Now that we’re finally approaching the end of a presidential campaign season that started way back in May 2007 … and as an aside, allow me to observe that it used to be that declaring for the presidency the December before the Iowa caucuses/New Hampshire primaries was early …
Let’s take a look back at one of the emerging forces that has come out of nowhere these last fours years to impact the way that politics is conducted: viral videos.
The first indication that this was going to have a transformative effect on the electoral process was back in ’06, when Virginia Senator George Allen’s “Macaca Moment” kneecapped the GOP’s best hope for hanging onto the White House. This was not the first YouTube video about politics, but it was the first really big one. The scandal that erupted over this cost Allen his Senate seat, his shot at the White House, and was the signal that Virginia was now in play for the Democrats – one of the really big, under-reported shifts in electoral demographics of the last couple years.
Now they, you’ll notice that this video has only racked up 370,000 views or so. Good, but hardly awe-inspiring … not even in the category of kittens dancing around on piano keys.
So how is it that these videos have such an effect? Well, the mainstream media is still, for now at least, the ones setting the parameters and nature of the conversation. But the process by which the MSM frames the national discussion has undergone a sea change. And part of it is the GOP’s fault.
It started with Drudge and the Monica Lewinsky scandal (although many are finally acknowledging that the “Drudge Effect” is losing steam), continued on with the Swift Boat veterans, and this year, finds its truest expression in the vids of Fey-as-Palin.
See, reporters and editors are pretty much web addicts. We poke around on the internet all day long, trying to figure out what the Vox Populi is saying, so we can latch onto it and churn out a “trend” story. And then go drink.
Viral videos that make us laugh, make us stop, make us click to get the link and then e-mail it to our friends & colleagues … those get the “trend” prize, whether they are or not at the time. And, of course, once a critical mass of journalists bestows the “this is a growing trend” status on a meme (Soccer Mom, NASCAR Dad, Security Mom, Joe the Plumber, etc.), then said meme is going to get a serious working-over by the material-starved talking heads on the cable news programs.
We are moving closer and closer to a merging of the “underground” flow of significant memes and information on the internet, and what the MSM reports and pays attention to. This gallery of viral hits will take you through the history of the Presidential Campaign ’08, in a way that will have you remembering the conversations we were having only a few months ago, and how those memes have morphed into the Accepted Collective Wisdom.
Mission accomplished. Time for cocktails.
1. Yes We Can – Barack Obama Music Video
It started with this, back when the Iowa caucuses came back, and people started actually buying into the idea that maybe … maybe … there’s something to this guy Obama. Maybe we don’t have to pin our hopes on Hilary and another depressing go-round with Bill Clinton in the White House with a lot of free time on his hands. This has gotten 11 million views since it was put up, features will.i.am and hella good editing & soundtrack.
2. Dear Mr. Obama.
A hit for the McCain campaign, this Iraq war vet holds forth on his belief that the war was not a mistake. This has been made into a commercial for the Republican Majority Campaign PAC.
3. I’ve got a crush on Obama.
This one got more than 10 million views – which proves that hot chicks in tight clothing are certainly a spur to the success of a video. Lately, Amber Lee Ettinger has diversified and put on the Palin glasses & hair bun, and there are now more than 30 “Obama Girl” videos.
4. JibJab’s “It’s time for some campaignin’ ”
This one came along in mid-July, when we were starting to get really serious about this, and provided a nice preview of the emerging themes of the campaign. This wasn’t as big a hit as the videos back in 2004, when the images of Kerry sailing up the Mekong and Bush screwing up everything he touched really hit a nerve. This one does deliever, however, with Obama riding a rainbow unicorn. And seeing Hilary clonk Bill with a frying pan never gets old.
5. McCain’s YouTube problem just became a nightmare
This one has gotten upwards of 8 million hits, and is from provocateur Robert Greenwald and bravenewfilms (full disclosure: years ago, I worked on a project that was destined for Greenwald’s production company, until it got tied up in a very messy legal quagmire). This video, part of a “The Real McCain” effort to define the candidate, set a lot of the foundations for the stories that we’ve been seeing reported in the last couple of months. Another very telling point: it’s garnered upwards of 66,000 comments – a pretty good yardstick for something that “engages” the audience.
6. Obama, Paris Hilton & Britney Spears – the “Rock Star” Ad
This is another video that got more than 2 million view, and made a huge splash at the time. To many people, this marked the spot where the McCain campaign went off the rails … where it started to become less about what McCain was going to do, and more about going negative and trying to smear Obama, using whatever means necessary. Of course, this then led to one of the funniest responses of the campaign season …
7. Paris Hilton accepts McCain’s endorsement
“I’ll see you at the debates, bitches,” is one of the best one-liners of the campaign season. I blogged about this before, so go there for a fuller reaction to her actually rather insightful energy policy.
8 . Crazy Hilary Supporter Goes Off
Remember back when the PUMAs were allegedly going to tear the Democratic Party apart? When this giant seething mass of resentful, fanatic feminist Hilary supporters were going to desert and vote for McCain because they were so pissed off about the treatment Hilary got in the primaries? This woman made her way into the media spotlight for a while. And then it turned out that she didn’t really represent any kind of significant voice in American politics. She was just old, ornery and slightly nuts. Kinda like McCain, some to think of it…
9. RNC Convention Protests
This footage of Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman being carted away made a lot of news at the time, as did the tear gas and other protests going on outside the convention hall. This was all quickly overshadowed by the next player to emerge on the national stage…
10. Is McCain Palin’s Bitch?
This one has gotten more than 2 million view, yet it hasn’t made it as big as some of the other viral hits. I just love it because they managed to find an actor who actually kinda looks like McCain. And it starts with the faux-Palin firing an AK-47. And ends with the line “Who wants to go polar bear huntin’?”
11. Couric-Palin interview – “I can see Russia from my window”
This has passed into the category of epochal political history. The moment that Palin said something so galactically stupid that people around the world stopped in their tracks to ask, “She said WHAT? What the hell was THAT?” Of course, that then opened the door to….
12. Tina Fey as Sarah Palin
This got more than 7 million views. And has spawned a whole cottage industry. I’m sure you have seen all of these. And if you haven’t in a while, go and check them out. They could populate an entire list by themselves…
13. Sarah Silverman’s “The Great Schlep”
This is not as genius as Tina Fey’s work above, but it’s still damn good, and more than that, has apparently inspired a whole bunch of young East Coast jews to bug their grandparents in Florida to vote Obama. We’ll have to wait ’til Tuesday to see how well that worked out, but in the meantime, the description of Obama’s barbecue skills is worth a peep.
14. Obama – McCain Dance-Off
If we are not to settle big issues through single combat, then the dance-off would seem to some observers (OK, me) to be an equally thrilling and relevant process. And it may reveal more about character and poise than those damn canned statements they just recite in front of the cameras in lieu of actually answering the questions asked by the moderators.
Final winners will be unveiled tomorrow.