I think this election cycle is exciting for a variety of reasons, but one of them is the ways in which individuals and groups not attached to the campaigns are remixing and creating content, posting it on the web, and having it spread. While I’m sure the creation by individuals and groups of material that supports a candidate isn’t new, the way these texts circulate is certainly new: to broader audiences and with much more speed. Additionally, this gives the rhetorical agents the ability to create more texts based on their previous texts, giving their work some periodicity.
An example of this, of course, is Obama Girl, who first created a video about her love for Obama, and now has developed super powers that allow her to punch out the enemy (being all other politicians, it seems, as well as the “status quo”).
Another example is this remix, created by will.i.am of the Black Eye Peas:
It’s rather moving and inspirational, I think.
Of course, ignoring institutional power as we talk about the viral nature of these videos and other texts would be a detriment. will.i.am has money and notoriety, which helps him to gain media access, but even those without this kind of fame have had boosted attention from the mainstream media. For the most part (though there are exceptions), many of these digital texts have gained media attention, which helps them get more attention on the Internet.
And buried in all this is a complete lack of attention to issues, which I believe are increasingly getting lost in the move from politicians as policy setters to politicians as celebrities. We might even understand these digital texts as celebrations of the candidates’ celebrity, a case of what JÃ¼rgen Habermas would call the refuedalization of our lifeworld.
Ignorance of the issues and focus on candidate’s “electability” or “charisma” also obfuscates their rhetoric. The prime example of this, I think, is Barack Obama’s monopoly on the words “change” and “hope,” two commonplaces that are circulated to such a degree that they have lost most (if not all) denotative meaning and instead connote and associate. (This monopoly is made nearly complete with Edwards dropping out and Clinton’s ineffectiveness as making the terms part of her campaign.) What do these terms mean?
Obama Girl’s super powers video makes this exceptionally clear that not only does Obama have this monopoly (she is fighting not just Bush, but both Bill and Hillary Clinton, the former of whom ran on a campaign of “change”), but also that this term has no meaning. If on the side of “hope” and “change” are Obama and his supporters, and every other politician, with the exception of Ted Kennedy (who paradoxically seems to stand with “change” while still being part of the old guard of the Democratic Party) stand for the “status quo” (again, another undefined term; as John Dewey warns, there is no “status quo” because culture is not static, but ever-changing), what do “hope” and “change” mean?