Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

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TIME has an excerpt from Al Gore’s new book, The Assault on Reason. Via Atrios.

In the world of television, the massive flows of information are largely in only one direction, which makes it virtually impossible for individuals to take part in what passes for a national conversation. Individuals receive, but they cannot send. They hear, but they do not speak. The “well-informed citizenry” is in danger of becoming the “well-amused audience.” Moreover, the high capital investment required for the ownership and operation of a television station and the centralized nature of broadcast, cable and satellite networks have led to the increasing concentration of ownership by an ever smaller number of larger corporations that now effectively control the majority of television programming in America.

In practice, what television’s dominance has come to mean is that the inherent value of political propositions put forward by candidates is now largely irrelevant compared with the image-based ad campaigns they use to shape the perceptions of voters. The high cost of these commercials has radically increased the role of money in politics—and the influence of those who contribute it. That is why campaign finance reform, however well drafted, often misses the main point: so long as the dominant means of engaging in political dialogue is through purchasing expensive television advertising, money will continue in one way or another to dominate American politics. And as a result, ideas will continue to play a diminished role. That is also why the House and Senate campaign committees in both parties now search for candidates who are multimillionaires and can buy the ads with their own personal resources.

Admittedly, Al is guilty of romanticizing the historical public sphere. I’m not certain how “well-informed” the citizenry has ever been, or that information has ever really flowed in more than one direction—and to whatever extent the historical public sphere did work it accomplished that feat by disenfranchising nearly the entire population.

But Al is certainly right about the way the power of the image crowds out all other criteria in national politics, to the great delight of the corporate powers who control what we see. This sort of thing makes (and has to a large extent already made) democracy impossible.

Written by gerrycanavan

May 17, 2007 at 2:24 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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