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How America Surrendered Discussion of Moral Values to Opportunists, Nitwits and Blockheads like William Bennett

by Jon Katz

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-679-44913-2
Publisher: Random House

 A preachy, uninspired tract on the technological, moral, and media changes in America, by Wired magazine's media critic. In his 1995 bestseller, Being Digital, Nicholas Negroponte established a difficult precedent: He showed that a writer for the hip magazine Wired could publish a forward-looking sermon on the digital revolution, and that people would care. Unfortunately, Katz fails in a similar endeavor. His exhortation on media old and new, and the backlash by conservatives against their purportedly nefarious impact on our culture, is redundant, dull, and, in parts, mean-spirited. Early on, Katz identifies his enemy as the Mediaphobe, the conservative moral hand-wringer who fears the changes brought by new technologies. From there, Katz moves briskly through discussions of paranoia about online sexual content, violence in the mass media, the Simpson trial, and the decline of the old media. Along the way, lots of obvious truths are served up as novel insights. For instance, the author presents all of the familiar figures and trends that signify the decline of newspapers. Since there's nothing really new here, Katz has to sharpen his rhetorical sword. The victim is William Bennett, ``King of the Mediaphobes,'' whom he devotes an entire chapter to trashing. Without explaining the mystifying popularity of tomes such as The Book of Virtues, Katz writes that ``it's hard to think of more irrelevant exercises for hard-pressed contemporary children . . . than these bloated collections of clichÇs.'' The rest of the chapter is just as ruthless, accusing Bennett of moral intimidation and hypocrisy. To be fair, there are some interesting points tucked into Katz's book, like a short discussion of pioneer journalist Thomas Paine and how he might view the Internet were he alive today. Katz also makes good (but not very original) suggestions to the mainstream media on how it can reform itself. But most of Virtuous Reality comes off as old material repackaged and peppered with some vituperative commentary. (illustrations, not seen)