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Monday, April 18, 2011

Viral Video for President

Analysis paper for my College English class:

The expected first place finish in the Iowa primary was shattered by the disappointing results pointing at a third place finish.  The exhaustion brought on by the constant campaigning was compounded by the flu dragging his body down and a sore throat making it hard to talk.  Accepting the early defeat, he took to the stage to concede to the third place finish but also to re-energize support for the upcoming presidential primaries.  The crowd roared in waves of cheering as the candidate took to the stage.  He took the cue to rally his supporters together; he called for a charge to victory, calling out the names of the states with upcoming primary elections.  His sore throat made it hard to be heard over the frenzied mob gathered that evening.  He ended with an enthusiastic, “yeah!”  Nothing seemed awry until the video feed was shown.  The candidate had been holding a unidirectional microphone designed to pick up just his voice and not the crowd.  The combination of yelling to be heard over the crowd, a microphone that couldn’t hear the crowd and his voice giving out from being sick caused his screaming climax of “yeah” to sound like the war cry of a mad man and not of a presidential candidate.   This became The Dean Scream, replayed many times and edited into many different forms through remixing.  The Dean Scream marked the beginning of the end of Howard Dean’s hopes for the presidency.  Was this a coincidence, aberration or could a sensational internet video or meme deeply impact a presidential election?
Internet sensations come in as many different forms as there are ways to post information on the internet.  Status updates can be turned into innuendo by a woman posting where she likes to keep her purse.  A slightly amusing phrase can be turned into a song through auto-tuning.  Pictures showing something gone wrong can have a phrase placed below them and become a spoof of a motivational poster.  People will answer a series of questions in a certain way and have their friends do the same.  A picture of a cat in an awkward spot is transformed with a funny misspelled phrase written on it.  These all take a point of information and add a funny spin to them.  You can also see the existence of this phenomenon in status updates that ask people to copy and paste a status to show support for a cause.  What we need to determine is if something like this can have an impact on the results of a presidential election.
Examining the composition of the American electorate, the people eligible to cast a vote in an election, shows what is being impacted by these bits of information.  The time spent campaigning is an attempt to influence these people into first, actually voting and secondly, voting for a particular candidate.  What influences the way that these people will vote?  That complex question is aptly answered by Baum and Jamison by dividing the American electorate into two parts, low-awareness and high-awareness, that is persuaded by two distinct types of news or information that affect their voting behavior (949).   High-awareness voters want hard hitting news designed to give them facts on the issues, examples being talk radio and 24 hour news networks (Baum and Jamison, 947).  However, low-awareness voters are moved by soft news, news designed about a relationship with the candidate and showing the candidates personality (Baum and Jamison, 948), like Bill Clinton playing the saxophone on late night television or Barack Obama being interviewed by Oprah. 
Considering that the last six presidential elections had margins of less than ten million votes consistent with a pattern for most presidential elections(“Presidential Elections”, InfoPlease), it is plausible for some form of alternative media that reaches a critical population to change the outcome of an election.  Take into consideration that Obama Girl was able to achieve ten million views during the last election cycle over 16 months ending on 28 October 2011 (Dube) going back to the initial upload on 13 June 2007 (Ettinger) to and now 3 years later the music video “Friday” by Rebecca Black quickly amasses over 87 million views in less than a month (Wilson).  The increased velocity that these spread is partially due to the increase of internet access and personalized or social usage of the internet for information (Bennett and Manheim, 223).  Social internet usage allows real-time updates and spreading to friends with every user being able to create and spread content instead of having access to a moderated and static webpage.  The model of communication has changed from Few-to-Many to Many-to-Many as communication hubs are eliminated (Dalsgaard, 10).
Also influential in gaining increased views on the internet is the increased proliferation of hand-held devices, such as cell-phones that can create, upload and share content through social networking sites such as Youtube, Facebook and Twitter.  Many cellphone and now tablet styled devices, both herein referred to as the mobile platform due to their portability and form factor, have a constant connection to the internet with sufficient resolution and processing power to edit still images and videos.  Three factors play a part in regards to these devices: content creation at a low price, the network effect and constant content consumption.
Low price accessibility in the mobile platform is caused by a variety of factors that bring about widespread proliferation.  The first is going to be Moore’s law that states electronics double in capacity and power every 24 months.  This pattern allows things to be smaller, more efficient and economical.  The second factor that drives down price, especially in the mobile platform, is telephone carrier subsidization of hardware.  Carriers will sell the connected mobile platform below cost knowing they have a signed contract for a set duration allowing them to recover the cost over that term.  These two factors allow people to gain inexpensive access to the hardware to create and distribute content.  The proliferation of these devices in the mobile platform started significantly in 2007 with the introduction of the Apple iPhone and moving to include the Android Operating System to end with a presence of mobile platform devices in the United States numbering 69.9 million users (Kats). 
The  ability to not only create, share and consume information anywhere at anytime delivered by these devices without being tied to a physical internet connection alone has drastically increased the amount of internet content that can be consumed.  Remember Obama Girl’s 16 month run for 10 million views compared to Rebecca Black’s one month to 87 million views?  Widespread consumption is the first step for an internet sensation or media point to have dramatically far reaching impact.  The second step is in the mobile platform space and the ability to create content.  From something as simple as filming your child on narcotics after they get dental work as seen in “David After Dentist”, catching a “Double Rainbow” on video in your front yard, re-inventing  the filming of a Double Rainbow into a song via auto-tuning, catching apparent clothing disasters on camera at a Wal-Mart or designing a de-motivational poster.  All of these things are easily done with today’s mobile platform hardware.  The drive for the high demand for these two sides is the ability to share content.  The content gains social value with the ability to put it into a repository and share it.  This has allowed us to move from a solely mediated set of creators of shared bits of information to every participant being able to be a creator and distributor.  Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr are currently the most prevalent sharing systems for any type of content.  The ability to Re-Tweet, Share or Reblog making it easy for social circles adjoining the social circles of the creator to have content move across them to a point that groups of people seeing the information are no longer connected to the original creator directly. 
Due to increased access to individually created, socially shared media and how easily it can be made to become widespread we arrive at one unmistakable reality, the 2012 Presidential election will be influenced by social media and it is entirely possible that an internet sensation in the form of a meme or video could change the outcome of the voting by being more influential on the swayable voters than traditional media.  We have already seen, in a less connected time, how it dashed the hopes of the presidency for Howard Dean.  How much more could a social gaffe like not knowing the cost of a gallon of milk, vomiting in a foreign dignitaries lap, being accused of spelling a word incorrectly or any other number of things spread across the internet?  It is clear that it would be able to spread quickly in a style of news that could easily impact not only unmotivated voters but could spread, as Obama Girl did to more hardcore news stories geared towards motivated voters.  Our next president could easily be brought to victory by a video or meme created by an outsider to the political process and spread throughout the internet.

Works Cited
Baum, Matthew, and Jamison, Angela.  “The Oprah Effect: How Soft News Helps
Inattentive Citizens Vote Consistently.” The Journal of Politics. 68.4 (2006):
946-959. Web 25 March 2011.
Bennett, W. Lance, and Manheim, Jarol B.  “The One-Step Flow of Communication.”
Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. Vol. 608.Nov
(2006): 213-232. Jstor. Web. 30 March 2011.
Dalsgaard, Stephen. “Facework on Facebook.” Anthropology Today. 24.6 (2008):
8-12. Wiley Online Library. Web. 30 March 2011
Dube, Johnathon. Obama Girl, Jib Jab, Youtube Debates Named Top Political
            Web Moments by Webbys. 28 October 2008. CyberJournalist.Net. Web.
            10 April 2011
Ettinger, Amber Lee. Crush on Obama. Youtube.  BarelyPolitical. 13 June 2007.
Web. 10 April 2011
Kats, Rimma. Mobile Web users increase to 69.9M: Study. 19 March 2010.
Mobile Marketer. Web. 10 April 2011.
“Presidential Elections, 1789 – 2008.” InfoPlease. Peasron Education, 2007 Web.
 10 April 2011
Wilson, Patrice. Rebecca Black – Friday (Official Video). Youtube. Perf. Rebecca Black.
10 February 2011. Ark Music. Web. 7 April 2011.

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