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An Inconvenient Truth or Al Gore Is a Very Good Speaker
We’re all going to suffer a horrible, drawn-out death at the hands of global warming if we don’t take action to stop it right now. Also, remember that Mr Gore is a passionate, sensitive, righteous do-gooder, campaigning for the noble saving the environment relentlessly in the face of opposition. At least, that is what Al Gore tells you in his documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. And what convincing claims he makes, employing all sorts of highly effective persuasion techniques in the film.
One of the main reasons for Al Gore’s persuasiveness in the film is that he knows how to appeal emotionally to his audience. An Inconvenient Truth is littered with references to events that are guaranteed to stir up empathy in his mainly-American audience. Gore talks about Hurricane Katrina and the devastation it caused, a wound no doubt still fresh in the minds of the US public. He then goes on to assert that global warming will cause chaos on a far greater scale than Katrina ever could. I can imagine the thought processes of a typical American watching the film: “Katrina was so terrible, and now Mr Gore’s saying global warming will be much worse – I’ve got to do something about this global warming business to prevent an apocalypse!” By linking his talk to events that Americans can easily relate to, Gore gives his audience a frame of reference with which to compare his statistics to. At the same time, this also reinforces the sense that global warming is not a far-off reality, but is something that is happening right now, right here, on American soil. Although much of his focus is on the US, the film’s international audience is not neglected either. Gore includes places such as Greenland and Beijing in his talk, such as during a simulation of the effect of rising sea levels on lower-lying countries and cities.
Gore asks questions such as “if we allow that, how would it affect us?” and makes statements like “that has consequences for us too”, especially near the end of the documentary. His usage of “us” and “we” instead of “I” has a subtle but powerful effect – it turns the audience from passive onlookers into individuals who feel a sense of duty towards mitigating global warming. This choice of words also helps to persuade the audience that Al Gore is a man who is “in this together” with ordinary people, instead of a politician standing on a pedestal, isolated from the masses.
It is often easier to win someone over when you flatter them a little. Gore makes clever use of this fact. When showing statistics or info-graphics, he often tells his audience something along the lines of “this has only been seen by a select community of scientists before – but now you can too!”. Doing so creates a sense of exclusivity for the audience member, and someone watching the film might feel flattered that they have been ‘chosen’ by the ex-Vice President of America to share in on this little secret. This in turn makes the viewer more receptive to Gore’s suggestions.
Hands up, those of you who remember the “elevation machine” scene, where Gore had to climb onto a contraption in order to reach the peak of a graph. This was used to emphasize just how much mankind’s carbon dioxide production had increased. The scene was unique and stayed in your mind, an example of the second way in which An Inconvenient Truth is persuasive.
Film technique and the choice of content is a crucial factor which greatly enhances the persuasiveness of the documentary. There are frequent flashbacks to Gore’s life as a child, fond mentions of his college professor, and videos of his family and events that affected him. For example, he mentions that he decided to fight for action against global warming because of the death of his six-year-old son. This helps people understand his motivations, and helps them better relate to his cause. He also often shows the audience videos of nature at its best – pristine, unspoilt – then follows up with an image of smoke pouring out of a factory, the jarring contrast shocking us into believing what he says. We see real-life newsreels of Gore championing environmental causes during the US elections. In one scene (not the last of its kind) we see Gore sitting in the dark, typing away furiously at his MacBook, viewing some photos of a shrinking glacier, suggesting that he is completely dedicated to this cause, even working in the dark for the sake of the environment.
Of course, none of these sequences would be quite as persuasive without Gore’s melancholic narration playing over the visuals. He speaks of what we are doing to the planet with a sad, low voice, punctuated with many sighs, and sometimes exaggerates this to the point of his voice breaking mid-sentence.
These all contribute to the image of himself Gore wishes to project through this film, which then causes the audience to respect what he says even more, and subsequently believe him due to the strength of his personality.
The format with which Gore presents his information mainly follows that of a standard lecture – slides in Keynote, complete with statistics and info-graphics. This has two effects. The first is that Gore’s credibility is enhanced due to the many numbers he throws at the audience. Instead of being a man talking about the threat of global warming because he feels that this summer is hotter than usual, he becomes a man talking about the threat of global warming with hard, concrete evidence to support his stand. The second is that he gains more authority. The lecture format harks back to one’s school days. The audience feels as though Gore is their teacher, a figure who is (usually) correct and should be listened to.
One might argue that Gore is not particularly persuasive because he seems like he’s trying too hard to convince. Surely the fact that I have been able to write a thousand-word long essay on his persuasive techniques must account for how easily one can see through them? But it must be noted that I was told beforehand to watch the film with a critical eye with special regard to the techniques used. Al Gore’s target audience, the average moviegoer, usually does not walk into the cinema or pop the disc into the CD player with this in mind. Most people simply do not notice and are won over by his performance anyway.
We’re all going to suffer a horrible, drawn-out death at the hands of global warming if we don’t take action to stop it right now. I believe that after watching An Inconvenient Truth, most people would be convinced of this, for Al Gore did an excellent job of creating a persuasive film. But now that you’ve read this essay, the next time you watch him posturing and admitting you into “secret circles”, take it with a pinch of salt.
10 May 2009