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Failure of a Medium

You Tube You Can’t

by BINOY KAMPMARK

You Tube is democracy on the cheap, with all its anti-elitist pretensions. The world’s intellectual elite took one look at it, and probably had an apoplectic fit. But so did the politicians ­ initially suspicious by its all-too-democratic overtones. Dross and drivel mark its promotions, but perhaps that’s the point. Keep the public happy, a chattering channel that enables this amorphous creature to vent opinion and bile.

Then came along CNN, that Centre for Neutered News. It has happily taken a medium that was theoretically for the public, to promote its name. Politicians have hopped on board. Here was a chance for collaboration: a ‘debate’ by U.S. presidential candidates might be jointly had. Members of the public would film clips and post them to a panel to be forwarded to the aspirants. Evidently, the public is not allowed to run the show with its own amusements. That would be akin to allowing the spillage of Onan’s seed, with all the self-pleasuring that supposes, before an ever watchful priest.

The Democrats came first, courting You Tube and CNN at the Citadel in Charleston, S.C. on July 23. MSNBC called it a ‘provocative, video-driven debate’. One wonders what they were looking at. The same sad themes were hammered home with all the custom-made drudgery that modern politics spouts. Suddenly, You Tube was not simply about idiotic dogs dazzled by hoses or sizzling rip-offs from pay-television networks. We just had to let the politicians in on the game.

We could gauge that the most interesting videos were mere fizzle to the censors of the neutered news brigade. A video, featuring a bespectacled individual, asks the candidates what they can do about a voting public (at least in California) where 88 percent believe its governor Arnold Schwarzeneger to be a cyborg. Such is the state of ‘reality’ in the CNN sieve that such a statistic, far from being a worry, was just ‘fact’. Supposedly in a state once run by a man Gore Vidal considered a ‘triumph of the embalmer’s art’ (Reagan), one might understand.

As for the video, it could not be put to the candidates, for all its merry reflections. All is serious and monochromatic in the get-real world of CNN and Capitol Hill.

The questions got dimmer as the You Tube sessions heated up ­ or rather petered out, a bland rehashing of mantra and Democratic neuroses. Obama had to justify whether he was ‘black’ enough, at least for those voters who probably still think he is either Osama or white. Given that CNN has spelling difficulties with the name Obama, this might have provided the viewer with some comic relief.

Hillary Clinton had to justify why she was not simply some other de-sexualised woman with the erogenous zones of a mannequin. ‘I am woman enough,’ and all that that entails. Senator John Edwards refused to accept the vote of anybody who would otherwise not vote for either a black man or a woman (sexual or de-sexualised), then rallied behind a more sophisticated façade to steal his own march. To paraphrase his efforts of the deep thinker tormented by the age’s moral messages, he was wrestling with the idea of a civil partnership. Predictably, two men in the sack struck him as irksome, though is wife apparently does not object.

Technology cuts both ways: the radio, George Orwell reminds us, did nothing to help democracy and everything to build the bunkers of totalitarian states. There is a fine line between a medium that emancipates and the Ministry of Truth. The point here is that You Tube, now in the lecherous arms of the political elite, will see battle again done for the ‘grass roots’ with political tofts and populists.

Once such media becomes the standard practice of viewers, it is inevitable that private and public interests will muscle in. Politicians, and Ted Turner, have now worked out that they must do battle through another medium rich with propaganda. The Republicans are following suit. You Tube is simply becoming another idiot box, and one that is no longer ours.

BINOY KAMPMARK is a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.