in the way our founders categorized that form of governance, because a democratic state requires a well-informed citizenry--a condition that is difficult to attain when the U.S. populace is watching an average of four hours and thirty-five minutes of television every day (ninety minutes more than the world average).

Gore, like Postman, laments the negative impact that TV has on our reasoning processes (television is geared toward eliciting emotional responses rather than reflective ones) and the fact that it presents to its viewers a much more fully formed representation of reality than can be had through words--which demand a creative collaboration between writer and reader. Understanding the potency of TV images to shape the outlooks of a passive viewing public, Gore notes that in the November 2006 elections the candidates of both political parties spent more than two thirds of their campaign budgets on thirty-second ads. On TV news shows, the idea is "If it bleeds, it leads." In constructing political ads on television that can be changed to "If it thinks, it stinks."

Gore, unlike Postman, argues that the Internet, on-line organizing, blogging, and wikis can help to reinvigorate American democracy by providing the citizenry with detailed information about the affairs of the nation and also an ability to respond to what they perceive is going on with respect to such affairs. Will a significant number of people actually spend time becoming involved with such things rather than using the Internet for less civic-minded purposes? Time will tell.

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Author:Levinson, Martin H.
Publication:ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
Article Type:Book review
Date:Apr 1, 2008
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