Jose Antonio Vargas has an interesting Washington Post article suggesting that various presidential candidates have struggled to adapt to the medium of web video. Vargas notes that John Edwards’s most popular video, his announcement that he is running for president, has only been viewed 116,000 times, a few thousand less views than the satirical “John Edwards Feeling Pretty.” Vargas cites James Kotecki, a Georgetown University student and YouTube mini-celebrity (Dennis Kucinich even responds to Kotecki in one of his videos), who speculates that the campaign videos are falling flat because the candidates do not understand the medium, that their videos lack the irreverence and “authenticity” inherent to (or at least popular in) the web video form. Others who have thought quite a bit about web video, including Jeff Jarvis and Micah Sifry echo the desire for what Sifry calls “that rare, unscripted, revealing moment.”
My use of scare quotes indicates my own skepticism regarding the concept of authenticity when it comes to presidential politics, and this probably has to do with how authenticity itself is a construction, a carefully crafted strategy to define the candidate in a specific way.Jarvis and Sifry both cite the example of a video featuring conservative British politician David Cameron washing dishes, his child crying in the background, as an authentic or “unscripted” moment. While there are unscripted elements, especially Cameron’s interaction with his child, it seems significant that authenticity is explicitly tied to domesticity, to the family home. I’m not faulting the video at all (In fact it’s pretty interesting and better than a number of similar videos); I’m just skeptical about how the video establishes itself as conveying something authentic about the candidate, or more generally, what we’re talking about when we use the word “authenticity” in the first place.
Still, it’s an interesting argument, but I think the lack of viewership may also reflect a lack of interest in an election that is still twenty months away (even the Iowa caucuses are months away). It also points to the fairly narrow line that candidates will have to navigate, especially given that what happens on YouTube won’t necessarily stay there. I’m still convinced that the more interesting uses of web video will not be by the campaigns themselves but by the political junkies and others who are watching and participating in the process in new ways.