cover image The Death of Discourse

The Death of Discourse

Ronald K. L. Collins. Westview Press, $30 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-8133-2723-5

The text of the First Amendment as it pertains to freedom of speech is plain and broad: ""Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.'' Collins, co-founder of the Center for the Study of Commercialism, and Skover, a law professor at Seattle University Law School, are concerned that the simple language hides a chasm between the 18th-century intent and 20th-century social and technological realities that encourage not free exchange of ideas but a mind-numbing pursuit of self-gratification. Huxley's dystopia is looking far more familiar than Orwell's. The authors argue that we ought to reconsider First Amendment protections for TV that has sacrificed its public interest mandate to sound bites and dulling entertainment; for advertising that creates reactive consumers rather than well-informed citizens by touting image over information (think Calvin Klein jeans); for pornography that no longer pretends to satire or self-realization but is simple self-indulgence. This is descriptive, the authors say time and again, not normative, so there is little by way of prescriptions. And the book's design includes many of the elements the authors criticize in other media, including slogans, side-bars and other disruptions of the discourse. But the main argument is important: Not everyone will agree with Collins's and Skover's assessment, but every reader will come away feeling that there is much to be lost by adhering to the letter of the First Amendment and ignoring its spirit. (Feb.)