by Gerard Donnelly Smith
(Swans - March 12, 2007) Part educational, part editorial, part autobiographical, Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth should wake up the American populace and should motivate federal politicians to pass "green" legislation. But, as Gore sadly notes, some people just won't learn.
Though the evidence shows that global climate change has already occurred, political action on the federal level has not kept pace. Indeed, legislation by the Bush administration has undermined environmental protections that should have been strengthened given the evidence provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in CLIMATE CHANGE 2007: IMPACTS, ADAPTATION AND VULNERABILITY. The IPCC sent the document to all governments last year, but as Gore's documentary clearly shows, often legislators ignore scientific facts.
So what makes Gore's documentary propaganda? Propaganda in its neutral form seeks to disseminate information crucial to decision making, but in its negative use seeks to sway emotions, attitudes, and actions by employing logical fallacies and false claims for spurious political agendas; e.g., usually to discredit science, to defame a rival, or to coverup illegal actions.
Gore's dissemination of information certainly qualifies as "crucial" since the evidence is irrefutable: icecap and glacier retreat has increased, carbon particulates in the atmosphere are at an unprecedented high, global temperatures have risen steadily over the last two decades. Why is this information crucial? Since the current administration does not have the political will to join the international community in protecting the environment, thus protecting humanity, Gore had to reach the people.
City by city, state by state, Gore spread the truth through his global warming slideshow. After watching that show, one cannot deny that climate change will adversely affect the human population. To what extent, we are uncertain. But the simple fact that 90% of the world's population lives along coastlines that will someday be under water is crucial information. Given the evidence presented in the documentary, voters should have the information they need to make different and hopefully better decisions.
Yet, the documentary also contained information that wasn't crucial to the environmental message. Gore chose to include information about the "stolen" election, the debacle in Florida, and the Supreme Court's decision. He said he disagreed with the high court's decision, but he chose to abide by it. Given his environmental stance, one can imagine how nervous the oil and automobile lobbies were during his campaign. Image what Al Gore might have done with executive orders? Perhaps that's why he lost in Florida.
This information was not even crucial to the message about global warming, so what purpose did it serve, other than to sway the viewer emotionally? Although he did not announce his candidacy for president in 2008 when he accepted the Oscar for Best Documentary, the inclusion of the political footage from the 2000 election stirred activists to demand Gore run for president "for the good of the nation." That's effective propaganda!
Was the information about the Gore family tobacco plantation crucial information? Certainly the information about his father suspending tobacco production once he learned about the connection between smoking and cancer provides a compelling story. The moral: one should change when one's actions are dangerous or damaging. But was this information crucial to decision making? In terms of viewer motivation, probably. The narrative had emotional appeal, providing evidence that Gore's family has integrity and empathy. Certainly those are characteristics one would want in a father or a president. Again, an effective use of emotional appeal.
Taken as a whole, An Inconvenient Truth isn't solely about global warming, but rather about Al Gore's efforts to warn us all about the danger. The true focus of the documentary is Al Gore, for his personal and political past is a prominent feature of the film.
So the documentary is propaganda because it provides crucial information necessary to decision making. Yet it also contains many of the techniques that non-neutral propaganda contains: emotional appeal, testimonial, and bandwagon. The documentary was also one-sided, an essential characteristic of commercial, religious, and political propaganda.
However, given the evidence and the consequences, these techniques seem appropriate. More so when one considers that humans make decisions based more on emotions rather than on reason. One can even accept the implied assumption that Gore would have been a much better president than the current decider.
The film provides, at least for this viewer, evidence for why Al Gore is not the current president: he would have cost oil corporations and automobile manufacturers millions if not billions of dollars in profit. He would have moved this nation toward alternative fuels, towards conservation of energy, and protection of the environment. As propaganda, this documentary deserves the honors.
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