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August 21, 2006

Convergence Culture and Politics

New Republic Senior Editor Ryan Lizza had an interesting piece in yesterday's New York Times about the impact video sharing site YouTube is having on primary elections and this November's general election as well.

One of the most publicized senatorial races in recent memory, especially a primary race, was the recent Connecticut Democrat primary in which political newcomer Ned Lamont defeated established incumbent Joe Lieberman, former vice-presidential candidate and scourge of the American Congress. In the interest of fairness, I should mention that my long-term beef with Joe Lieberman comes from his many censorship activities, in which he and other Democrats concerned with media representation and protecting children have formed alliances with social conservatives to try and enter in agreements that pressure advertisers and networks to drop programs that they have contention with, such as the Parents Television Council.

Lieberman, who already had a significant amount of Internet energy against him, was further hurt by Lamont's active presence on the Web. The new candidate hired a staff member to coordinate and work with bloggers and podcasters to create even more positive energy behind the Lamont campaign, and it aided in making him one of the most known candidates in the country. Of course, his appearance on The Colbert Report didn't hurt, nor did the movements of groups like

Then, Virginia Republican Sen. George Allen became involved in one of the most talked-about clips on YouTube, calling a college student of Indian ethnicity a "macaca," which is a racial slur. While many present may have not known what the term means, those on the Internet did, and members of the opposing campaign--of which the student volunteer worked for--taped and distributed his remarks on YouTube. The political footage ended up being the most popular content on the site.

Sen. Lieberman is going to attempt making up his loss running as an independent in November, while Sen. Allen will likely regain his seat despite the comments getting such widespread coverage. However, Lizza makes an important point: "The experience serves as a warning to politicians: Beware, the next stupid thing you say may be on YouTube." Lizza goes on to claim that "YouTube may be changing the political process in more profound ways, for good and perhaps not for the better, according to strategists in both parties."

Lizza says that we should look at campaign coverage as like reality television, positive in the fact that it provides continuous coverage but negative in that it might create an artificial bubble around politics and politicians in which the candidates are always posing for cameras.

In short, we know that convergence culture is fundamentally changing the media industry, but might it also be making substantial alterations to how we will operate as citizens? YouTube may be the most vibrant place to look for some indication of how citizenship and the responsibility of knowledge of current events that citizenship implies. Lizza's piece is definitely worth a look for those who haven't already seen it.

Thanks to Lynn Liccardo for bringing the article to my attention.

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