Problem number two is that a lecture is precisely what Mr. Lakoff gives us. I grant that Lakoff seems to know what he is talking about and is nothing if not thorough, but he is somewhat lacking in the charisma department. This problem is compounded by the fact that the director films him, unedited, for 20 to 25 minutes at a time. Have you ever seen a 20-minute monologue in a movie before? No. And there's a very good reason for that.
Lakoff's speeches account for about 90% of the film. I won't say that he comes off as overly dry or esoteric, but I will say that if you rub two copies of this film together, you will produce fire.
The remaining 10% of the film is made up of short commentaries by Sean Penn. I would call them "interludes" or "introductions" except that they have virtually nothing to do with what Lakoff either has talked about, or is going to talk about. For example, after Lakoff introduces his concept of framing an argument (for 24 minutes), the film fades out on him and shows the title: "FDR: A Great Leader." Sean Penn talks for about a minute about what a great president Franklin Roosevelt was. The film fades out on Penn, then back to another title: "FDR: A Serious Commander." Penn spends another minute praising Roosevelt's ability to fight as commander-in-chief and claiming that Roosevelt never used scare tactics (if that sounds like a debatable argument, we're just getting started). After Penn's short profile of FDR (complete with two unique headings), Lakoff talks for 11 uninterrupted minutes — not about Franklin Roosevelt, but about language.
But the worst problem by far in Deflating the Elephant is that it uses vague and misleading language to attack Republicans while at the same time criticizing them for using vague and misleading language. Lakoff explains how Republicans frame issues to their advantage. He offers no instances of a Democrat framing an issue; they're just the victims in this film.
This pro-Democrat partisanship becomes evident in Lakoff's first segment. In discussing the concept of "tort reform," Lakoff first explains at length what the civil justice system is in America (and yes, all of his answers are equally indirect). I have to admit that he makes good on his argument that conservatives have successfully framed this issue to their advantage. "Reform," as Lakoff notes, is a very positive word, implying purification and simplification. Not only that, but conservatives have made the focus of the issue greedy lawyers and frivolous lawsuits, rather than talking about proposed limits on jury-awarded damages. Liberals are mistaken to fight the battle on these terms, we are told. However, at the end of the argument Lakoff states, fairly out of the blue, that the Republicans more or less want to do away with the civil justice system — period. That could generously be called an oversimplification, claiming that Republicans actually advocate — and I quote — "letting criminals run free." By making such an exaggerated accusation, Lakoff is doing the exact thing he accuses conservatives of doing; his hypocrisy is both staggering and pervasive.