Ask Not What TV Can Do for You, Ask What You Can Do for TV

Posted by DGN on 1:40 PM in
With the election fever taking over most of North America - Both the United States and Canada have elections coming up this fall, not too sure about Mexico - I wanted to take a look at the role TV will be playing in who becomes leader. Be warned...this may be a long one!

The main focus here of course will be the American election system -mainly because it is so TV friendly.

American politics is always played out better than pretty much any other country in the world. Speeches are made that are better written than most movies or TV shows, and alliances and backstabbing is worse than even the best episode of Survivor. TV has always played an important role in the building up, or in most cases breaking down opponents. Who hasn't seen commercials where one candidate bad mouths anothers campaign ideas.

However, there are other ways that TV has really helped with politics and more importantly, Preseidential elections. In 1960, the first US Presidential Debate was held on TV. The participants were then Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard Nixon. The debate, like in years to come, was hosted on all major networks and greatly aided Kennedy in his eventual winning of the election. The reason: viewers were able to relate to a young, charming candidate in comparison to Nixon's "poor makeup, haggard appearance and gray suit which blended into the backdrop of the set". Kennedy's people knew the power of image, and used it to their advantage.

The same can be said of President Bill Clinton. In 1988 Bill Clinton was introducing Presidential hopeful Michael Dukakis at the Democratic convention. His speech was 48 mins long, and had people in the crowd screaming for him to stop. Clinton uttered the words "in closing" to a huge round of applause and a standing ovation. Later, Clinton appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, where Carson gave the longest introduction for a guest at 3 mins and 48 secs. The intro was actually pages long. When Clinton did come on, he was asked the question "How are you?" followed by Carson putting an hourglass on the table. Clinton laughed it off and came across like someone who could laugh at himself and very positively. The end result, nomination for himself in the 1992 elections and eventually President of the United States.

In the lead up to this year in particular, you have probably one of the most exciting and twisted elections ever. On one hand you have Senator Barack Obama, from Illinois - the first black nominee ever, who fought tooth and nail to win a very close primary against former first lady Hilary Clinton. On the other hand, Senator John McCain, a Vietnam vet, who has used getting a female running mate as his bargining chip into the White House. Both are looking for their first term in the Oval Office.

Let's see how TV has helped or detered each candidate out:

The Primaries:

With each candidate looking to stake their claim before official nominations had taken place, candidates were quick to show up on our TV sets. Obama, Clinton and McCain did the usual rounds of news and talk shows, but they even appeared on shows like Saturday Night Live (to show their lighter side), WWE Monday Night RAW (to get to those pesky 18-24 male demo) and even on the season finale of Last Comic Standing (again, I guess to show that they can laugh like the rest of us). In a lot of cases, these came across as trying to hard, rather than attaching some "cool" factor, and it doesn't help that all three would sometimes show up on the same show, so as to not show political bias.


You just have to look at Obama's acceptance of the Presidential nomination to see how he's using the power of image and emotion to connect with voters. Making the stage into a roman colosseum, as if ushering a new era (Obama's campaign motto is Change), to the biography movie introducing him before hand (showing him growing up from humble beginnings to something bigger), everything is set up to give him the bigger than life appearance, that this is the man to lead us into the next phase of American history.


The power of TV really is a strong example with these two. McCain clearly chose Sarah Palin as his running mate to capitalize on that Hilary vote, but also because she's a looker. His party knows that we are an image concious group, and we'd rather watch Barack than old man John, so he got us something we can look at. Palin is now the focus of the campaign, pretty much doing the talking whenever available. She has even helped in aiding SNL's ratings this season through the absolutely brilliant impersonations of Tina Fey.

However, through this masterstroke, McCain has also made a mistake underestimating TV. Scheduled to be a guest on the Late Show with David Letterman McCain cancelled last mintue, saying he needed to head to Washington that night to discuss the economic crisis with Obama and the current President. However, he then did a news show with CBS's Katie Couric and stayed in New York for the night. When this got back to Letterman, he went on a tirade making McCain the butt of show long jokes, and it doesn't seem like he's stopping anytime soon. Now consider than most American's get their news from the monologues on late night talk shows, can you imagine how much of a hinderance this could cause his campaign!

And all this coming off the heals that 57 million people watched the US Presidential Debates this past friday. That's more than the Friends finale!

There are probably a lot more twist and turns from now until November 4th, but whatever they are just remember :

The Revolution will be Televised!

As usual, what are your thoughts. Comments please.



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