Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Phillies vs. Obama

If it comes between watching the Phillies win tonight and being disenchanted by a third presidential debate, I think I'll take the former. I'm banking on my team knowing how to play baseball better than my candidate knowing how to debate.

In Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, Neil Postman explains how the format of political debates (among other things) has been cut into a visually-oriented presentation that takes away the intellectual spar that characterizes a debate, due to the medium on which it is presented: television. Because television has a certain program schedule, the debate cannot under any circumstance run any longer than the time slot allowed by the network, no matter how important anything that anyone has to say. In the debates this year, each candidate has been allowed about 2 minutes to answer a question asked by the presider, and say, a one-minute follow-up per candidate. These time restraints limit the substance of their responses, so rather than constructing well-supported arguments that might require more time, they are forced to economize their answers in a way that will elicit the most response from a general audience in a short period of time. No time for in-depth responses, nothing that will challenge the status quo of values, no follow-up questions from the audience even in the faux "town-hall format." In other words, a 75 minute series of commercials.

Postman goes on to talk about the how medium of television has watered down the general expectation of intellectual substance in both politics and education. Because it is not interactive, because it presents no opportunity for dialogue, it is not a medium for democracy. And because television, as a visual medium, must constantly be visually stimulating. Otherwise, no one will pay attention. The big networks believe this. Compare the flashy icons, bells-and-whistles programming on CNN and Fox to cut-and-dry style of PBS. Which network is being watched more?

Even watching this game on Fox gives me a headache. Almost half the screen is blotched with icons. And every other play is interceded by some playback sponsored by some fast food or SUV corporation.

I've compromised and decided to watch the debate between the Phillies at the plate. Or I could just watch the campaign ads during commercial breaks....