Political crowd pleasers

February 15, 2008

dc02150803.jpgThough not to start off on the wrong foot and provide a lecture on pop culture, it seems fitting to use a quote from Marshall McLuhan, the perpetual media cynic, to introduce the topic of this article: “All media exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values.”

Just vague enough to apply to almost anything pop culture-related, it’s hardly a quote to implicate McLuhan as a cultural prophet, but, as previously mentioned, it’s a good way to start.

As the primaries are unfolding, it’s hard not to notice media’s influence on the presidential hopefuls and the ways in which we perceive them. It’s not a new argument, but it’s a concern that slips in and out of our consciousness. Even in writing this article, it’s hard to avoid terms like “audience,” “spectators,” “fans.” It seems we’ve evolved into a culture intent on translating all events, regardless of importance, into subjects of entertainment and PR.

Take the popular example of Hilary Clinton. Initially deemed too masculine during her tenure as first lady, Mrs. Clinton got a makeover, and was quickly berated for her efforts in appearing feminine to appeal to her audience—there’s that word again, couldn’t help it.

And consider Barack Obama, the golden boy whose likeability is impossible to deny and who is so well-versed in pop culture and intellectual discourse that he’s easily a PR dream.

Then consider all of the interviews they’ve taken part in, particularly the 60 Minutes segment in which Obama was interviewed by Steve Kroft and Clinton by Katie Couric. Kroft seems in awe of Obama, mentioning Obama’s stellar physical condition and asking about his basketball rituals, while Couric does not seem to hold Clinton in as high a regard, underhandedly insulting Clinton when she asks about her high school nickname, “Ms. Fridge Air.”

The tension between Clinton and Couric is palpable but baseless, which is reflective of the general sentiment the public has towards Hilary. Which prompts the question, what’s so wrong with Hilary?

The answer is, we’re not supposed to like her. Most of us could probably imagine Hilary in high school and it would be much like Couric’s perception: “You were the girl who sat in the front row and took meticulous notes and raised her hand all the time.” In our minds, that’s who Hilary is. But, and here’s where the conflict comes in, is this wrong?

If McLuhan were around, he would denounce us all for falling into the traps lent by YouTube, Facebook, and entertaining political ads circulating the Internet. But, is it wrong? More importantly, can we really separate ourselves from the influences of the entertainment world that have been ingrained in our generation?

It’s a legitimate concern to consider how the United States is perceived by the rest of the world and it’s a legitimate desire to have the leader of our country be someone who is PR-friendly. After all, regardless of whom we elect president, he/she will have his/her share of mistakes and it is the media that will reign over how colossal or mild their transgressions are. But, this isn’t to say that a presidential candidate can’t overcome their lack of PR luster. After all, we did elect Nixon—twice.

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