Friday, October 08, 2004

 

Stagecraft

Hm.

Okay, I think at this point it could honestly be said that I am a political junkie. I know waaay too much about not only the issues, but the candidates this time around, and like the greater proportion of the citizens, I probably know more about the spin than I do either. All that said, gotta say, the main reason why I find myself riveted to this year's presidential campaign has to do with the way the media, plural, has shifted, and the manner in which a couple of old school candidates are trying, and to a large extent failing, to make use of emergent media to control their public image--and the very real way in which the internet, specifically, is having an effect on the campaign as a whole.

This medium (or channel, depending upon your assessment of the role of the internet in communication) has, arguably, an even greater effect upon my own viewpoints as very nearly all of the news I absorb on this front reaches me through the internet, because I'm not actually in the states, thus radio, newspaper, and television is not going to have the same effect on my viewpoints. And I have to admit, I get a lot of my own information via blogs and forums, not reliable sources in and of themselves, but often containing information that leads me to decent sources about fairly obscure stories. What is really compelling to me, however, is much the same phenomenon that makes the net compelling to me as regards artistic expression, i.e., that as a result of interactivity, of being able to not only choose the channel you're watching, but with relative ease create your own channel, and to invite near-instant feedback on how your particular channel is working, the information takes a very different shape. Case in point: as any regular reader will know, I co-edit an online zine, and one portion of that zine is a 'spotlight' interview with a chosen poet. To date, I have generated 10 of these interviews (the latest to go online by midnight of October 15th (that is, at the temporal border between the 15th and the 16th), and these interviews are in and of themselves complete educations in the art of writing--not only for their content, but as a result of the process involved in generating them. The latest was conducted over the phone, with a hand-held tape recorder, over 3 Q&A sessions. These taped conversations were then transcribed, ums, ers and all painstakingly rendered into the written format, then the natural pauses, repetitions and stutters that mark conversation smoothed out, questions and answers involving barely verbal constructions rendered in (mostly) full sentences while taking pains to preserve as much of the conversational tone as possible, and finally, the entire conversation was re-arranged to group like themes with like themes. All of this changes the nature of the original communication, though most especially the re-arrangement, which is the rule on all 10 interviews, the sole exception being the Jason Pettus interview, which was also a transcription, but involved no rearrangement. Point being, as I go through the process of generating such a piece, I can't help but reflect upon the high likelihood that similar processes are at work in the generation of 'news' stories. There's little that is unvarnished truth--which is perhaps why I can excuse the tactics of folks like Michael Moore. (having said that, I think Moore stops considerably short of real brilliance, speaking solely on aesthetic grounds, precisely because his movies fail to apply the criticism he levels at the 'media' to himself--if Moore just once took that additional step, I would probably be gob-smacked, and submitting a rave review of his work. As it is, B4C posits the use of fear as a controlling mechanism used by politicians and 'the media', while neglecting to note its own use of fear for precisely the same ends, and F911 is most compelling when showing us Bush administration members preening before the announcement of the war in Iraq, while failing to draw our attention to the fact that there is considerable off-camera preening going on in the shooting of the film at hand--in either case, if Moore takes that one additional step, he moves from the merely entertaining and provocative, and to the truly brilliant. But he doesn't.)

So, to the real 'issue' today: what are some of my sources? Well, surprise to many of you, I'm sure, especially in light of the above long parenthetical, to find out that I am an unredeemed lurker at the forums at Moorewatch, where I tend to watch for the latest popular conspiracy theories and conservative spin on breaking news. Of particular use is the 'General Discussion' area--I do not contribute, am not registered, as I have contributed one or two comments to the main page of this site, and have found myself subject to attacks that have little to do with logic. However, the forum does prove useful in picking up priceless little quips like the one Steve Schmidt offered in response to the Dem's providing proof that the VP and John Edwards had indeed met before the VP debate. It is also excellent for finding out the latest non-issue to rage through the many bloggers providing commentary on the campaign, whether it be SBVT, one of the many 'anti-Moore' movies slated for release (can you say 'stalking horse'? I knew you could.), or the latest regarding the controversy over whether one or both of the presidential candidates cheated at the debate. This latest, I gotta admit, is, on the level of pure entertainment, the best and most fun of the bunch, progressing, as it has, from slow motion video replays showing Kerry removing something from his jacket, to video evidence suggesting Bush was unfolding something at the podium, to suggestions that Bush might have been wired for sound during the debate. (And for the record, I don't think this issue truly relevant--though my estimation of Bush might actually go UP, in a sense, if it were to be proven definitively that he can listen to an audio feed and speak at the same time--it's not easy. Try it some time.) Some of this last 'issue' may be reviewed by following the links provided in today's Electoral Vote Predictor, an interesting site that, while run by someone who calls himself a Democrat, does seem to attempt to aim at a level of objectivity not always achieved by websites. Another regular resource is Zogby International pollster John Zogby's site, and probably one of the better go-to polling sites one can access (though who the hell can really make sense of any of the polls this go-round?). Zogby's also has a forum, considerably further to the left than is Moorewatch, but generally containing political discussions of a much higher tone. Finally, for kicks, and because sometimes the posts there are amusing, I regularly access Mr. Moore's 'Must Read' page, and have recently discovered the joys of The Daily Show via video excerpts posted on the web.

Now, anyone who has watched this blog, or tracked my comments elsewhere, is probably perfectly clear on where I fall on the Political Compass (i.e., considerably 'left' of the Dalai Lama), so I'm not out to try to convince anyone at this point, just making my own stance known in a relatively quiet way. My real purpose, in addressing all this, is just to try to collect my own thoughts re: how informed/effective the various campaigns have been in assessment of the net's potential to make or break a campaign. This particular election process looks weirder than previous ones, but I'm not entirely sure that perception of the process extends past the point of appearance, because the fact is, as a result of any old fool being able to publicize their suspicions and/or conclusions about even the most marginal aspect of this campaign has meant that the actions, and past records, of both candidates has been under what is arguably an unprecedented level of public scrutiny. "Cheatergate" being but the most recent example of this phenomenon. It is rather fascinating to watch the whole process, to assess a story as it comes out, and to try to figure out which stories will stick--and I think this is something that is giving both campaigns headaches right now, as both have suffered from it--Kerry with his decision not to immediately address the SBVT nonsense, still thinking in terms of a 'small advertising buy' and not really considering the fact that the commercial would be propagated via the web, and Bush's campaign getting what is quite likely a very unwelcome squelch as a result of the close scrutiny to which many right-wingers subjected the opening moments of the last debate--a minor story, one that probably would not have factored in any significant way in the past, and which may be nothing more than conspiracy-mongering, but one that is still developing, and might well influence less issue-focused voters than I. All very fascinating to watch, no matter what quadrant of the political compass you inhabit.

Many other thoughts, though this is meant mostly as a quick update, thinking forward to tonight's debate. One gem, not for the faint-hearted, as it emanates from the mouth of the lewd and crude Uncle Rollie, who I hope does not resort to litigation as a result of my sharing an invective-laced extract of a recent private e-mail regarding last week's debate. I asked him what he thought of the debates, a question to which he responded: "Debate? I guess I missed the debate. There was a nicely scripted media boondogle last week in which Kerry and Bush traded soundbites while someone was apparently shoving a corncob up W's keister off-camera, but I tend to think of it in terms of collaborative drama than debate."

Somehow, the visual left me chuckling in front of the monitor. Though chuckling may be too mild a word for what I was doing. Chortling may be better.

Last, a linguistic note: after a recent exchange regarding the distinction between the words 'discrimination' and 'racism,' I have finally cracked the dictionary in an attempt to track down a little of the history behind that oft-used syllable, crim--Latin, apparently, and related to 'accusation'. Crime, criminal, recrimination, discrimination...but I wouldn't mind having a more thorough sense of this word, and my dictionary isn't real thorough on the etymology front. If anyone has more insight to offer on this one, I'd appreciate, much.

Ok, off to drink beer, and stuff.

--tchitch

Comments:
You are a braver person than I am if you can actually read the conservative side just for chuckles! I get infuriated at the logic. But your post said a lot of the things I've been thinking, about the impact of the web and blogs on this election. I've determined that they're having an *enormous* impact on people who actively pay attention, but as I recently learned during a visit with some of my family, you can have access to the internet, check your email regularly, and still be totally clueless about what's going on in the "blogosphere" (I detest that word).

Anyway, glad you said a lot of this so I don't have to let it keep festering in my own brain!
 
Tchitch, you've been a political junkie since high school, at least. The only thing that's different at this point is that the junk is cheaper and it's easier to get. 'Course, the problem with so many dealers is that the good junk is harder to find. They always cut it with dull bias for ratings, like them Nazis at The Daily Oklahoman (can you believe they ain't got their own domain or website? Google 'em up if you got the balls) or Fox or that Dan Rather fellow who oughta know better by now than to buy his term papers off the Internet. But yeah, news blogs—seems like everyone's jackin' it over them things right now. Wired can't shut up about 'em, and the old farts at the print rags—the ones who went to school for this, and paid their dues running copy and all that palaver—probably all want to beat the rat piss out of Mickey Kaus for screwin' it up for everyone by turning political in kausfiles when all the other bloggers was just talking about what they had for breakfast and how big the turds they dug out of the catbox were. That messed up the print boys' show, you see; knocked over their chili bowls. Then along comes that Howard Dean who knows political marketing the way a lonely shepherd knows sheep. He really gets folks attention, and the old media start waving their arms and bellowing about how this whole blog business is the next bit thing in politics. And Dean gets contributions, plenty of 'em; enough to run his campaign without the DNC's money machine for a while. And the old media are waving their arms and bellowing about that, too. I don't know what woulda happened if Dean hadn't done some bellowing of his own in the primaries, but that don't matter. Point is that now everyone's paying attention to the blog business, and everyone'n their dog has heard about political blogs and the Internet and how big all that it is, and a lot of that's coming from the old media.

But here's a thing: I ain't so sure it really matters. You can snort all the news you can handle and then some on the Internet, and you can get it with or without the soap the media cuts it with, or probably with even more soap depending on where you read. So there's lots of folks who've stuffed themselves with news of gawd-only-knows-what quality, and they've barked about this issue, and they've mooed about that issue until the whole conversation sounds like the dogs is hassling the cows again and can't nobody get no sleep. The old media's pointing at all this and talking about how the whole news process is being taken over by a bunch of nineteen year-old bloggers with fuzzy chins and no experience and it's all one big frenzy. But not everyone uses the Internet like they use the TV. Folks on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and in the Rocky Mountain states is the biggest users of it, and they tend to be the more moneyed types who might be keeping informed anyway, at least as much as any American does. And like robin says, at the end of the day most folks ain't blog readers. They get their email, download porn, look up recipes, download porn, maybe check out the latest movie news and then download porn. So you only got a fraction of the people on the Internet, and of them only a fraction reads blogs. So what does that get you? Probably not much, vote-wise. A million bloggers can tell you the world is round, but if CNN says it's flat most folks ain't gonna sail west to get to India.
 
UR--thanks for the laughs. Always up for extending a metaphor into the realm of absurdity, and as usual, you've come through. And yes, you're right, I've been nurturing this particular "habit" since before I could vote. But you know, admitting that you have a problem is the first step to recovery.

On the 'net's limited reach, I'd agree to the slimmer demographic it reaches directly, but this stuff filters down to water-cooler exchanges, which is probably where a lot of political decisions actually get made. At least that's the theory. And I guess my hypothesis is that more people are aware of the shenanegans as a result of the web, thus more of the shenanegans get discussed in those more popular venues. Maybe, maybe not--but it does seem that more people are aware of some of the tricks being played than in the past--or, it's just me, being the same junkie I always have been.

Sometimes the hard stuff tends to mess with your (hic) perspective.
 
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