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Video Night at the Berkman Center

Years ago, the fellows at the Berkman Center decided that we needed a single day a week where we would all make a best-faith effort to be at the center, so we could socialize, talk about our research, share ideas and generally do whatever it is that fellows are supposed to do. By tradition, this day is Tuesday, when many of the fellows attend the Berkman lunch series, and a large number of us show up for “fellow’s hour” – an informal 90 minute roundtable.

Sometimes these roundtables are quite serious and involved, especially when a colleage is presenting new research. Sometimes… not so much.

Yesterday afternoon, I talked a bit about my fascination with Chinese pushback on western media coverage of protests in Tibet – anti-cnn.com and videos on YouTube promoting the view that Tibet is an integral part of China. I’ve argued on this blog that these are a form of bridgeblogging, and made the case that these are a form of amateur “public diplomacy” at a conference at the Fletcher School yesterday.

While my colleagues seemed somewhat interested in those arguments, what captured everyone’s attention was the phenomenon of YouTube video at fellows’ hour. David Weinberger somehow made a segue to Senator Mike Gravel’s exceedingly odd campaign video where he covers “Helter Skelter”.

(I recommend skipping the first thirty seconds and beginning once Gravel takes the stage. Gravel has released a number of interesting videos, including a cover of “Power to the People“, and two “avant-garde” pieces – a seven-minute film of a campfire called “Fire” and downright disturbing piece where Gravel stares into the camera for seventy seconds before dropping a rock into a lake and walking away. The latter two videos are the products of a pair of video professors in USC – Gravel explains that they approached the candidate and offered to make the videos for free.)

The floodgates opened, and we spent the next hour trolling the net for presidential song videos. There’s a wealth of them out there, ranging from the inspiring to the truly bizarre, ranging far beyond will.i.am’s “Yes We Can” (and the wonderful parody john.he.is) and Obama Girl (and the Obama Girl/Giuliani Girl “debate“.)

Jake Shapiro, one of my fellow fellows and the head of PRX, a project that’s helping change how independent producers access US public radio, has been collecting citizen video for the BallotVox project, a site that is covering citizen media responses to the elections. (Think of it as a domestic version of our Voices With Votes project.) He’s got a great set of videos indexed at del.icio.us, collecting people talking and singing about their candidates of choice.

It’s quite hard to find pro-Hillary and pro-McCain music videos that haven’t been produced by the campaigns themselves. Those you can find tend to be somewhat cringe-inducing. An amateur remix of the Rocky theme song to promote Hillary is reasonably painless, but it’s been watched only 4,000 times.

Watched far more often is Gene Wang’s “Hillary4U&Me“, embedded above. It’s a musical bridge back to the 20th century, arriving somewhere in the early eighties, shorly before “We Are the World”. Comments were disabled on YouTube, but it’s safe to say that’s not because they were overwhelmingly positive – the site retains a one-star review for the video. (I strongly recommend viewing the video above, then viewing one of several available videos depicting an unwary viewer watching Wang’s song.)

The song is so bad that there was a widespread blogosphere discussion about whether it had been produced by the Obama camp to critique his primary rival. Nope – it’s the brainchild of a Hillary supporter and tech entrepreneur, who admits that his may not be the most successful product in promoting his candidate: “I do agree that some of the Obama videos are better. But we have the better candidate by far.”

The pro-McCain videos, at least, were intended to be funny. Humor site 23/6 has released “It’s Raining McCain” and “Here Comes McCain Again“. It’s unclear the connection between the Arizona senator and eighties songs with rain metaphors, but there’s no debating the fact that it’s very difficult to get the image of McCain, falling like rain, out of your head.

That’s not to say that all pro-Obama videos are pain-free. It’s not especially easy to make it through magicalchaswick’s “Hey There Obama“, a moody folk song sung by a boy soprano. (I’d pay to hear him sing a duet with 12 year old Brook Pernice, who may be looking for a new candidate after her man, Mike Huckabee, withdrew despite her impassioned country-western outline of his positions and traits.)

But it’s possible that Obama’s got the greatest range of musical styles represented, from roadhouse country through reggaeton to reggae and calypso.

Some of these are clearly professionally produced – Amigos de Obama’s Tejano and Reggaeton songs have some pretty high production values, and Viva Obama (above) isn’t exactly the sort of thing you produce in your living room some afternoon. But some of the most amazing may well be, like this Bollywood masterpiece, below:

Roughly a year ago, my friend Bruno Giussani offered a prediction for the 2008 elections. In response to the pro-Obama remix of Apple’s 1984 ad, he argued, “2008 will be the campaign of user-generated swiftboating. It will be a campaign dominated by information chaos.”

I think he’s right about the chaos, and off on the swiftboating. Not that there isn’t a great deal of nasty political disinformation on YouTube. There is. But the viral nature of the medium seems to favor the spread of some videos over others. If it’s funny and/or has a good beat, it’s got a much better chance of going viral.

I did an informal timeline of Reverend Jeremiah Wright videos on YouTube, both before and after ABC broke a news story about the “God Damn America” sermons – there were videos of Wright circulating previously, but with very, very few views. After the story broke, hundreds of videos were uploaded featuring the Wright clips. It wasn’t a YouTube story until it became a mainstream media story, at which point political actors in both camps took to YouTube to play through their attacks and responses.

My significantly less serious prediction for 2008 – the winning candidate will be the one who convinces Moldovan band O-Zone to re-record “Dragostea Din Tei” as a campaign song.

“Hallo, Barack?”

I’d very much welcone any other links to music videos produced by any of the US presidential candidates… or for that matter, candidates anywhere else in the world. My comment thread is your comment thread…

A special bonus – while flooding you with videos, allow me to recommend a wonderful radio segment from South Africa parodying election rigging in Zimbabwe. Many thanks to Abdulrahman for forwarding it.

3 thoughts on “Video Night at the Berkman Center”

  1. If you thought the “Hillary4U&Me” was bad, you will love this video from the French presidential campaign.
    The worst part is that it was produced by the official campaign website. Regardless of their fondness for the candidate, viewers all thought it was a terrible song and a excruciating video overall. It seemed that it wanted to cater to the younger crowd and give an energetic vibe. It came off as cheap and stupid. One commenter wrote: ” Have mercy. It has to be a joke. It cannot be possible otherwise”.
    Sadly, it was not.

  2. Pingback: Barak OBollywood

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