Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The effect of humour

This morning, I posted another video mocking Mitt Romney. My post was actually based on what I said when I'd earlier shared the video on Facebook and Google+ (YouTube has buttons for that). I wrote:
Here's another video mocking Mitt Romney—because he deserves it. I really hope creative folks make this a big thing—it's one of the few ways we can fight back and counter the billions being spent to try to elect Romney. Messages packaged with humour and fun are also more likely to cut through the noise.

Get busy, creative people!
When I wrote the post for this blog, I didn’t actually use any of that (for a change—one very often influences, or copies, the other). It actually talks about something—the use of humour—I wish I had included in this morning’s post. Well, it’s never too late on a blog, I suppose.

This became a topic for me when I received a comment on my Google+ post basically rejecting the notion. The person pointed out that George Bush 2 was mocked in 2004, but still won re-election. So, if anything, the joking and mocking may have helped him.

This is a not uncommon view when talking about past elections—that mocking and joking about a candidate actually helps that candidate. If that was ever true, it certainly isn’t now.

2004 was a VERY long time ago—and an entirely different era. It was, in fact, the last of the old campaign style—in some ways, the last presidential campaign of the twentieth century, despite the year it actually took place. Here’s why:
  • In 2004, Facebook was small and open only to a select few, almost all students.
  • MySpace was the "large" social network—with fewer than 5 million members.
  • Twitter didn't exist.
  • YouTube wasn't founded until 2005. There simply was no way to post, much less share viral videos.
Today, Facebook has an estimated 955 million users, Twitter has roughly 500 million users and frequently drives the news cycle. YouTube has 4 billion views per day.

All of which means that there are now unprecedented opportunities to speak directly to people in a way that makes 2004 look like horse and buggy time compared to today. Now, when videos and images and issues "go viral" they drive the news cycle and influence politics. That was impossible in 2004.

So, it’s highly improbable that any jokes directed at Bush had any effect one way or the other—and not just because John Kerry was the subject of a lot of jokes, too. In those pre-social media days, it's doubtful that the vast majority of voters were even aware of much of the mockery or jokes. What actually drove the 2004 election were the brilliant dark politics tactics of Karl Rove and his allies.

A better analogy to this discussion is 2008 where the mockery of Sarah Palin helped reinforce her image as ignorant, while others focused on her extremism. We also saw endless mockery of the National Organization for Man-Lady Only Marriage’s pathetic “Gathering Storm” ad.

The mockery of the NOMLOM’s ad didn’t prevent passage of Prop 8, but it’s improbable that it helped it, either: The main demographic who made, saw and shared those parodies and put-downs was one that overwhelmingly supported marriage equality. The mockery of Palin certainly pissed-off the people who were already committed to voting Republican, but there’s no evidence that it helped them, either.

Instead, I’d argue that the use of the Internet by Democratic-leaning partisans helped win the presidency for Barack Obama—we’d need some solid research to verify or refute that, but it’s certainly a reasonable assumption. I say that not just because we saw it used so much, but because it clearly energised young voters who typically don’t vote. That same demographic grouping drives much of the social media sharing, and the best work supports President Obama and the Democrats. Which is not to say that it’s impossible for Romney and his supporters to play the same game or that they can’t produce videos or images that go viral; it’s just that the demographic grouping that is most involved in this work and to share it is also least likely to be Republican, statistically speaking.

Still, whatever we say or think, whether we like it or approve of it or not, the effect of social media and viral campaigns this year will be far bigger than in 2008. Personally, I think that’s a good thing, especially for the reasons I said when I shared the video on social media.

I’ve now brought all this full circle: This post is based on a comment I wrote on my Google+ post,

1 comment:

Roger Owen Green said...

The thing is that Romney may be mocked, but Obama has been mocked too, for being a Muslim, socialist who needs a teleprompter, who steals our freedom to own a gun, etc, etc. I wrote today about some aging rocker who said he was behind the shootings in Colorado and Wisconsin. Doesn't matter if it's true or not, it's out there.