January 22, 2007

We're In


Recently, a friend who works for the Clinton campaign wrote to ask if I would blog about Hillary Clinton’s Presidential exploratory committee announcement. 

Because my friend knows my gig is visual analysis, perhaps he and the Clinton folks will be checking in over the coming months to see how the campaign looks with the sound off.  For now, however, I offer my feedback of Hillary’s kick-off “I’m in” video.  I’ve got two takes:

1.  I understand on-line video is currently the “bright shiny object” of internet politics.  Still, in these early days of the app, why does YouTube-ization compel candidates to pretend to talk to me personally, face-to-face, with me in their living room and/or them in mine?

If there is a definitive trend in contemporary politics and infotainment (the two being synonymous, I’m afraid), it’s the demand that the performer-politician remove all distance between herself and the viewer, and destroy all sense of artifice.  If the next generation of Karl Roves want a “mentality” to study, however, they should look at the indie music biz, which is about ten years ahead of them in terms of unselfconscious “one to many” communication, as well as non-hierarchical interaction with a fan base.

Although Hilary’s PR people, I’m sure, are thrilled with this video, I think Hillary’s presentation is fairly stilted.  On the surface, the “living room” concept must seem like the great leap forward, but so did narrating one’s every move the day the first man (or woman) brought home the first video camera.

And speaking of “way back when,” part of the problem here — and it’s going to be interesting to follow — is how ’08 candidates attempt to communicate across generational lines.  Yesterday’s NYT WIR feature about “Boomer Candidates” actually did a good job setting out the issue.

It’s one thing if a post-Boomer (like Obama) tries a fireside cyber meet-up.  That’s because he’s from a generation more coded for real-time chat.  On the other hand, any Boomer candidate (or older) should think twice before supposing to engage in a virtually-personal conversation with us.  Maybe the first time, Mrs. Clinton gets by on novelty.  But, it’s going to feel more and more like a device — especially while we have AIM, Skype or iChat open, and our real friends keep interrupting.

Unfortunately, I also had a problem with the living room.  As a functional space in today’s home, the living room is an anachronism.  I understand, as a metaphor, it’s cozy and personal.  Again, however, it’s more about “yesterday.”  (Ditto, the furnishings.)  On top of that, I don’t think “domesticity” is the candidate’s strongest suit.

Given the web as an “authenticity medium,” I think the “personal conversation” concept is also wrong for Hillary.  If she doesn’t shine doing “warm and fuzzy,” why push it?  Something else I might try is (far) less polished video taken from real time conversations where she is talking — one-on-one — with different Joes or Janes we can each identify with.  Show her (please!) with her guard down, thinking on her feet (which we know she’s an ace at) with warmth that we’re certain is genuine.



2.  Why was the camera slowly panning left, then right, throughout the video (except during the close ups)?

I’m sure it was inadvertent, but I’ll tell you what it made me think.  On the credenza behind Hillary were three framed photos.  In the one closest to Hillary was a photo of her with Bill.  In the middle frame, I think the photo featured Hillary and Chelsea.  I couldn’t make out the third.

It’s probably just my projection, but I read it as the campaign going back and forth, unsure how much to focus on Bill and Hillary as a couple (versus Bill) versus Hillary alone.

Anyway, its early in the game, and I’m sure the Clinton team will quickly realize you can’t just port TV to the internet.  In the meantime, I hope this helps.

(images: hillaryclinton.com)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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