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Web 2.0 and Control


At the end of yesterday’s post, I noted that today I’d tackle control issues and their impact on Politics and Web 2.0. The control issues demonstrated by politicians have always been kind of a pet peeve of mine. I’ve taken some heat for pointing out the ridiculous lengths some Republicans go to in order to keep a firm grip on their message.

This isn’t really about that, though. It’s more about control as expressed through the mitigation of risk, more than through message discipline. You could argue the two are closely entwined, but I really think there is a distinction and I’d like to draw it. I’d also like to explore a tendency I see in culture that is really disturbing to me.

I’m a big fan of Greg’s Previews on Yahoo Movies. I liked it better when it was UpcomingMovies.com, but Yahoo! hasn’t damaged it too badly. I’m not, however, a big fan of a tendency I see in Hollywood, and in politics.

I read recently that Kristin Cavallari will be starring in a remake of Revenge of the Nerds. that news really made we want to gag. Every time I read movie news, it seems like some studio has decided to remake either a classic movie (generally ones that aren’t that old), or has adapted a classic 70s or 80s TV show for the big screen (Dukes of Hazzard, CHiPs, Miami Vice).

I’ve railed on this blog before about the fact that Hollywood seems to be completely and totally devoid of new ideas. But I really don’t think that’s it. Movies like Stranger than Fiction, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Napoleon Dynamite and others have convinced me that we do not have a dearth of creativity. We have, I believe a dearth of bravery and an abundance of fear.

In Hollywood, fear of failure leads to studios making horrible remakes of old TV shows. They try to tap into our sense of nostalgia in an effort to draw an audience, and instead end up creating films that nobody wants to see. I would be interested to see a study (and perhaps I’ll do one in a few weeks when Mrs. Quip is traveling), that examines the percentage drop in revenue for films as a corollary of the number of remakes in a given year.

Similarly, in politics, we continue to rehash all the same tried and true charges of liberalism, tax-and-spend, extremist, etc. In advertising, we recreate the exact same spots over and over – the grainy photo of your opponent, the newspaper headlines, the flashing lights of a police car in the background of a crime spot. It’s all the same, but since the images don’t change, the only way to make the charges stick is to exaggerate – more and more – the actual charge. The reason we think we’re drifting down a spiral of ever more negative ads isn’t because the ads get worse. They stay exactly the same. It’s because the script gets worse.

Is the audience for movies shrinking because the interest in movies is shrinking? Or is the interest in movies shrinking because the quality of the movies is in steady decline?

Do you need to make political charges ever-more sensational because people are ignoring politics and we must break through? Or are people ignoring politics because the process of breaking through is ever more repellent?

I sat on a panel this week on political advertising. It was interesting in that one of the panelists was a member of the Tuesday team that created the Reagan-Bush “Morning in America” and “Bear” ads. Also on the panel was Linda Kaplan Thayer who worked on media for Bill Clinton.

A discussion of Clinton’s advertising came up and someone made the claim that Clinton’s version of “Morning in America” was superior to the original – a claim that made me laugh. I had the same reaction when I heard people say the Bush-Cheney 04 ad titled “Wolves” was superior to “Bear”. I laughed again today when someone made the comparison between the RNC’s new ad “The Stakes” and Johnson’s 1964 ad “Daisy”.

For the same reason that Jessica Simpson will never replace Catherine Bach as Daisy Duke and Colin Farrell will never be as cool as Don Johnson was in the mid 1980s, these ads pale in comparison to the originals. Why? Because they’re not original.

Politicians and parties today are running campaigns from the same playbook they’ve used for 20 or 40 years. They refuse to step outside that structure because they fear anything new. A new tactic is a tactic that might fail. Failure might mean losses. Losing can cost you control or keep you from getting it.

So what you see, on both sides, although it is admittedly more common on the GOP side, lately, is a fear of creativity.

From the web 2.0 standpoint, that results in a fear of technologies that are new, different, and open. If you look at what the Democrats are doing online, and their use of web 2.0, it’s not, under any circumstances, that the party is using web 2.0 effectively. It is the people, who have abandoned the party in favor of their own organizing, that are using these tools to communicate. The party apparatus, like the GOP, is using these tools sparingly.

Now there are two aspects of this that I think play a huge role in the final outcome to be expressed next week. First, I don’t think, even if the parties made huge efforts to implement web 2.0 concepts into their online operation, you would see a lot of adoption.

People are inherently distrustful of institutions and will look elsewhere for “trusted” information. They recognize that the parties create press releases. They don’t create news. If they want to share a video with an undecided voter, sending him to YouTube is a better idea than sending him to Democrats.org or GOP.com.

Second, what interest there is in online politics, as I mentioned yesterday, is largely on the left because it is the best interactive media to cauterize the anti-establishment sentiment.

Will that result in a victory for Democrats in November? I doubt it. If they do win, will it be because of the Democrats online activity? No. An electoral win will have less to do with the use of web 2.0 and more to do with the implosion of the Republicans. Only Kos, Stoller, Marshall, Duncan and Armstrong would argue differently

I have seen, already, a large number of posts by Democrats claiming that the netroots is responsible for the palpable excitement that the party currently feels. Honestly, their success, should it come, has less to do with the web and the netroots and more to do with the old adage, “Even a blind squirrel occasionally finds a nut.”

Should they win, however, and should they win big – claiming both the House and the Senate – I think they would immediately, from a party perspective, see the same fear of being new and creative. The antics of the Democrats online would be quickly denounced by a party concerned with losing control rather than being embraced by a party concerned with gaining it.

That is the nature of control. Political parties are consumed by its pursuit, and yet, that control runs afoul of web 2.0.



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Written by Michael Turk