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Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
Here's a link for the text of an address Al Gore recently gave. While there's nothing groundbreaking in it, I'm encouraged to see an American political figure of his prominence eager to make the same points that many of the people I read have been making for years. Since I'm always looking for one of those rare moments when the theory I read enters mainstream discourse for some other purpose than mocking it, I was particularly heartened by this portion of the speech:
Soon after television established its dominance over print, young people who realized they were being shut out of the dialogue of democracy came up with a new form of expression in an effort to join the national conversation: the "demonstration." This new form of expression, which began in the 1960s, was essentially a poor quality theatrical production designed to capture the attention of the television cameras long enough to hold up a sign with a few printed words to convey, however plaintively, a message to the American people. Even this outlet is now rarely an avenue for expression on national television.

So, unlike the marketplace of ideas that emerged in the wake of the printing press, there is virtually no exchange of ideas at all in television's domain. My partner Joel Hyatt and I are trying to change that - at least where Current TV is concerned. Perhaps not coincidentally, we are the only independently owned news and information network in all of American television.

It is important to note that the absence of a two-way conversation in American television also means that there is no "meritocracy of ideas" on television. To the extent that there is a "marketplace" of any kind for ideas on television, it is a rigged market, an oligopoly, with imposing barriers to entry that exclude the average citizen.

The German philosopher, Jürgen Habermas, describes what has happened as "the refeudalization of the public sphere." That may sound like gobbledygook, but it's a phrase that packs a lot of meaning. The feudal system which thrived before the printing press democratized knowledge and made the idea of America thinkable, was a system in which wealth and power were intimately intertwined, and where knowledge played no mediating role whatsoever. The great mass of the people were ignorant. And their powerlessness was born of their ignorance.

It did not come as a surprise that the concentration of control over this powerful one-way medium carries with it the potential for damaging the operations of our democracy. As early as the 1920s, when the predecessor of television, radio, first debuted in the United States, there was immediate apprehension about its potential impact on democracy. One early American student of the medium wrote that if control of radio were concentrated in the hands of a few, "no nation can be free."
Now I'm sure many of you are saying, "The demonstration was invented in the 1960s? I suppose the next thing you'll be telling me is that Al Gore invented the internet." And there are other wild generalizations of the sort the Unabomber was fond of making sprinkled throughout the text. But, goddamn it, I'm still smiling at the thought of our former Vice President trying to explain that Habermas isn't spouting "gobbledygook." The next thing you know, Al will be cutting a record with Exene Cervenka.
13 comments or Leave a comment
derdriu From: derdriu Date: October 6th, 2005 10:22 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Thank you for posting this. I just sent the link to my German lit professor who is currently leading the Frankfurt School class that I'm in. I found it really great, and I have a suspicion that he will, too.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: October 6th, 2005 11:24 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Sure. Hope things are going better. Are you reading things in German?
derdriu From: derdriu Date: October 7th, 2005 07:01 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I could have if I'd taken the extra-class component. I'm overloading as it is, though, and my German is very weak. I thought it would be best to sit out the untranslated section.
_luaineach From: _luaineach Date: October 6th, 2005 11:43 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Now I'm sure many of you are saying, "The demonstration was invented in the 1960s? I suppose the next thing you'll be telling me is that Al Gore invented the internet."

ha ha ha, of course this was *exactly* was I was thinking. I already had my comment half forming in the back of my head before I even finished reading. Thanks for this paragraph. :)
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: October 6th, 2005 11:49 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
So glad to beat you to it! Someone needs to send Al a history of the American labor movement. What he meant, I suspect, is that the 60s marked the beginning of the pseudo-demonstration, orchestrated for television coverage but without the depth and breadth of the "traditional" sort of demonstration. Still, semantics matter!
_luaineach From: _luaineach Date: October 7th, 2005 12:05 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
So glad to beat you to it! Someone needs to send Al a history of the American labor movement.


Yes, I was already to say something like "hmmm, well, according to my "The TImetables of History" book, the first political demonstration actually took place in..." With, of course, the appropriate smiley face for tone!

Speaking of that book, if you've never seen it I MUST lend it to you when next we are in the same vicinity. It's this massive book that tracks History/Politics, LIterature/Theatre, Reilion/Philosphy/Learning, Visual Arts, Music, Science/Technology/Growth and Daily Life from -5000 to 1990. Just pages with those as column headings and the years down the sides of the page and thinks like "First marine-insurance policies issued at Florence" under Daily Life in 1523. I truly believe you'd be enthralled, just flipping through page after page. It is based on the German Kulturfahrplan created by Werner Stein.

What he meant, I suspect,

Yes, I believe that's what he meant as well. But part of what makes him so endearing is that he always manages to garble whatever it is just so. And do so so *earnestly*.
_luaineach From: _luaineach Date: October 7th, 2005 12:07 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Please do excuse all errors in typing, I was on hold on my cell phone and so typing typing rapidly with no conscious attention to spelling (nor semantics! ;) )
From: zokah Date: October 7th, 2005 12:25 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
This book sounds grand! I must find it!
_luaineach From: _luaineach Date: October 7th, 2005 12:43 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
It's absolutely fabulous. Part of a review on amazon (where I was checking to see if it was still available, or if they perhaps had an even more 'current' one!) says "If this book has a vice, it is simply you might forget what you came to find, as your eye catches some fascinating confluence of events hitherto missing from your understanding of the past. I have frequently been distracted for long periods wandering the endlessy intriguing pages of this indispensable reference."

and that's *exactly* how I feel about it. It's just fascinating. Particularly as I am someone who also can just browse or pleasure read cookbooks, dictionaries and thomas guides. :)
From: zokah Date: October 7th, 2005 01:08 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Particularly as I am someone who also can just browse or pleasure read cookbooks, dictionaries and thomas guides.

Yes, yes. It was you I was having the discussion with about reading cookbooks yes? I'm looking it up presently.
masoo From: masoo Date: October 6th, 2005 11:59 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
When Current TV started up, I checked it out. Watched it a couple of times, was v.unimpressed. Looks like I need to try again.
cpratt From: cpratt Date: October 7th, 2005 12:26 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I'm still holding out hope that the Internet will somehow take care of the radio/TV oligopoly... but I'm having trouble seeing exactly how. Yeah, the cultural elite such as myself have no problem skipping between many different viewpoints online, all from the comfort of a widescreen display and fast DSL connection, but for most folks a $400 PC and $30 a month for Internet service is out of the question.

Thing is, though, even if everyone had a reliable home computer and a fast Internet connection, I suspect most people wouldn't find it very entertaining reading stuff like the taz, the Guardian, etc. - TV [and radio, to a lesser extend] still offer a far more viscerally compelling/entertaining way to pass the time. So, are we screwed?
From: e4q Date: October 7th, 2005 12:48 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
i hear he also dropped in the 'manufacture of consent'. maybe noam chomsky has worked out how to speak through al gore's mouth.. we need to know, is this the future?
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