Power and Politics - I am Not the Yellow Peril

The life and times of an Asian American activist who tells all the truth (and dishes news and analysis) but with a leftwards slant.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Allen, Webb in statistical dead heat and the democratization of youtube

The latest Washington Post poll finds that Allen is in a statistical dead heat with Webb, at 49-47, with a margin of error of 3 points. So it's not terribly surprising that Allen's campaign has decided to muzzle him for the last few weeks of the campaign.

Especially when you take into account the youtube phenonmenon. As I have said before, youtube truly democratizes politics and policy - average people can catch their senators falling asleep during key hearings, and watch as candidates denigrate college students. Unlike C-SPAN (which I love but is watched by few people outside of the beltway), you don't have to pay for cable just so you can watch a subcommittee hearing. With youtube, you can catch the highlight and bloopers of the 535 (mostly) men and women of Congress - for free. Moreover, I've also stated that our elected representatives say some pretty horrendous and ignorant things during these sessions, statements which if caught on tape and shown to their constituents back home, would make them cringe in public with shame. (Not that they would actually regret what they said, just that they had been caught.)

Part of the reason why the "macaca moment" was such a perilous step for Allen is because everyone who had access to the internet could watch his smug demeanor and listen to his cadence, watch how he played off his white audience to deride S. R. Sidarth, an Indian American college student. There was no parsing his intentions, because everyone who has ever been bullied recognized that Allen was using his position of power and privilege, his literal and metaphoric bullhorn in an attempt to mortify his prey. Allen blatantly cast Sidarth as the Other, and anyone who has been harassed for being different saw a familiar look in Allen's sneering face. It made the insult real to Virginians, and the rest of the nation, and has sideswiped the seemingly impervious Humvee of an Allen presidential campaign.

People responded in a visceral way to the video because it portrayed a David and Goliath scenario - a student armed only with a camera, endures the slurs of Allen, his United States Senator who knew he was being videotaped and proceeded to insult regardless. Then Sidarth uses the catapault of youtube to launch his stones against the giant. Whoever said that "sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me" didn't work in Washington DC because Sidarth's video uses Allen's own words and deeds against him. He had documented Allen's taunting the way that I am sure pretty much everyone has wanted to do to a bully at some point in their lives, and then he fought back. Far from being a victim, Sidarth demanded an apology, and received one. He captured Allen's arrogance, which was broadcast to the world via youtube.

Youtube is the great equalizer, a means of "owning the press" for the rest of us who aren't named Rupert Murdoch, or at least of having our 15 minutes of fame. It is a great and cheap means of holding our elected officials accountable for what they do and say. Anyone can watch videos, even without logging in, and if you wish to be a citizen journalist, all you have to do is to create a login and password, and upload your video, your vision, your mantra to the web for the world to see. And for viewers, it is like TiVo on crack - free and accessible, using a search engine to find whatever content you want. And if it's not there, you can post your own. It's a platform with almost unlimited uses.

Reuters has a new article out about the grassroots power of the macaca/youtube phenonmenon:
Internet experts call the trend of sending around unscripted video clips a ``macaca'' and predict new media such as YouTube will have a great impact on campaigns.

``The Internet and new technology are radically changing every part of our lives, and politics is no different,'' said Phil Noble, the head of PoliticsOnline, a political Internet site. ``It's happening in a big way and it's going to be many, many, many times bigger than it has been so far. It's going to radically change everything.''

``Anybody with a video camera, a little bit of technology and some great creativity and energy and luck or skill can become an important player in the political process,'' he added. ''And that's the power, that's what makes it so radical.''

(No, I don't own any google stock, but I wish I did because their purchase of youtube is freakin' brilliant!)


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