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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “More media, more problems”

    Thank goodness I don’t live in Iowa. In addition to bitterly cold winters and panoramic cornfields in which I would almost certainly get lost, Iowans also have to contend with the obscene amounts of campaign advertising that heralds the January caucuses – the nation’s first concrete barometers for who might end up as the presidential nominee for the Republican and Democratic parties.

    Candidates such as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama exude star power and fuel intense controversy, while a disparate group of Republican nominees has resulted in polls forecasting radically different results in Florida, with different winners already in Iowa, New Hampshire and Michigan. This year, campaign advertising and publicity seem to be more important than ever – and more expensive, with Fortune magazine hypothesizing $3 billion in total campaign expenditures by the end of the election season – and both are reinventing themselves right in front of our eyes.

    In 2008, campaign publicity is more creative and self-deprecating than ever. Satirical ads are welcome flashes of personality from politicians, who are usually perceived as disingenuous and distant. Additionally, linking politics with pop culture creates a bond with young voters in an election season that seems unusually focused upon youth issues and turnout. The question is whether or not this change in campaign publicity is a meaningful one.

    Stan Williams, executive director of the Young Democrats of Arizona, sees it as a positive trend. “”I would say namely that all campaigns in general … need to rethink their approach when it comes to youth advertising and targeting,”” he said.

    Republican candidate and Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, for instance, was able to blend humor and issues with his “”HuckChuckFacts”” advertisement, in which he responded to Norris’s assertion that “”Mike Huckabee wants to put the IRS out of business,”” with “”When Chuck Norris does a push-up, he isn’t lifting himself up. He’s pushing the earth down.”” Whether or not those ads put Huckabee over the top in Iowa isn’t totally clear, but it definitely served to make young voters – and people of any age who still find Chuck Norris jokes funny – sit up and pay attention.

    Williams agrees. “”(Huckabee’s ad) came at just the right time when he was surging in Iowa and it helped break through the noise,”” he said. More worrisome, however, is the idea that anyone’s vote hinges upon who Chuck Norris is endorsing at any given time.

    Huckabee managed to hold the floor in Iowa, but couldn’t replicate the same results in New Hampshire or Michigan, suggesting that those most responsive to innovative publicity might also be the most fickle.

    More serious are the recent repercussions from the “”Iron my shirt”” signs in the audience at a rally for Senator Clinton in New Hampshire, determined to be the brainchild of Adolfo Gonzalez Jr. and Nick Gemelli from WBCN’s “”Toucher & Rich,”” a radio show based in Boston. Though the signs were meant as a prank, rather than being the manifestation of the rage of cranky, emasculated and rumpled men, it once again brought Clinton’s gender to the forefront of her campaign in a way that was neither productive nor illuminating. Most irritating of all, it caused her campaign to dive into a debate about gender relations that it had not asked to participate in, and was certainly not an issue that the men who catalyzed the controversy were prepared to discuss intelligently.

    The media has allowed voter participation to manifest itself in new ways, but the way some have chosen to wield this new power can make it seem a little better than the sanitized campaign ads of old.

    This problem also surfaced in CNN’s YouTube debates, which made media history by allowing people to send in their own videotaped questions for candidates. The debates can be thought of as democracy at its purest – allowing citizens outside of campaign offices to shape the discourse. At the same time, the debates represented democracy at its dumbest, with some submissions focusing more on silly animation and camera techniques than substantive questions.

    With all the innovation, it takes a while to weed out what works from what doesn’t. Campaign ads have a much more restrictive time in which to do so, and in the end the candidates that master the new level of scrutiny and voter manipulation of the media will be able to harness these new tools for their benefit.

    Meanwhile, it is up to voters young and old to hold all new media, rather than just the publicity that is explicitly endorsed by candidates, to the same standards of quality and fairness that we would like to see. In this new era of campaign advertising we are in the driver’s seat more than ever before, and as such we should create the media environment that we would like to see – one which encourages meaningful participation from all involved, not just the ones whose names appear on the ballot.


    Sarah Devlin is a sophomore majoring in English and political science. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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