Remember Al Gore, Press Pariah? The Al Gore derided as wooden and pompous and, worst of all, boring?
Well, Press Pariah, meet Captain Planet. While Saturday’s Live Earth concerts, as Curtis Brainard noted, got largely cynical reactions in the press, Gore—environmental advocate, Oscar winner, Geldofian concert coordinator—received treatment that generally ranged from subtle endorsement to all-out, Keats-on-uppers-style odes. Media coverage of Live Earth’s poster child suggested, oddly, that the only thing hotter than the world’s climate is Gore himself.
“On Saturday,” began Salon’s Live Earth analysis, “Al Gore simultaneously took over and saved the world.” See the article for more in this vein, but here’s the kicker: “Al Gore demonstrated nicely that the truth, however inconvenient, will eventually set you free.”
Sheesh. You keep waiting for the punch line, for the revelation that the cock-eyed hyperbole is a postmodern, self-referential joke. Instead, we get a description of Live Earth as both spanning the globe and spinning on Gore’s unlikely axis. No irony here (unless it’s so meta- or sub-textual as to be undetectable): the adulation is genuine.
The Salon piece, while more histrionic than most, isn’t alone. In its coverage of Live Earth, and of Gore’s environmentalism generally, the press has created a shorthand for his public moth-to-butterfly metamorphosis by way of the many frames and nicknames it’s given him: Gore the prophet. Gore the “culturally cool” icon. Gore the “coolest ex-vice president ever.” Gore the “heartbreak loser turned Oscar boasting Nobel hopeful globe trotting multimillionaire pop culture eminence.” (Yep, seriously. In The New York Times.) And the most common motif of all: Gore the rock star.
Wait—Al Gore, rock star? Really? The Al Gore whose preferred instruments are a MacBook Pro and PowerPoint slides? The Al Gore who’s happily married…to someone named Tipper?
The current “rock star” descriptions could, on the one hand, reflect a kind of narrative relativism: Gore, especially given his role in the Live Earth concerts, is much more rockin’ now than he was in the past. One might argue that all the rock star portrayals are simply comparative, that they adulate “Gore 3.0,” as Rolling Stone had it, simply because his beta version was so flawed. (And the press, like everyone else, is entitled to change its mind; Eliot’s “decisions and revisions” are not only the stuff of life, but also the stuff of journalism.)
On the other hand, implicit in this attitudinal transformation is the idea that Gore has undergone a fundamental shift in character somewhere in the course of his image revamp. It’s not a matter of what he did then versus what he does now; apparently, it’s a matter of who he was then versus who he is now. As The Huffington Post’s Richard Greene wrote last year, “Al Gore, left to his own devices, left only to his own very deep and honest passion, has had a spiritual and political transformation.”
Maybe. Gore does seem to have come into his own now that he’s relieved of the pressures of the campaign trail. Yet one’s character doesn’t change overnight, or even, in any real sense, over the course of a few years. And even if Gore’s somehow has, the adulation so many in the media are giving him is still extreme. The fawning press coverage and their subject, new-and-improved though he may be, simply don’t match up.
One explanation for the coverage turnabout: old-fashioned guilt. We—the press and everyone else—treated Gore-the-environmentalist like we treated the environment itself: when we weren’t ignoring him, we were taking him for granted. Now, as we confront the myriad unpleasant realities accompanying climate change, we are also sheepishly confronting the fact that we could have realized the extent of that damage—and begun to rectify it—much, much sooner. Politicians are scrambling to pass emissions legislation. Scientists are contemplating the uses of alternate energies with a zeal once reserved for curing diseases. Companies are churning out new environmental policies as quickly as they (still) do carbon gases.
The nostra culpa issued, we’re now looking to redress our wrongs. And one immediate, if tangential, way to make amends to the environment is first to make amends to its modern-day Cassandra—to the character who has been predicting our smog-obscured future all along from behind the wheel of his hybrid car.
So Gore’s press-christened nickname—“Goracle,” natch—speaks to more than copy editors’ love of a good pun. It speaks to a newfound respect for a man who, in spite of a political system that nearly demands positional oscillation, stuck to his ideological guns when it came to the environment. It speaks to a widespread belief that Gore was, as The New Republic declared, “right about everything, or at least everything that mattered: the war, global warming, the federal budget, the radicalism of the Bush presidency.”