THE SOUND BITE SOCIETY by Jeffrey Scheuer

THE SOUND BITE SOCIETY

Television and the American Mind
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KIRKUS REVIEW

Trying to prove that the right-wing of American politics actually controls the discourse on television and radio is a difficult task, and Scheuer’s argument is too obscure to make the case convincingly, even to those who are versed in the intricacies of media studies. Scheuer, who has written about politics and media for a wide range of publications, starts out with a kind of sound bite of his own: Try to name corresponding television personalities on the left to Rush Limbaugh, Pat Robertson, and Ronald Reagan. Well, one could put forward George Stephanopolous, Jesse Jackson, and the pair of Clintons. But that hardly matters once Scheuer gets into his analysis. He quickly lets go of any concrete examples for weightier and more elusive ones. He first sets out to define what he means by left and right, which could get anyone bogged down in a book-length discussion without going anywhere at all. His notion is that the left views issues in a more complex manner than the right, which sees things in stark moral absolutes. He explains that this doesn’t mean that the right is simple or simple-minded, just that it sees a clearer line through most of the topics that attract its attention: abortion, taxation, prayer in schools, etc. He says that these views play easier on television, which reduces everything to its simplest forms. What Scheuer never does, however, is link up this rubric with any concrete examples from mass media. He makes the claim that Limbaugh and Robertson stick out more than liberal commentators do, but he doesn’t get into an analysis of audience sizes or specific content. So we know that right-leaning commentators can make sharp, clear statements, but we don’t know exactly who is listening to them or what kind of influence they have. Without enough concrete examples, Scheuer’s point about the influence of the right on the minds of Americans sinks into a hole of dry, analytical prose.

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1999
ISBN: 1-56858-141-6
Page count: 238pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1999




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