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Clint Eastwood took the stage at the Republican convention last week and gave a… well, let’s call it a memorable performance. I’m not sure if there’s ever been such a bizarre prime time address given at a national convention. The celebrated actor/director spent eleven minutes in a mumbling debate with an empty chair representing President Obama. Political conventions are highly-scripted events. Eastwood’s extended, failed ad lib was anything but scripted.
In years past, such a performance would have provided fodder for late-night comedians, but little more. Saturday Night Live and Letterman could weigh in, while you and I were left to passively chuckle. Living in the age of social media, events unfolded at a different pace and among different participants.
Within less than a day, @InvisibleObama has attracted over 55,000 Twitter followers. Newsweek/DailyBeast has posted an #Eastwooding “best of” list. CNN covered it as well. Participatory engagement with Eastwood’s odd performance made itself became the subject of news.
The President himself even weighed in, tweeting “This Seat’s Taken.”
This is all in good fun, of course. Twitter during national events adopts the texture of a giant Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode. But in the course of this distraction, one might wonder, does it actually make any difference?
I would argue that political memes and twitter games like #eastwooding have a very specific, but very limited, effect.
Let’s start with the obvious limitations: @InvisibleObama and #Eastwooding will have no direct impact on the outcome of the 2012 election. These are games played by the already-politically-engaged. 55,000 Twitter followers is a drop the ocean compared to the ~38 million total viewers of the Republican National Convention, or the 100 million+ citizens who will cast a vote in the November election. Individuals who #Eastwood are among the most attentive segments of the populace. They’re also more likely to be liberal. Conservatives have taken to defending Eastwood’s display as counter-intuitively good for Romney. #Eastwood’ers have already made up their minds, and they each only have one vote.
Secondary effects are also pretty limited. Politically-aware Twitter users tend to be connected to one another (social network theorists call this phenomenon “homophily”). We should not expect individuals who chose to ignore the RNC convention to pick up on it after-the-fact due to social media chatter.
Furthermore, memes of this sort have a pretty brief half-life. With the Democratic National Convention scheduled for this week, the hybrid media system will quickly turn its attention to a new set of images and statements. One impact of new media on political news is that the “churn” of the news cycle has sped up. Congressman Todd Akin’s outlandish claims about female biology already seem part of the distant past. By the time of the October Presidential debates, #Eastwooding will have been replaced a half-dozen times. We shouldn’t expect it to be on anyone’s mind when they enter the voting booth.
That said, the limited size and duration of these Twitter memes doesn’t render them useless. In very particular ways, this participatory nature of the new media system has an important effect on media and politics today.
BuzzFeedBen is Ben Smith, formerly of Politico.com, current editor-in-chief of Buzzfeed.com. Ryan Lizza is an accomplished political journalist whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New Republic, The Atlantic, and Vanity Fair. Other journalists, such as Slate’s Dave Weigel, also joined in the fun.
These journalists aren’t revealing some hidden liberal bias through their actions; they are revealing a participatory bias. A small segment of the US population pays a lot of attention to politics. The hybrid media environment allows journalists to engage with these attentive citizens. The interactions can help shape news coverage, or (in cases where the media runs stories on #Eastwooding) become the subject of news coverage. Rather than writing about the policy details (or lack thereof) in Romney’s acceptance speech, many news outlets turned instead to Eastwood’s odd performance, and the global audience’s playful reaction. This changes the texture and content of media coverage.
The Internet didn’t cause this merger of news and entertainment. It began in the 1980s, as newsrooms sought higher ratings and larger profits. Political communication scholars raised concerns about “infotainment” before the average citizen owned a modem. Twitter isn’t the cause of this merger; it is merely the latest iteration.
Cases like #Eastwooding provide a variation on these longstanding trends. American politics has accepted the blurring of political news and political entertainment. Social media provides a participatory element, making the entertainment aspects much more entertaining.
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Image credits: Both screencaps were taken on 4 September 2012 at 11:11 am ET.
Saturday Night Live has, throughout the years, produced numerous classic skits and comedy films spoofing Disney and their classic characters. This is not one of them. From last night’s Lindsey Lohan-hosted episode, I give you The Real Housewives of Disney:
Summer heralds many important things: 3D movies, involuntary camping trips, and sidewalk distribution of ice cream samples in tiny disposable cups. But the greatest tradition of all is, of course, book club (or your local library’s summer reading program). If, like me, you’re the weakest link in your coterie, you’re probably looking to contribute more than, “The ending was awesome,” or “Favorite character. Ok…go!”
This summer will be different. We’re going to trick our bookclubs into thinking we’re a literary geniuses. Let’s begin with a few key concepts from John Sutherland’s How Literature Works, applied to the book that seems to be on everyone’s reading list.
How to Read Tina Fey’s Bossypants (like a literary critic)
1.) Irony Saying one thing and meaning another. Typically accompanied by the four ‘s’s: sarcasm, satire, subversion and skepticism.
Fey makes excellent use of irony in the chapter “Dear Internet,” in which she responds to message board bullies:
Posted by Kevin 214 on 11/9/08, 11:38 a.m.
“Tina Fey CHEATED!!!!!! Anyone who has ever seen an old picture of her can see she has had 100% plastic surgery. Her whole face is different. She was ugly then and she is ugly now. She only wished she could ever be as beaufiul as Sarah Palin.”
Dear Kevin 214,
What can I say? You have an amazing eye. I guess I got caught up in the whole Hollywood thing. I thought I could change a hundred percent of my facial features and as long as I stayed ugly, no one would notice. How foolish I was.
Keep on helpin’ me “keep it real,”
And on page 161:
I have thus far refused to get any Botox or plastic surgery. (Although I do wear a clear elastic chin strap that I hook around my ears and pin under my day wig.)
2.) Imagery What one sees while reading or what Wordsworth called “the mind’s eye.” Or simply put: the pictures in your head.
From the chapter “Secrets of Mommy’s Beauty”:
By nineteen, I had found my look. Oversize T-shirts, bike shorts, and wrestling shoes. To prevent the silhouette from being too baggy, I would cinch it at the waist with my fanny pack. I was pretty sure I would wear this look forever.
In literature imagery is not always visual; one can “taste” or “smell” with the mind. See page 247:
If there’s on thing my husband’s hometown has that St. Barts does not, it’s the water. “Legally potable” doesn’t quite capture it. Straight from the tap it smells like…How can I describe it? – if you boiled ten thousand eggs in a prostitute’s bathwater.
3.) Allusion When literature connects with other works, enlarging (and complicating) the perspective. Very common in titles (for example, James Joyce’s Portr
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This Sunday, February 6, 2011, will mark the 100th birthday of the late U.S President, Ronald W. Reagan. In addition to serving as the 40th President of the United States (1981-89), Reagan also served as the 33rd Governor of California (1967-75). He enjoyed a successful career as an actor before coming into office, served in the U. S military during the Second World War, and survived an assassination attempt in March 1981. In honor of his life, we offer the following excerpt from Michael Schaller’s book, Ronald Reagan.
During his eight years as president, and especially after, supporters praised Reagan as a transformative leader who, like Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt, used his power to alter fundamentally the nation’s direction. Even many Americans who disliked Reagan’s policies agreed that he might well be the most influential president since Roosevelt, turning the nation away from many of the “big government” programs initiated during the New Deal. Reagan received widespread praise for restoring national pride and an unembarrassed muscular patriotism that had lapsed after the debacles of the Vietnam War, the Watergate Scandals, and the economic reversals of the 1970s.
Democratic Party leaders acknowledged Reagan’s political skill but disparaged his ideas and programs. Clark Clifford, an influential power broker since 1948, called Reagan an “amiable dunce.” Democratic Speaker of the House Thomas “Tip” O’Neill put it more gently. Questioning Reagan’s understanding of his own administration’s policies, O’Neill described him as better suited to be a ceremonial “king” than a president.
Biographer Gary Wills explained Reagan’s self-assurance and determination in another way. Wills described Reagan as the real-life embodiment of the nearsighted Mr. Magoo. Like the cheerful cartoon character whose myopia prevented him from seeing anything either unpleasant or that did not conform to his mental map, Reagan simply plowed forward, oblivious to external realities.
Satirist Phil Hartman, part of the Saturday Night Live television ensemble, captured Reagan’s several sides in a 1987 skit. Hartman impersonated a silver-tongued but airheaded president sleepwalking through “photo ops” such as honoring Girl Scout cookie captain of the year. But when the photographers leave, Reagan morphs into a hard-charging executive, telling aides exactly how to supply weapons secretly to anticommunist guerrillas, performing complex currency calculations in his head, and even taking a call apparently from Saddam Hussein in Baghdad (conducted in Arabic) that results, Reagan boasts, in a “lucrative deal with the Iraqis.”
Yet these varied portrayals failed to account for the fact that throughout his career as an actor, governor, and president, most Americans felt comfortable with Reagan. They saw him not as a fool or an extremist but as something of an everyman who shared many of their hopes and fears. Critics who ridiculed his ignorance of complex policy issues misunderstood the source of his appeal, according to journalist Bill Moyers. “We didn’t elect this guy because he knows how many barrels of oil are in Alaska,” Moyers remarked in 1981. “We elected him because we want to feel good.”
Reagan’s presidency coincided with major changes in the economy, the erosion of support for liberalism and big government, and a crisis inside the Soviet Union that led to its demise. He shifted the l
First the good news, about my lovely weekend, which began with my traditional Friday night dinner with friends, which one calls our Shicker Shabbat (shicker being Yiddish for drunkard). We were joined by two interlopers, I mean non-regulars, and it was very fun. I am lucky to have great friends.
Saturday, another friend and I embarked on a quest for beautiful yarns for knitting, which led us to the world's greatest uber-yarn store, Webs, in Northampton, Mass, which was hosting its annual tent sale. The place was a madhouse, but I came home with yarn for three new projects, and the idea to knit an entire room - a rug, curtain, and pillows. At some point. After I finish with the damned rewrite, for the very last time.
And of course last night, I watched my man, the star of the movie version of my novel, host SNL for his 15th time. For more information on this topic, see my posts of October 31st and March 27th.
And then, today. After reading the paper and taking my 16-year-old son driving, I settled into my backyard hammock to read the entire revised manuscript, checking for flow, but also for what Amy, my book daughter, asked me to look closely at, especially her caution that ""There shouldn't be anything in the book - absolutely nothing - that doesn't relate to [heroine's} overarching goal..." I have SO MUCH trouble with this, and I'm frankly totally confused. I have scenes that I think illuminate character, or complicate lives, but that absolutely do not relate to her overarching goal. Removing those scenes just doesn't feel right.
I have done most of what Amy suggested, and the book is truly richer for it. It moves more quickly, has more dramatic tension. But here's the bottom line. I have lost all perspective on this work. I simply can't judge it any more.
I've decided to wait and see if Amy is able to read it again in June. If not, I'm definitely planning to make a small foray into the marketplace, i.e. send it out to just a couple of agents and see if I get any nibbles. If not, it'll be a sign it needs more work. I just don't know....
I am feeling tortured. Guess it goes with the territory.