Remarks by Al Gore as prepared
Associated Press / The Media Center
October 5, 2005
I came here today because I believe that American democracy is in grave danger.
At first I thought the exhaustive, non-stop coverage of the O.J. trial was just an unfortunate excess that marked an unwelcome departure from the normal good sense and judgment of our television news media. But now we know that it was merely an early example of a new pattern of serial obsessions that periodically take over the airwaves for weeks at a time.
The coverage of political campaigns focuses on the "horse race" and little else. And the well-known axiom that guides most local television news is "if it bleeds, it leads." (To which some disheartened journalists add, "If it thinks, it stinks.")
Decades ago Walter Lippman wrote, "the manufacture of consent...was supposed to have died out with the appearance of democracy...but it has not died out. It has, in fact, improved enormously in technique...under the impact of propaganda, it is no longer plausible to believe in the original dogma of democracy."
Make no mistake, full-motion video is what makes television such a powerful medium. Our brains - like the brains of all vertebrates - are hard-wired to immediately notice sudden movement in our field of vision. We not only notice, we are compelled to look. When our evolutionary predecessors gathered on the African savanna a million years ago and the leaves next to them moved, the ones who didn't look are not our ancestors. The ones who did look passed on to us the genetic trait that neuroscientists call "the establishing reflex." And that is the brain syndrome activated by television continuously - sometimes as frequently as once per second. That is the reason why the industry phrase, "glue eyeballs to the screen," is actually more than a glib and idle boast. It is also a major part of the reason why Americans watch the TV screen an average of four and a half hours a day.
Part of me wants to applaud Al Gore for what is a good speech and a noble effort.
Unfortunately, the bigger part of me is restrained by what I think is a correct realization that it simply doesn't matter, because there is nothing that can be done to stop the general slide we're in - the overshoot we're in and the dieoff we're apparently headed for - on account of our natural, human inability to arrange our affairs sustainably, to understand such messages as those of Hardin and Tainter, all the while embracing such things as religion and a belief in perpetual growth.
Oh, well... Good luck Mr. Gore. I'll be on your bus as the caravan heads for the cliff. I've added your "Current TV" to my link list, and I've put a full "Fair Use" cache of your remarks in the first comment below.