Crummy Little Podcast Episode 4: FUBU on a Klansman?

George Chidi, who is responsible for this hilarious video of a Klansman wearing FUBU sneakers, is this week’s guest on the Crummy Little Podcast.

George got some attention for that video, as you might expect, but what’s been missed was his coverage of the confederate flag rally from which that video came. He also spent a week covering a shady soccer stadium deal in DeKalb County, outside of Atlanta. It’s a long podcast, but it was a great conversation about news reporting, media, where it’s at and where it’s going. It probably could have been two shows, but I liked the flow of it.

This was an especially fun episode for me because George and I go back a ways. Long before I had a crummy little podcast, I had a crummy little radio show back at UMass on campus station WMUA. George was the news director at that station for a time, and even guest-hosted my show at least once (and did a better job than me, if I remember right). Needless to say, he’s done our alma mater proud since.

Why Bankrupting America’s New Web Series Actually Works

This week, Bankrupting America launched “The Government,” a new web series this week parodying both government spending and The Office.  Unlike many attempts at politically themed humor, it actually works.

There are some over-the-top spots – the introduction of the (probably?) fictional Department of Every Bureaucratic Transaction comes to mind – but nothing that detracts from the main joke.  What makes the video click is its natural dialogue, solid acting, identifiable characters, and subtle jokes (such as the employees walking around in the background holding golden coffee mugs with oven mitts).

In other words, structurally, it entertains for the same reasons The Office did, which means it’s a great approach to this type of communication.  If future episodes hit these same beats (and patch up some of the rough spots), Bankrupting America will have a pretty powerful messaging device on its hands.

Why do I hate Michelle Malkin’s dancing so much?

After Michelle Obama’s homage to suburban Mom dances on Jimmy Fallon on Friday night, Michelle Malkin responded with this on Sunday.  You don’t have to watch it, because for the most part it’s painful:

Malkin’s response time is great perfect – her video was up before the original had a chance at Monday morning virality (which was a lock because it was actually kind of funny).  That’s good, but it’s where the good stops; Malkin’s video is kind of lame.

[Note: It’s still better than my video, which is linked here.  Oh, that’s right, I didn’t make a video.  Duly noted.  Back to the cheap shots…]

The problem largely stems from the word “liberal” in Malkin’s title.  While factually accurate, it raises the immediate flag that this is speaking only to a political audience, the kind that will descend on the National Harbor for CPAC in just a few weeks.  There’s nothing wrong with rallying the troops, but Malkin can probably do better.

“Better” might be a mock video response that substitutes the First Lady for the President himself, bringing Michelle Obama’s decidedly non-political and self-deprecating bit into contrast with her hyper-political, self-aggrandizing husband.  It would definitely drop the political labels, focusing more on DC versus regular voters, rather than conservatives versus liberals.  And it would have to emphasize humor more than scoring week debate points, because in videos like this funny is most important.

Malkin tallied over 65,000 views at press time.  That’s impressive, but if her audience wasn’t so narrow, she might have tripled that.  There’s nothing wrong with rallying the troops, but real advancement of center-right ideas isn’t going to come from overtly political videos that preach to the choir.

[Still better than my video.]

What’s so great about “Standing with Scott”?

Tim Pawlenty received some attention for a recent video highlighting his tea party bona fides.  But as I wrote over at Pundit League, it’s his “Standing with Scott” video that means the most to T-Paw’s nascent campaign for the Presidency.

Unlike his other videos, which mix action-movie trailer style with platitudes about America’s problems and potential, “Standing with Scott” pointedly takes on public sector unions in general and the mess in Wisconsin in particular.  The footage of students cluelessly protesting based on their teachers’ instructions along with the direct criticism of the President give the video a clear, policy-driven message while maintaining a broad appeal.  It touches on specific issues without going into so much depth that the average viewer would turn away.  In that way, it’s a good road map for future messaging.

The video is also significant for who is not featured in it: Tim Pawlenty himself.  Outside of a mention at the beginning and a quote at the end, the former Minnesota governor is nowhere to be found.  With other videos featuring a heavy dose of T-Paw, the series run the risk of becoming an exercise in glorification.  More videos like “Standing with Scott” can counterbalance that.

And the video goes beyond messaging, directing viewers back to a landing page where they can sign up for the Freedom First PAC mailing list.  (It would be better if the page included facts about Walker’s position in Wisconsin, but it’s better than nothing.)

Pawlenty’s videos are an attempt to elevate the rhetoric and the urgency of the campaign and position the former Governor as a transformational leader in the mold of Obama.  But empty rah-rah speeches ring hollow in the ears of savvy activists.  If “Standing with Scott” becomes a first step – and more similar videos follow on other issues as they arise – questions about whether Pawlenty’s “Minnesota nice” personality can play on the Presidential stage may be answered.

More of the year in YouTube

In a post on Pundit League yesterday, I followed up on last week’s best political videos of 2010 with another list.  You could call them the worst political videos of 2010, but that doesn’t really do justice to how bad they were.  These videos missed their marks so badly that you couldn’t help but send them to friends or post them to Facebook – entries included Dale Peterson’s angry, minute-long rant about why he should be Alabama’s next Ag Commissioner, a Florida state representative’s Kenny Loggins ripoff, and (of course) Demon Sheep.

After I finished the post, I noticed a running theme in the five worst political videos of 2010 that wasn’t present in the five best: each of the “bottom five” were official campaign videos (and, significantly, only one of those candidates won).  In contrast, only two of the “top five” were released by campaigns.  That isn’t surprising; judgement is often clouded in the stress of an election campaign, and some candidates simply stumble.  Those on the outside looking in sometimes have a clearer head and are able to drive points home more directly.

Another common thread was length.  The “bottom five” averaged 2:18 each, while the top five made their points in an average of 1:03 – less than half the time. That figure is not insignificant: 40% of online viewers abandon videos within a minute.


A brief history of online video and elections, 2004-2010

This week, YouTube announced their top videos of 2010.  In a post over at Pundit League, I followed up with my Top Five Political Videos of 2010.

My top five is far less scientific than YouTube’s, and for good reason: while YouTube’s list is a Casey Kasem-style countdown of the videos that had earned the most views, my list ranks videos based on significance.  In other words, I’m wasn’t trying to measure videos based on their impact on the campaign, but rather use the videos as a barometer of what went on in 2010.

In fact, online video offers a glimpse into the big story of every election cycle since 2004:

2004: This Land – Pre-YouTube, JibJab’sWoody Guthrie send-up featured President Bush and John Kerry neatly summarizing campaign themes.  Bush claimed Kerry looked like Frankenstein, Kerry said Bush was a right-wing nutjob.  That the close election turned as it did was evidence that Bush’s accusations rang truer with the electorate.

2006: Macaca – George Allen could very well have been the Republican candidate for President in 2008 if he hadn’t slipped up and unwittingly used a word that may or may not be an ethnic slur.  As it was, Allen became the symbol of a Republican establishment so cloistered and out of touch they could point to the one guy at a rally who was holding a video camera and say something offensive.

2008: Yes We Can – Between this independent video and Shepherd Fairey’s “Hope” illustration, the 2008 Obama was smart enough to seize on creative elements produced outside the campaign structure.  From early in the primary season, the Yes We Can video established the Obama candidacy as more than a simple election effort, but as a once-in a generation opportunity to change politics as usual.  More than any online network or social media outreach, the core theme of a new and different kind of politics growing up added excitement and motivation to Obama’s support.

2010: A Generational Choice / Rep. Bob Etheridge covers the Who – Marco Rubio captured the themes of tea party movement in his impassioned web commercial for his successful Senate bid.  And Bob Etheridge’s hilarious confrontation of an investigative student underscored the Democrats’ arrogance, comfort with power, and lack of connection with voters.

Notably, all videos on this list save Senator-elect Rubio’s “A Generational Choice” were produced outside of the “official” campaigns, coming from interested and passionate citizens; in fact, two captured politicians in  moments when they let their guard down.  Yet intentionally or not, each video captured an important element of the election cycle.  Elections aren’t (usually) won or lost based on a two-minute internet video; but video can act as a signpost and give some indication of how a campaign is going.

Why can’t Chuck start a business?

The Institute for Justice hit one out of the park with this video, which is one of the few attempts at online humor that is both effective at delivering a message and really funny.  One of DC’s most philosophically consistent defenders of individual liberties, IJ just released a series of studies on the effects local governments can have on the business climate, even as elected officials try to “fix this unemployment problem.”

Sweet Home Arizona

Folks like Weird Al Yankovic elevate musical parody to an art form.  Then you have folks like John McCain’s current opponent, Rodney Glassman.

Glassman and McCain are engaged in a musical war, and this entry is side-splittingly hilarious, though not for the reasons Glassman probably intended.  Outside of a few random pictures of volunteers, constituents, and Smokey the Bear, the only people in the video are Glassman and his band.  Aside from missing the chance to highlight his supporters, the viewer gets plenty of awkward shots of Glassman rocking out.   Wouldn’t it have been better to have volunteers signing along, or Glassman and his orchestra singing to crowds rather than an empty field?

At the end, Glassman proclaims, “Four decades in Washington, D.C. is far too long!”  True.  While we’re on the subject, four minutes is far too long for a web video to get to the point.  Glassman didn’t have to write a whole song – 30 seconds, plus a brief call to action would do.  And speaking of a call to action – why was the song directed at John McCain?  Shouldn’t he have been talking to his supporters?  After all, they weren’t there for the video shoot.

You may be asking, “Why waste time writing about a web video (even a really bad one) in a race that isn’t competitive?”  A race being unwinnable isn’t an excuse to stop trying to win.  With an effective race, Glassman could build an organization that would position him for a run at Jon Kyl in 2012 or some other statewide office.  (With a recording deal unlikely, future political races seem like a safer career choice.)

Girls gone civic

In news from last last week, here are two college-age women in a dorm room with a video camera who got the attention of a Senator:

Sure, it may give the feeling of being a “staged reality” video, but it’s one way to make the “take action” tab on an advocacy campaign website a little more effective.  If you browse through advocacy campaign sites, you see these tabs frequently: the “take action” button that lets you put in your zip code and send an email message to your representative on Capitol Hill.  It’s easy to do – and the people in charge of reading the messages know it’s easy, because they get hundreds of thousands of them each day.  Sometimes there are also options to call, but consultants don’t like those options because calls are hard to track and don’t offer obvious, easy sharing on Facebook and Twitter to make a cause go viral.

The dirty little secret of the “take action” tab is that most Members of Congress – or, more accurately, their staff members in charge of answering constituent concerns – don’t care about your emails because they can’t – they simply don’t have the time to respond to one-click activism.  Phone calls get more attention (and in-person meetings are the best), but many folks are intimidated at the idea of dealing directly with a Congressional office.

Whether or not this video was actually a set-up by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (which obviously, from the video opposes Don’t Ask Don’t Tell) it’s a good model for other issue campaigns to actually show people taking action.

The heroines, Lauren and Ellie, lead by example and make the call to lower the intimidation factor.  Then they gather friends and get them to call. And by posting their call on YouTube, Lauren and Ellie prompted a response from Senator Michael Bennett – elevating their involvement from one-on-one communication between a constituent and a representative to a public discourse in the virtual town square.

Best of all, the video not only promotes more effective activism, but makes phone calls a viral tactic as well.  Just scroll down the video’s YouTube page and check out the response videos where people show themselves calling their own representatives in Congress.