YouTube Fails Us Politically (or is it vice versa?)

There’s a blog-sharp maw waiting to gnash anyone who is critical of the democratizing power of YouTube. If you deride its star-making potential, you’re accused of old media partisanship. If you doubt its meritocratic infallibility, you’re a curmudgeon, scribbling from behind the fame-inflaming footlights of “most viewed today.” If you giggle at the candidates try — God, how they try! — to connect with their constituents, you are jaded, jaded, jaded.

Well here’s more jade: YouTube fails us politically. Or maybe it’s we who have failed YouTube. My circumstantial evidence: The top three most popular candidates in each party are also the top three most viewed candidates on YouTube. Hilary, Barack, Edwards, McCain, Romney, Guliani. We’re not exactly shaking the bowes of the ol’ ossified liberty tree with the winds of change.

The most popular videos: The anti-Hilary Apple advertising spoof (made by a Barack supporter) and McCain’s dulcet rendition of “Bomb, bomb Iran.” Also popular is an unofficial vid of Edwards messing with his hair. Welcome to political theater, now with comments. Only Bill Richardson’s self-deprecating advertisements achieved popularity while managing to combine some semblance of political discourse. And those vids are advertisements.

You might say I’m missing the point, that there’s a whole biosphere of YouTubers responding with their own vids, or commenting on the vids, or otherwise transversing that brightly shining lattice of the web’s agora. Maybe so. But that very fact hasn’t created a more honest dialogue from the candidates, it’s just made them more tight-lipped and worried about flubbing up on video.

Meanwhile, online video consultants are growing like kudzu, promising to help candidates control their message in the information age. Their best tip: Flood the zone with lies. Kudos, technophiles, splendid progress. Enjoy your peek at transparency while you have it.