Tuesday, February 5, 2008

On Sunday's Rally of Powerful Women in Calif. for Obama

Watching the YouTube videos of Oprah, Maria Shriver, Caroline Kennedy and Michelle Obama stumping for Obama at UCLA on Sunday, it was striking to see these powerful, articulate women aiming their words at women and convincing them to vote for Obama.
I'm sure that Oprah's endorsement, along with these other celebrity and political female powerhouses, was instrumental in getting Obama votes for the nomination in California.

Here's a link to an editorial in the New York Times on this rally, calling it "the best campaign rally I’ve seen in 20 years of covering presidential politics."

Do you know why this rally was so powerful? Because with this array of attractive, celebrity women, Obama shows he is a master of the new medium, and the medium is the message. This was a successful "show business" or "entertainment" event for the Television age, or as I'll dub it, the YouTubeAge, which distills visual images into digitally-palatable minutes of downloadable videos available to all.

I'm referring to what media critic Neil Postman termed in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death, Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. As he argued, we've come a long way from the Age of Typography of the Lincoln and Douglas debates, which were very literate in nature, because the American public was more literate. Now, in the television age, political discourse is all visual; it's all dumbed-down by television. Postman's point: "how television stages the world becomes the model for how the world is properly to be staged. It is not merely that on the television screen entertainment is the metaphor for all discourse. It is that off the screen the same metaphor prevails. . . Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other. They do not exchange ideas; they exchange images. They do not argue with propositions; they argue with good looks, celebrities and commercials."

Postman wrote, "a good television program always aims to achieve...applause, not reflection." These women--Oprah, Shriver, Kennedy--were great at eliciting applause from the thousands in the audience, but they didn't even try to elicit reflection.

That's why Oprah could get away with vague speech consisting only of buzzwords. She offered no specifics. Instead, she repeated buzzwords: "Change we can believe in", "Yes we can," and he is "brilliant, brilliant, brilliant." But she doesn't have to offer examples or specifics; she's Oprah, and a recommendation from her is enough to be persuasive. She has "charisma", that quality that everyone is saying Obama has, and that many say Hillary lacks, but Bill had.

Entertainment is what matters in politics, and Obama is the better entertainer. In showbiz, what works is making people feel good, making them smile and laugh: Obama is good at cracking jokes, and Hillary is less successful at that. Many say they like Obama because he's "inspiring;" his words make them feel good.

In contrast to this energetic panel of telegenic women on stage pumping up the crowd for Obama on Sunday, Hillary Clinton, good student that she is, with her nose to the grindstone, led a town hall discussion for an hour on Monday night, heralding to the Age of Typography, of the true debate, the true discussion, which is what she thinks the American people want. In the last few weeks, she's offered to stay to answer people's every last question. But as the Washington Post mocked her on its web site a few weeks ago with a video showing bored people, that doesn't make for good visual "soundbites," for good television, and it's not what the American people want; it's the same reason people didn't like Gore (who also would have done better in the Age of Telegraphy or Exposition: they want "good looks" and "celebrity"; they want "entertainment." (As does the media--it sells more papers and scores more downloads.) And Obama is better at providing that than Hillary Clinton. As are Obama's supporters.

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