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ISSUE 121 VOL 11 PUBLISHED 2/22/2008

The Revolution Will Be Digitized

By Cody Venzke
Variety Editor


Friday, February 22, 2008

Without a doubt, this year is a presidential election year. Like most election cycles, this one has been marked by the usual hubbub of activity -- debates, ads, annoying phone calls that ruin dinner, and, of course, more debates. It seems like the ads and the campaigning start earlier and earlier, and this year was no exception, as candidates had joined the race as early as October 2006 (yes, that's 2006 -- more than 2 years before the general election).

But just as this year's campaign may seem like nothing unusual, it has also brought about some unprecedented changes. Not only will an African-American or a woman be competing in the general election this November, but historic numbers of voters have also joined the process.

And with so many new voters participating -- especially young ones -- the Internet has become fodder ground for this year's candidates and their foot soldiers fighting on the frontlines. As online fundraising has become a necessity in keeping the campaign purse full, the ever-entertaining world of viral videos has also entered the fray. That's right--YouTube and its cohorts have gone political.

This is nothing to fear, however. It seems that Mike Huckabee, Hillary Clinton, and their rivals are far more Internet savvy than one could have ever imagined. Consequently, they have produced videos that cater a bit more to the Internet culture than the muck that overruns airwaves in the days leading up to caucuses and elections.

This isn't to say, of course, that more traditional political material isn't available on the Internet as well. Last summer and last fall, for example, CNN and YouTube co-hosted a debate for each party in which the questions were not asked by pundits or journalists, but by YouTube users who submitted video-recorded questions. Both debates are now available in their entirety from CNN.com and youtube.com.

YouTube's YouChoose '08 channel is overflowing with a wealth of other material for political junkies and the otherwise bored. Here you can find all the propaganda that you'd ever want--speeches, ads and endorsements. Candidates' websites offer more of the same material, and some investigation can uncover other gems like full-length debates.

But the real excitement and the real entertainment lies in the clips that campaigns and supporters have produced specifically for online viewers. And like the number of people who use the Internet, the content of the videos can range anywhere from inspiring to humorous or even disturbing. Other are just tasteless.

Viralvideochart.com has made it its business to monitor, catalogue and rank every video that surfaces on the web. Among its charts, there are two of particular interest. And yes, despite the videos of talking cats and Super Bowl commercials, these political ones might actually worth your time. At number six on the "Election '08" list (there's also one titled "Politics") ranks the video that arguably started it all: "Obama Girl."

I expect that you've seen the video, but perhaps you haven't. Quite basically, the video features a model parading around what seems to be New York City singing about her love for Senator Barack Obama. (Well, lip-synching anyway, since it turns out the lyrics were originally recorded by Leah Kauffman and then dubbed over the video of Amber Ettinger, the model featured in the video, doing her thing.) Naturally, the video was a huge success, and Obama Girl (Ettinger, that is) even landed time on cable news shows to discuss her support for the Senator from Illinois. Interestingly, it turns out that Ettinger didn't quite feel it necessary to vote for him in New Jersey's primary on Super Tuesday.

Like any true viral video, one video is never enough. Not only did the video produce two sequels--that's right, sequels--but also a number of responses, including "Hillary Girl" and "Giuliani Girl" videos. My favorite, however, has to be "Brownback Girl," a tribute by a retirement-aged woman to her favorite candidate, Senator Sam Brownback from Kansas. "Because we're living in a sinful world," she croons as she dances among the pews in a church, "I am a Brownback girl."

Brownback's campaign, however, was short-lived. Since then, former governor and Baptist minister Mike Huckabee has won the favor of the religious right. Despite his traditional Southern roots, however, Huckabee has made his way into the vaults of YouTube as well.

Huckabee has a supporter far more potent than any "Huckabee Girl," too. Huckabee has the endorsement of none other than Chuck Norris. Yes, I said Chuck Norris, "Walker Texas Ranger" himself.

In November 2007, the Mike Huckabee campaign released a video entitled "HuckChuckFacts," which features both Huckabee and Norris, as the two reveal facts about one another. "My plan for securing the border?" Huckabee asks at one point in the video. "Two words: Chuck Norris." "HuckChuckFacts" comes in at number 16 in ViralVideoChart's list of the Top 20 presidential videos.

Huckabee seems to have a unique sense of humor, too. He's made repeated appearances on the "Colbert Report," and even intervened via satellite to break up a feud between Conan O'Brien, Stephen Colbert and John Stewart over who "made Huckabee." The feud had gone on for several weeks, and the whole thing can be seen on YouTube, along with Huckabee's well-timed intervention. Funny enough, this all actually involves Chuck Norris as well. He seems to be everywhere.

Other viral videos seek to deliver a more serious message. In the video "Vote Different" (number 18 in the Top 20 list), the producers of the video stress the need to break from "politics as usual," as one candidate is apt to put it. In a remake of Apple's famous "1984" Super Bowl commercial, the giant screen of Big Brother has been replaced by a giant screen of Hillary Clinton. The woman who smashes the ominous screen isn't ushering in the age of the Macintosh computer, however. Which candidate the makers of the video support is fairly obvious by the time the workers are liberated from their hypnotic drudgery.

More recently, Black Eyed Peas' frontman will.i.am led the production of a music video built around Senator Obama's "Yes We Can" speech given after winning South Carolina's Democratic primary. The video features a number of stars who transform the speech into a spoken-world video. One by one, each of the stars share in the four-and-a-half minute video that culminates in hopeful, almost triumphant shouts of "Yes We Can!"

Like Obama Girl, "Yes We Can" has set off a string of reactions across the Internet. Since February 2, the video has been viewed almost four million times on YouTube, and is quickly catching up to other viral videos. With its popularity, the video has spawned other viral videos, both titled, "No We Can't!" One, featuring footage from a John McCain speech, directly attacks the Senator and the policies his party furthers. At one point, the words "Can I pay my mortgage?" flash across the screen as "No, you can't!" is shouted in the background.

The second video follows more closely to the pattern of the Obama video. This one is dominated by a figure who bears a remarkable resemblance to Dick Cheney in the same capacity that will.i.am serves in the Obama video. The video is a sharp critique of not only the current administration's policies, but of the Republican Party in general. For four words, the Dick Cheney-look-alike follows Senator Obama's script; after that, he veers off wildly. "We run this nation," he declares near the video's end, "and together we will stop this nonsense about writing the next great chapter in the American story!"

Perhaps the lightest video out there is one that has little to do with any actual politics. In fact, at this point in the race, it makes a great recap as it features many of the candidates who have dropped out already--let's see how many we can still recognize. This video is simple, yet it has it's share of stars--the Muppets. Titled "Muppets for President," the video is essentially a slideshow of the Muppets beside their presidential look-alikes. Sometime the resemblance is disturbing. The best part, however, is seeing Mike Gravel again. Is this guy seriously still running for President? Maybe not.

The growing interest in the employment of viral videos for even political discussions marks, in one sense, a new age for politics and for the Internet. After investigating the entertaining, the hilarious, and thought-provoking videos out there, the internet provides another resource for you. Take advantage not only of the debates and speeches on YouTube, but also the information that is out there to help you make an informed decision.





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