Wednesday, November 05, 2008
With the election predicted I am glad to say it is over but know the day after an election is the beginning of the next election. John McCain was gracious in his speech and Barack Obama was surprisingly somber in his acceptance. And alas, my hip hop activist is without a room in the white house and believe it or not she is with child. Jesse Jackson's none the less. Why do you think he was weeping at the acceptance speech of Obama, because his baby mama ain't going to get benefits now! He is going to have to get his broke self some money to pay for that baby. With this moment in history I chose to post my smatterings on campaign theater I wrote for a comm class. If you want Whitney, you can stop reading here.
Stretching Definitions and Branding Minds
Every four years the United States completes its ritual of electing the nation’s leader. However within those four years we are always looking forward to the next election predicting what the future will bring in the form of the “most powerful person in the world.” It all seems to be part of being American. We are always searching for something better. It is within this frame that I hope to look at language within the “campaign theatre.” More specifically I would like to look at the role of language in branding a candidate and also identify abstraction as lies.
I had a dream. It was about the ubiquitous Sarah Palin. Now, I will be sparse in my detailing of this account but the basic premise of the dream was that Sarah Palin was trapped in a cabin with John McCain’s campaign team. She could do nothing but read prepared statements in front of a camera and the rest of the time she could do nothing. Now, this dream may not be reality, let me stress may. After, I began to think of John McCain’s campaign in the context of brand management. A key concept behind brand management is to increase the product's intrinsic value to the customer. From a pure strategy position McCain chose Palin as a way of solidifying his brand as a maverick. By choosing Palin, a women, he was seen as a person who made non-traditional choices.
It is with the principles of brand management that political campaigns go to the news looking for what matters most to gain "momentum." Candidate’s base their campaigns on words that increase their value in the eyes of voters such as: “hero,” “maverick,” “change,” or “hope.” While candidates seek to improve their value they will also brand their opponent with words that devalue them in the minds of voters, such as “Muslim,” “liberal,” “old,” or “status quo.” It is an interesting game because it takes the news away from why voters chose a candidate to who is voting for whom. This then informs how others should vote based on the popularity of a canidate or brand.
In this way politicians and media have become kissing cousins. News is deemed important only if it politicized. I interpret that to mean the news tells us what is important by making it political. So people in the media are looking less to the public for opinion and are rather defining opinion for the public and hoping we adapt to their message. Presently we have seen stories that deal with popularity polls. So candidates rather than focusing on solidifying their policies are focused on how they can get their popularity higher. Causing them to make vague promises and exuberant speeches were they say what they think the public wants to hear. You know, the equivalent of a high school student government election, where students are promised pizza in the cafeteria and a longer lunch period. Welcome to our National Student Body Presidential Election.
It is on this note I introduce the use of abstraction as a political tool. Abstractions are terms that are generic enough that they can be perceived to mean many different things. For example, the words, “agent of change,” was thrown around quite often during this election season. Agent of change in the crudest sense can mean a person who is going to change things. But what does change mean. To me it may mean alteration of health policy while to another it may mean someone who will give me change so I can buy a coke from the vending machine. My point, politicians use abstraction to get voters on the band wagon. Yet, it seems to me that it these promises are deliberately misleading. Politicians lie in a way that would have you believe they intend their words to mean one thing when their intentions are not what they portrayed. They overextend the meaning of their words to catch as many votes as possible but somehow after they are voted into office they alter their message, it becomes more defined, and invariably doesn’t mean what the voter took it to mean. For example, we simplify issues of controversy like abortion. A candidate will say I am against abortion. This is not clear though as to what the candidate defines as abortion. Is it all right to get an abortion in rare cases or does s/he desire abortion to be banned in all cases. Because of abstraction we miss out on those intricate details that may lead us to vote another way. This misleading is rampant in campaigning.
The Use of language to manipulate has been a long standing tradition in politics. I hope I have made some appropriate connections with the specifics I have chosen. However, I believe that eliminating some of these tactics in the long run would benefit the process of campaigning. Abstraction and branding are only two in a vast array of techniques used to mislead voters. Hopefully with this knowledge we can get down to what is important in a candidate.