October 2, 2008

Public discourse or Entertainment?

Come debate time, I was hoping to write a short piece about the significance of the Presidential (& VP) debates in today's world vis-a-vis the impact of television and the internet as our main info-tainment sources today. It goes without saying that we have all got used to the instant gratification in its various forms through TV and especially the internet, with its 2 minute youtube videos and soundbytes and clips from the Daily Show and other 'news' outlets. This has had an impact on how we process and filter knowledge.

I first thought of writing an article while perusing through a recent book about the Douglas-Lincoln debates of 1858 but this was further re-emphasized when I read about Neil Postman's 1984 book:
Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

However, I do not have time to write it up as a proper article and a blog post will have to do. For now, just to give you the essence of my drift, is this para from the wiki entry for Postman's book.

..Postman posits that television is the primary means of communication for our culture and it has the property of converting a culture's conversations with itself into entertainment, so much so that public discourse on important issues has disappeared. Since the treatment of serious issues as entertainment inherently prevents them from being treated as serious issues and indeed since serious issues have been treated as entertainment for so many decades now, the public is no longer aware of these issues in their original sense, but only as entertainment.

Given that the debate forum does not allow for deeply delving into any issue, packaged trite comments and rhetoric is all that is enough to get through the debates unscathed. The moderator rarely pushes hard when given rhetoric and BS to uncomfortable questions i.e. insulting and really grilling these politicians is something we do not see on US TV. The UK does it well and even some shows on NDTV and Aaj Tak in India have comperes who really go after the politicians when they try to evade tough questions with something trite and banal or outright lies. However, I have never seen it in the US. So, in some sense, you don't really have to "win" the debates...just have to get through without it becoming a major disaster and that can be orchestrated well, as they did with Bush, who probably back then (and maybe even now) knew as much (or rather, as little) as Palin knows about world issues today.

So, while today's Biden-Palin debates may have been hyped up already to be the most anticipated VP debates in a long time, especially after her disastrous interviews to date with Gibson and Couric, I think she'll do just fine and get away with evasions, canned statements, vague and trite remarks, and outright lies.

P.S. How right I was! But Awshucks... I didn't know her winks would also be part of her repertoire to deal with the questions! :) Doggone it...you betcha now I know better! :)

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