Blog Post

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.

6 Responses to “YouTube Fails Us Politically (or is it vice versa?)”

  1. Kate Redburn

    Not to fall into the trap you set in the first paragraph, but I think you’re miscounting something here. You’re right that conventionally popular candidates are also the most popular on youtube, but the non-frontrunners have arguably been given a huge boost through the service. For example, Ron Paul is being called the most tech savvy of the republican candidates, and his online following (youtube included) is huge.
    That said, you’re point is well taken. Youtube is an interesting piece of the puzzle, but has yet to prove itself as more than a vehicle for “political theater.” Come 2008 we’ll know more. In the meantime, it’s fun to watch non-politically minded friends get hooked on citizenKate (no relation:) and prezvid.

  2. The use of internet video in politics is in its very early stages. People complained about the content on blogs at first — some still do — but most people now agree that type of conversation is helpful to the political process.

    Internet video is general is a hot medium. You’re never going to see much calm conversation. If you want that, watch Meet the Press or PBS News Hour.

    I doubt if you’ll ever see great video from the campaign’s directly. But who cares? That isn’t their job. A politician should focus on reaching voters and presenting their platform.

    Regular voters, commentators, journalists and entertainers will ultimately create the best content online.

    I think it is also helpful to realize that clips like the McCain “Bomb Iran” song shouldn’t be analyzed on their own. Video clips are often embedded into blogs which makes them part of a larger conversation. They are a visual aid to illustrate a point or spark discussion.

  3. Had another thought after leaving the above comment. This reminds me of Om’s recent post on the failed promise of iTunes podcast directory – ultimately rewarding existing big players. Not to be cliche – but what does the long tail of YouTube political video views look like though?