On Tuesday night, attendees at the Wilshire Theater in Beverly Hills witnessed an invigorating match of wit and wisdom, as Al Gore sat down with Harry Shearer to discuss Gore's latest book, The Assault On Reason. Believe me, sitting down with Harry Shearer is no easy task, for there is no such thing as a banal discussion with Harry. In fact, anyone who knows Harry Shearer is keenly aware of his astute, well-studied social commentary, and hysterically funny spot-on political satire.
Harry does his homework and let's loose his opinion with no holds barred. His irreverence is akin to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, who are actually latter-day versions of Harry, with significantly shorter resumes.
Harry Shearer is the acclaimed host of NPR's long running (twenty-four year) satirical broadcast, "Le Show," and a member of the inspired theatrical ensemble that includes Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Katherine O'Hara and Eugene Levy. And though Harry's filmography is extensive, his most beloved character is likely Derek Smalls, bass player for Spinal Tap, the world's most revered FICTITIOUS rock band. Happily for Spinal Tap groupies, the band will soon reunite for the Live Earth Concert in the battle against global warming.
At this point you're probably wondering why so much focus on Harry? What about Al Gore?
The fact is, to fully appreciate Al Gore, one must first understand what a fearless, witty, hip, cool, and immensely funny guy he is. Aside from being brilliant.
For many authors writing on sobering topics like war, heresy, and democracy in peril, Harry Shearer would not be their first pick for their debut discussion. Especially before a live theater audience. Most authors, in particular politicians (and ex-politicians) who write on somber subjects, take themselves much too seriously to risk humor undermining their profundity. Such authors prefer austere questioners who underscore the gravity of their work.
But not the intrepid Albert Gore. He was one hundred percent up to the task and went head to head with Harry without ever missing a beat.
At the start of the event, host Andrea Grossman, founder of the great Los Angeles literary organization Writers' Bloc, charmingly bungled her lines and introduced the pair as Harry Gore and Al Shearer. Al took the snap immediately and dubbed their union "An Inconvenient Mighty Wind," conflating the title of Gore's An Inconvenient Truth with Harry's cult film comedy, A Mighty Wind.
Hear Ye! Hear Ye! The first barb of the evening was scored by Al Gore!
But while Gore kicked things off on a light note, it wasn't long before Shearer took a tough jab at Gore's purchase of the cable channel which airs CURRENT TV. Shearer asked why Gore's media partnership purchased the one channel that broadcast the excellent independent news show, News World International. Shearer questioned how displacing a valuable international news source could possibly sync with Gore's criticism of media's failure to educate and inform.
Gore asked if Harry had ever seen CURRENT TV. Harry said he couldn't because his satellite provider had it scrambled. Gore offered to help with the satellite, adding that Harry's void of CURRENT TV left him bereft of vital information. A woeful circumstance Gore 'lamented' for the balance of their conversation.
Adopting a more serious tone, Gore returned to Harry's quite legitimate question and clarified that at the time this was the only station available. That it was part of an entire group being sold off by French communication conglomerate, Vivendi. Gore mused that the acronym N.W.I. (News World International) actually stood for "Nobody Watches It," which Gore quipped must be untrue since Harry was doing the watching.
Gore further explained how CURRENT TV is "based on a vision that now, with the emergent powerful new communications medium of the internet, it is possible to recreate a meritocracy of ideas that is accessible to individuals...
My partner Joel Hyatt and I founded it on this principal. More than a third of our content is now made by our viewers. It is non-fiction documentary in short form. They send us content over the internet. We post it and ask our audience to help select those features that are put on the air and we invite them to join the conversation. So the vision and the execution of the idea of CURRENT TV is exactly related to the whole premise of this book [The Assault On Reason], and that is to breathe new life back into American democracy by allowing individuals and we-the-people to rejoin the conversation on democracy."
This visionary concept, addressed in depth in Gore's new book, prompted a thunderous applause from the audience.
The Assault On Reason is a powerful indictment of the lack of fairness and honor in media. Of media's misuse of information to manipulate and promote fear. Of media using inane and sensational stories like the OJ trial, the Laci Peterson case, and Tom Cruise's leap onto Oprah's couch to dumb down the population. Gore bemoans screaming pundits and the danger of sound bytes as communication tools. He disdains media consolidation and recognizes the potential for democracy's demise without an open and transparent government. He uses the comical, yet realistic phrase "committing candor" as metaphor for truth-telling in the Bush Administration, where honesty is akin to a crime.
In The Assault On Reason, Al Gore's stated goal is "to lead us to an understanding of what we can do, individually and collectively, to restore the rule of reason and safeguard our future."
Seeing Gore on television is emotional. Seeing him in person is even more emotional when considering what could and should have been. He's a contradictory testament to all that is good with this country and all that is bad.
WHAT IS GOOD is his patriotism. His dazzling knowledge of history. His dedication to country and family. His desire to restore this nation and make it heal. His innate goodness. His ability to discern what is important for the planet and focus on it with unselfish intent. His mastery of technology. His respect for science. His introspective nature, which translates into reasoned thought and action.
WHAT IS BAD is that as much as Al Gore understood the pitfalls of media, he fell prey to them anyway. What is bad was the media's egregiously successful effort to demonize Gore throughout the 2000 campaign and promote the inferior man instead. What is bad is the dishonest, out-dated election system that permits winners to lose and losers to win. What is bad is the politicized Supreme Court that awarded the governance of this nation to a culture of corruption from which it may never return.
WHAT IS BAD is media characterizing Gore's speeches as rants when they know he is telling the truth.
WHAT IS GOOD is Harry Shearer and Al Gore were a whole lot of fun.
WHAT IS BETTER is Americans finally understand who Al Gore really is.
WHAT IS BEST is if Al Gore decides to run he will most likely win!!
Photo by Linda Milazzo from Wilshire Theater Al Gore/Harry Shearer event