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Case Number 16605: Small Claims Court

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Deflating The Elephant

Cinema Libre // 2009 // 124 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron (Retired) // June 15th, 2009

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All Rise...

Judge Bill Gibron was hoping for a weird wildlife expose on pachyderm liposuction.

The Charge

What do they really mean?

The Case

Call it "spin" or "party platforming," but the truth remains that propaganda is propaganda, no matter how you label it. From convincing the nation that terror is just around every Smalltown, USA, street corner to relabeling the "liberal" as someone who's Hellbent on taxing and civil righting you to death, utilizing words and ideas as a means of maintaining or changing the political power structure is really nothing new. But according to bestselling author George Lakoff, famed for such works as Don't Think of an Elephant and Moral Politics, that's not necessarily true. According to his quasi-documentary/lecture like "educational" video, Deflating the Elephant, the Republican Party has, over the last 35 years, engaged in a war on "frames" with the citizenry of America. Explaining said term and how it applies to the Conservative movement, Lakoff lays down nearly two hours of anecdotal evidence and linguistic insight as a means of proving that, in essence, the Grand Old Party is Joseph Goebbels with Jesus in his pocket. He doesn't come right out and say such slander, but there is a convoluted conclusion that places everything Republicans stand for in a questionable ethical stance.

Almost everything in Lakoff's lengthy discussion (peppered with frequent introductory jibes from Oscar winner Sean Penn) centers around these so called "frames, " and to understand them better, it might be easier to rephrase said foundation. If you expanded the idea to "framing device," or understood it as part of the concept of "framing the argument," Deflating the Elephant will go down much easier. In essence, it's the mindset that defines the terms in a discussion. Similarly, you need to be aware of Lakoff's main point. He is claiming that, over the last four decades, Republicans and the Conservative movement have set up an elaborate series of think tanks, policy centers, and representative pundits, each one focused on finding ways to turn "progressives"—and by an extension of definition, Democrats—into tax and spend, big government bloating, minority catering villains. Using social benchmarks like the economy, terrorism, religion, and the judicial system as the subjective approach, Lakoff then illustrates how each area has been usurped by conservatives, rewritten so to speak to fit their corrupted version of their formerly rational policies.

And so it goes. Lakoff gives us the offending frames, and then spends 10 to 15 minutes extemporizing on the concepts to convince us that he's right. In some ways, Defending the Elephant is like having the right cogent ideas on your side but a limited explanatory purview to get the points across. The discussion here is dense with what would best be called "scholar speak"—the academia-inspired run around that may satisfy the mental exercises involved, but is pretty much guaranteed to turn off Joe Sixpack and his kid-creating spouse. Lakoff spends nearly 120 minutes saying what a simple, compact 45 minute presentation could put across brilliantly. He draws out points, taking certain situational complaints apart so that he can go back to his original thesis over and over again. While he doesn't lazily rely on that most misguided of debating techniques—the assertion as fact—he does wander closely towards insular obsolescence. By the time we reach the end of this digital dialogue, we're not sure if there is anything that can be done about such conservative captivity of the social structure.

Make no doubt about it—Lakoff's position has validity. Many of Penn's prepared introductions prove that potently and clearly. We have allowed the conversation over several of our most pressing national (and international) issues to be shaped by individuals who have perverted the basics in order to get their particularly point of view across. Lakoff makes a strong argument for this during his discussion of taxes and "tax relief." With a careful choice of words, Republicans have taken a crucial element of the modern civilization structure—the funding of the public commonwealth for the common good—and has turned it into an old school Hollywood silent movie. The taxpayers are the victims, the Democrats are the moustache twirling bad guys, and the GOP are the heroes, stepping in to remove the "harm" of high taxes. Put in simpler terms, Conservatives want to trick the country into thinking we can have something (necessary services like police, fire, courts, etc) for nothing (massive cuts)—and they will argue said stance without a lick of supporting fact.

From Social Security to corporate greed, family values and the free market, Deflating the Elephant offers some very intriguing ideas. The DVD itself is more like a typical barebones seminar presentation than an "entertainment" (the cover art even calls it a "learning tool"). There are trailers for other Cinema Libre titles, and the whole thing has a kind of basic spit and polish. The images—mostly Penn and Lakoff talking directly to the camera—are offered in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image that is very good. The Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 offers the conversation in clean, crisp bites. It's important to remember the approach here. This is two hours of one man talking—no charts, no graphs, no stock footage representations of his points. And for all the questions over the content, Lakoff can be very convincing when he wants to be.

If you are a card carrying member of the Reagan/Bush no new world left behind order of the planet, if you think there is nothing wrong with labeling liberals as mean-spirited haters of all that America stands for, avoid this title at all cost. Deflating the Elephant will simple amplify your already prevalent jingoism. But if you're a free thinking individual who wonders how the nation got to this "us vs. them" point in the political dialogue, you may want to give this lecture a listen. According to Lakoff, "we" have a long way to go to undo the last 35 years of conservative "frames." Unfortunately, unlike other forms of propaganda, the truth probably won't change matters much.

The Verdict

Not Guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 80

Perp Profile

Studio: Cinema Libre
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 124 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb

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