Al Gore, unpopulist

Al Gore, unpopulist
: The decidedly untelegenic Al Gore gave a luddite speech accusing TV of causing all our ills (how ’70s of you, Al!) and insulting its audience and ignoring the transformative of the Internet (which he invented, of course).

He’s going to make me regret voting for him.

Unfortunately, I can’t yet find a transcript, so here’s the AP rundown:

The ”quasi-hypnotic influence” of television in the United States has fostered a complacent nation that is a danger to democracy, former Vice President Al Gore said yesterday.

Well, Al, how about the quasi-hypnotic influence of you and your speeches? That’s how you frittered away your shoe-in election: You bored the people. Don’t blame TV. Blame the person on the TV.

And just how are we complacent, Al? Politics and government aren’t life, man. We have other concerns out here — it’s the economy, stupid; it’s our safety, fella; it’s about raising our kids and keeping our jobs; it’s sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll whenever possible. Just because we don’t want to discuss global warming or globalization over our Big Macs doesn’t mean that we are hypnotized or complacent or, by inference and insult, dumb.

Gore, speaking on ”Media and Democracy” at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, told attendees that the decline of newspapers as the country’s dominant method of communication leaves average Americans without an outlet for scholarly debate.

”Our democracy is suffering in an age when the dominant medium is not accessible to the average person and does not lend itself most readily to the conveyance of complex ideas about self-governance,” Gore said. ”Instead, it pushes toward a lowest common denominator.”

What a pile of donkey poop that is, Al. Television has always been a mass medium. That means it is not accessible to average Americans as an outlet; it tries to speak to all Americans.

But if you’ve been paying attention the last 20 years, you’d have noticed that’s changing. Turn on the TV, Al. We now have lots of channels — not just three networks but three hundred. That had led to a tremendous new diversity of viewpoints. Have you seen FoxNews.

And when you say that this medium that all America watches really just speaks to the “lowest common denominator,” did you consider that you are insulting that audience — the majority of the country, the majority of the voting citizenry?

You know, you might learn more about what the people of America think and care about by watching TV with them. Go to the corner bar. Watch a Giants game. And listen, Al. Just listen.

Gore said the results of that inaccessibility are reflected most prominently in the changed priorities of the country’s elected officials, who think that debating important issues is ”relatively meaningless today. How do they spend their time instead? Raising money to buy 30-second television commercials.”

Hmmm. And how did you raise your $132 million, Al? TV is not your enemy, Al; reality is. Welcome to the reality of politics, marketing, and media in the last, oh, half-century.

Gore said democracy in the United States flourished at the height of the newspaper era, which ”empowered the one to influence the many.” That changed with the advent and subsequent popularity of television, he said, noting that the average American watches four hours of television a day.

”What does it do to us that has relevance to democracy? Does it encourage passivity? Is it connected to the obesity epidemic? … If people are just staring at a little box four hours a day, it has a big impact on democracy,” he said.

This drives me nuts. So if we sat in a chair reading four hours a day, we wouldn’t get just as fat? If we sat in that chair reading, oh, Barbara Taylor Bradford, we’d be any better informed? Just because it’s on a screen, that doesn’t make it dumb and just because we watch that screen that doesn’t make us dumb. It is a mass medium and we are the masses and you, Al, used to be the candidate of the party of the masses. What happened, huh? When did yours become the party of snobs and snots?

What exact impact does watching TV have on democracy? Perhaps it’s that we can now hear and watch candidates instead of just reading their filtered words; perhaps it’s that we can judge them better on a human level; perhaps it’s that we’re now better as a result at sniffing out the bullcrap artists and the liars; perhaps that’s what led us to care a little less about politics and politicians: You all don’t wear well.

Gore said a remedy to television’s dominance may be the Internet, a ”print-based medium that is extremely accessible to the average person.”

”We have to choose to rehabilitate our democracy in part by making creative use of these new media and by insisting within the current institutions of our democracy that we open up access to the dominant medium,” he said.

What the hell does that mean? What does the one medium have to do with the other? Not that.

Read some weblogs, Al. Read weblogs by voters. Read weblogs from campaigns. Read weblogs from journalists, even. And you will see that the diversity in media created by the growth cable only explodes here. Everybody’s a network now, Al. Everybody’s a pundit. Everybody’s an involved citizen around here. We talk about what we care about. Rather than hoping to influence what we should talk about, the best thing you can do is just sit, read, and listen. You will hear the voice of the people, Al. You will hear the voice of democracy. You will hear the voters. This is the citizens’ media.

Now let me be clear: I voted for you, Al. I found you dull but decent, sleepy but smart. So I hate hearing you put down the people this way.

More important, I fear what this portends for the network you’re reported to be starting. I actually think it’s a good idea that you’re starting it: more voices and more viewpoints to more people can only be good for democracy. I’d even be eager to help you, showing your people how they can use this new medium of weblogs to hear the people and make the people stars. But first, you have to respect the people. And in this report of your speech, I sadly see a disrespect for us, the masses.