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Sierra Magazine
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Sierra's March/April 2005 Let's Talk film selection:
"The Persuaders"
a PBS Frontline program
Review by Jessica Burnett-Lemon

What it's about
Advertising firms tap into our most basic beliefs and emotions to sell us their products. In "The Persuaders," Frontline correspondent Douglas Rushkoff explains how those techniques are also used to promote candidates and policies in the American political arena. In one interview, Republican pollster Frank Luntz claims that his carefully crafted language facilitates communication between politicians and the public. But do his methods clarify or cloud the issues? This thought-provoking program suggests the ways corporations and candidates alike try to get into our heads and sell us what we want to hear.

Where to get it
You can watch "The Persuaders" in streaming video online (the Luntz interview appears in segment five), or order a DVD or VHS copy by clicking on "Tapes and Transcripts" here.

About the filmmakers
Barak Goodman (director/producer/writer) has written, produced, and directed award-winning documentary films like Surviving the Bottom Line, Scottsboro: An American Tragedy (for which he received an Academy Award nomination), and The Fight. He is currently working on a documentary for PBS's American Experience about sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, to be released in February 2005.

Rachel Dretzin (director/producer) wrote and co-produced The Merchants of Cool, a PBS Frontline report on the influence of advertising on teens and popular culture. Douglas Rushkoff (writer/correspondent) has written several books on new media and advertising, including Cyberia, Media Virus, and Coercion: Why We Listen to What "They" Say. He was the correspondent for Frontline's The Merchants of Cool.

Discussion questions
In segment five of the program, Republican pollster Frank Luntz says that "80 percent of our life is emotion, and only 20 percent is intellect. I am much more interested in how you feel than how you think. I can change how you think, but how you feel is something deeper and stronger." Do you agree with him? What do you think about appealing to emotion (versus reason) in political campaigns? What are the possible ramifications of this approach?

Do you think that the two presidential candidates played on our emotions in the last election? If so, how successful were they in appealing to you?

What do you think of changing the term "global warming" to "climate change"? How does the language used shape the way you feel about the issue? What environmental issues would you like to give a new label?

Do you think Luntz is, as he claims, facilitating communication between the public and politicians? Why or why not?

What are some possible effects of voter profiling on democracy? What effect could it have on the great red state/blue state divide?

How did you feel about the end of the report (segment six)? Do you think that consumers and citizens are indeed empowered by the attention they get from advertisers and politicians? Do you feel empowered as a consumer/citizen?


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