September 25, 2012

Obama on The View, Romney's Whoopi Anxiety and the State-of-the-Art White House Pop Culture Machine

Obamas The View September 2012

When people look back and ask how Obama defeated Romney, one of the more unsung reasons will be pop culture.

Because Obama has done the TV circuit so many time, his appearance on ABC’s The View this week actually had to touted as “the President and the First Lady’s first joint appearance” on the show. But while the symbols and icons of TV, film, music, sports and Silicon Valley overflow the wading pool of the 44 Administration, I imagine part of the campaign strategy at this point is to draw parallels, getting the public to wonder  (just like people wondered in ’08 about all that Muslim, Africa, community-organizer business) whether Mitt and Ann are from far away.

Okay, there was the tidbit the other day that Mitt prefers Snooki over Honey Boo Boo, but the Romney’s daytime show appearance recently probably did more to make people aware of the disconnection, as if the couple were dipping their toes in the water for the first time. If pop culture has functioned, between Obama and the American public, like comfort food, the question of “who is Romney” seems even more accentuated because of his distance from E-Entertainment, iPad-love, and the addiction to Sunday as a day of touchdowns and ESPN. Just like the President had some special requirements that pop culture (and all that golfing) has well smoothed over, it’s now Romney who faces the challenge of proving himself (beyond the gates of the country club or the testimonials by fellow Mormons) as “a true American” with a common- and popular-enough frame of reference.

Romney, in fact, not only hasn’t taken advantage of pop culture, he’s actually increased his negatives by either tripping over it or disparaging it. One of the worst quotes among all the bad quotes from the secret video unearthed by Mother Jones, for example, was Romney’s aside expressing misgivings about going on The (“high risk”) View and having to face Whoopi Goldberg’s “sharp tongue.” And then, God forbid you use Dirty Harry/Josey Wales in the largest product endorsement/Hail Mary in campaign and political convention history and, after the gun smoke and the chair legs finally clear,  you end up stabbing each other in the back.

Just to emphasize how much mastery the state-of-the-art Obama White House has cultivated in terms of pop culture, I want to say a few words about this photo from Barack’s appearance on The Letterman Show the other night. I’m not sure people realized just how brilliant and tactically sophisticated this photo is, the first thing coming to my mind when I saw it being those carved Russian nesting dolls.

It’s a photo taken by Obama’s photographer, posted on the White House website and and then freely re-distributed by traditional media, of Obama in one more strategic pop-culture appearance on late night with a TV icon who happens to be unilaterally highlighting a newswire image that ended up going viral depicting a clever post-convention White House photo op capturing the President being hugged and lifted into the air by a Main Street Republican pizza joint-owning everyman. (Here’s our take on just the lift.)

And you know what? It’s not even the first time Letterman has shilled for the White House self-publishing juggernaut in the exact same post. Of course, I’d be laughing too if I could be so effacing while running such a machine. Red, White and View, indeed!

(photo: Donna Svennevik/ABC. caption: President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama make their first joint appearance on “The View,” Sept. 24, 2012. photo: Pete Souza/White House caption: President Barack Obama reacts to a photograph during an interview with David Letterman during a taping of the “Late Show with David Letterman” at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York, N.Y., Sept. 18, 2012. linked photo: Pete Souza/White House. caption: President Barack Obama reacts to a photograph of himself displayed by Late Show host David Letterman during their interview at CBS Studios in New York, N.Y. on Sept. 21, 2009.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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