Friday, September 05, 2008

Palin glasses hunters swarm to web site

My site meter went ballistic last night after I posted my little ditty about Sarah Palin’s glasses.

The Red Electric lopes along with between 40 and 50 visitors each day. The count consists of 30 of my nearest and dearest friends and relatives as well as a pack of search robots sniffing out tags (“McLuhan,” “glasses,” “Sarah Palin”) and product mentions.

At first I thought the ‘bots were out in force last night (and today) or somebody spotted something they thought worth linking to a better-read site than Red.

Since the post 23 hours ago, I’ve received 650 visits.

I should have known something was up when, oddly, no one has posted a comment. Not a single one.

Then it was brought to my attention that the site meter has a “references” section. What we have is nothing more than good old American consumerism run amok. Folks are gaga over Sarah’s frames and are searching “Palin” and “glasses” in droves. (Gee, what would have happened if I’d tagged the post “sex” and “Palin”? I've tried it with this one as an experiment. What happens if ANY post is tagged “sex”? Whole industries are built on the answer to the question.)

Frequent Red Electric reader Steve Brannon was the first to raise the possibility of the consumer connection and even pointed out press documentation of the consumer craze for Palin’s specs.

The good news that while the large majority visited the site to read about where to find Sarah’s glasses, more than 100 nosed around here and looked at other posts.

So, for those of you in the hunt for the Palin-look, look around. You aren’t likely to find what you were looking for, but you may like what you find.

If you actually are here for more thoughts about “cool” and the campaign, here’s one more observation grounded in McLuhan. I also should credit George Lakoff, who rightly takes metaphors seriously — very seriously. (He also writes a lot about frames — political, not optical, ones.)

The political metaphors for the past three decades have all been unabashedly about war. “Hot” war” not “cold war.” So we have “Attack ads,” “War rooms,” “Frontal attacks,” “Counter attacks,” “Air wars,” “War chests” etc.

If he were around, McLuhan (he died in 1980) might argue on behalf of a “cool war.” It would be absorbing and coolly nonconfrontational. It would certainly entertain and not take itself too seriously. Sure, it would take the issues seriously but never lose sight of both the sublime and the absurd.

John F. Kennedy was the first to master “cool.” His press conferences managed enlighten, inspire and, most importantly, engage. He was comfortable with his topic, with himself and with us.

Sarah Palin is no John Kennedy. But she does seem to bring to the podium some of these same qualities. For one thing, she is comfortable enough with herself to wear those marmish glasses. And she may just know that they draw us in to her persona and ultimately into what she is saying.

Whether we agree with her or not, she, unlike her running mate, old what’s-his-name, gets our attention.

Barack Obama shares a few of these qualities. For starters, he too is comfortable with who he is. He, at least, seems to have transcended race, something most of us, if we are honest, have not done but would like too.

How does he do it? And how does Palin get away with wearing those glasses? Of course in her case, she can simply take them off. That she doesn’t seems contrived yet curious.

Obama, with no choice about his skin color, has reached acceptance and moved on.

Would that we all could. This election may tell us if we can.

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Understanding Sarah Palin's glasses

Advertising Age has polled its market-savvy readers about which of the two campaigns is doing the better job of marketing its candidates.

No idle question, that. Marketing is what presidential campaigns are all about. Like soap, deodorant, video games and the Iraq War.

With Advertising Age’s spot-on query and Sarah Palin in mind, I was reminded of one of Marshall McLuhan’s barrage of disconnected observations in his classic “Understanding Media.”

But before moving on to McLuhan, let it be noted that of the four candidates on the two tickets, Palin is different in one obvious respect: she wears glasses.

Oh, and she is a woman.

Wrote McLuhan in his chapter “Media Hot and Cold,” “The principle that distinguishes hot and cold media is perfectly embodied in the folk wisdom: ‘Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.’ (The quote is also attributed to Dorothy Parker.) Glasses intensify the outward-going vision, and fill in the feminine image exceedingly, Marion the Librarian notwithstanding. Dark glasses, on the other hand, create the inscrutable and inaccessible image that invites a great deal of participation and completion (by the viewer).”

Before we get carried away with off-target connotations of “hot,” (as in “hotty”), we need to be reminded that, in McLuhan’s words, “A hot medium is one that extends one single sense in ‘high definition.’ High definition is the state of being well filled with data. A photograph is, visually, ‘high definition.’ A cartoon is ‘low definition,’ simply because very little visual information is provided….”

There’s more, of course. With McLuhan there was always more — a LOT more. And a lot of it was contradictory or sheer bunk. For instance, in recent years, we’ve seen plenty of high-definition cartoons and low-definition photographs.

Back to vice presidential candidate Palin, who is being marketed to a demographic that worships “cool.” With her glasses, Sarah, according to McLuhan is unfashionably hot and “exceedingly” well defined, at least until she replaces her specs with shades, at which point she becomes “cool” and compelling.

Sadly, I have to disagree. Palin has the appearance of models you see in the designer “eye apparel” ads. She is clearly so good-looking that not even glasses can detract from her looks. And you immediately wonder how that could be. In an instant you are trying to figure out what she would look like without glasses on. She is, in short, visually undefined and involving — the very essence of McLuhan’s “cool.”

Remember, this is all about marketing, getting your attention, attracting your interest, stimulating desire (I find myself mentally wanting to see her without her glasses on — and yes, with her hair down) and to commit to her personally (never mind that she doesn’t believe in global warming, evolution or sex education.)

From a marketing perspective (is there any other?) my fear is that Palin’s appearance has transported hordes of cool-crazed voters down the road to buy-in.

And Joe Biden (and John McCain, ne “dead man campaigning”)?

You’ve got to be kidding.

And Barack Obama?

Stay tuned.

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Media as a "person" in your life

Last night I gave my final exam to my "Mass Media and Society" class at Portland Community College.

I posed two essay questions worth considering. Here's the first.

Imagine that all media are a single person in your life.

Consider how much time you spend with this “person.” Consider the “person’s” many motives and “desires” in your relationship. Consider your own motives and “desires” in the relationship. Consider how much time your friends, neighbors and fellow citizens spend with this same “person.”

Consider what you know about the effects of the relationship on them and on you.

How do you characterize and assess the media as a “person” based on your thinking above?

Given that characterization and assessment, what do you and others need to keep in mind to benefit from this “relationship”?

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Another Palin prediction mit conspiracy theory

This from Lizi Zach in Berlin:

My friend Jim, former campaign strategist turned criminal defense lawyer (not much of a career change, but there you have it), just sent the following. It doesn't sound all that far-fetched:

I have been musing over why in the world McCain would have picked Palin knowing her baggage in advance (and then letting it trickle out).

I will make a prediction: She will tearfully decline to serve in the next couple of days, probably in her acceptance speech- blaming the terrible liberal media and bloggers who have attacked her family. She can admit she was a novice, could have done a great job and doesn’t want the campaign to get distracted over. She will urge her supporters to actively support McCain—this was all her idea—McCain urged her to stay the course—and to support his choice of VP—he picks his personal favorite, Lieberman with the blessing of the Right’s new darling.

The religious right is appeased, knowing he took a chance—and that it was all the fault of the usual bad people—not McCain.

I’m already seeing signs of this from conservative columnists and what I hear Pravda, er, Fox News is saying.

All scripted in advance- all facts known. The “liberal media” is at fault—and I’m sure somehow, the Obama campaign.

Thank you Karl Rove.

Sure hope I am wrong, but we have seen it before.

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Monday, September 01, 2008

Could Palin be gone by week's end?

OK, here's the prediction: Citing "personal problems," Sarah Palin of Alaska will withdraw her name from vice presidential consideration by week's end.

Blame it on Alaska, where long, cold nights are not known for abstinence of any kind.

John McCain will replace Palin with either Tom Ridge or Joe Lieberman, his preferred choices before the Christian fundamentalists howled their protests and stuck him with Palin.

Both Ridge and Lieberman are pro-choice and anathema to the Religious Right.

With no backing from the evangelical "base," and wounded by the Palin fiasco, McCain will plummet in the polls.

That said, we need to remember that he is still running in the United States of America where vote tallies (as opposed to actual voters) twice handed George W. Bush the highest office in the land.

Don't count McCain out until the votes are counted — until, and if, ALL the votes are counted.

P.S. If you want to put money on whether Palin will survive on the ticket, go to the Intrade prediction market. Investing in Palin's resignation is rising as I write this.

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