THE SOUND BITE SOCIETY: TELEVISION AND THE AMERICAN MIND, By Jeffrey Scheuer.
New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, Oct. 1999

SOUND BITES ... ZINGERS ... BUZZ WORDS ... IMAGERY ... HYPE ... NOISE

We all know how these define the texture and culture of the modern electronic media. And we also know why our media climate resembles a dust storm on a barren plain: the bottom line of audience share. The impatience of the camera and the microphone, their need to gobble up one image or phrase and move on to the next. No depth or context; no background; no past, no future; no sometimes, no maybe, no why. But what does such a media environment really mean--how does it shape the values and ideals that underlie our political life? That is the question THE SOUND BITE SOCIETY sets out to answer. And the answer it comes up with is original and controversial.






Critics on the right claim that the media are liberal; but those same conservatives are using electronic media with great success. THE SOUND BITE SOCIETY argues that television is ideally suited to flickering sound bites and simple, visceral messages and images; television relentlessly simplifies, and simplicity is the core principle of conservatism. TV likewise punishes complex ideas and messages, which are the core of liberalism. Television is thus a handmaiden of conservative ideals and an obstacle to progressive ones.

The argument of THE SOUND BITE SOCIETY is mapped, and set in a broader context, in the Introduction. Chapter One examines the rise of the "Electronic Right," and challenges the familiar claim of the media's liberalism on a wide variety of fronts. Chapter Two analyzes the distinctive communicative language of television and its simplifying tendencies; Chapter Three considers the forms of simplification (including intrinsically complex forms) implicit in TV's overall picture of reality and effects on consciousness. In Chapter Four, the concept of complexity is explored along with its political implications. Finally, Chapter Five looks at how the rhetoric of the "Electronic Right" simplifies and distorts political discourse, how it contrasts to critical thinking and critical media literacy, and how the left might respond. In the concept of complexity, THE SOUND BITE SOCIETY offers an entirely new rubric for understanding the nexus of television and politics.