Friday, April 24, 2009

In other news, I'm about to smack down the New York Times.

In the April 23 New York Times, Liz Shannon Miller analyzes the newest platform in the gay marriage debate: online video.

The piece is titled, painfully, The Gay Marriage Debate and Online Video: So Right for Each Other, They Ought to Make It Legal. Assuming the cutesy headline doesn't leave you puking in your shoe, you can read on to learn about major internet video campaigns in the gay marriage debate. Miller focuses mainly on the "Gathering Storm" vid put out by the National Organization for Marriage (I wrote about it here), focusing on its big mistakes:

the immediately recognizable set-up (a diverse group of people standing in front of rainclouds), the extreme earnestness, and the over-reliance on the storm metaphor have made it an easy target for video mash-ups and parodies....
Oh, and the people featured in the real Gathering Storm ad? They’re actors. How do we know this? Because the Human Rights Campaign found the complete audition footage — and instead of claiming that it was faked, NOM filed a copyright claim with YouTube to have it removed, thus proving its veracity (the footage can still be found on Vimeo).

Other big moments for Miller: The remixes and parodies of "Gathering Storm" and the restart of the debate after celebrity blogger Perez Hilton, a judge for the Miss USA contest, asked Miss California her stance on gay marriage.

It's bad enough that this story feels kinda...old. After all, if there's time for the proliferation of creative responses that Miller points to, then the phenomenon is not actually news to most of us. What's worse is that Miller tries to argue that the key takeaway here is that hey, at least people are talking about gay marriage. She writes:

Each side of this debate comes to it from an incredibly personal place — after all, at the core of it we’re discussing the definition of love in the eyes of the government — and sometimes it seems like each side is more focused on energizing its base than actually trying to have a discussion about the issues. But along the way we get dozens of videos, millions of views, and thousands of comments. Whether it succeeds in changing anyone’s mind when it comes to such a personal issue is tough to say. But somewhere in this mess, people are actually trying to talk about it. Which is something (italics mine).

Nope, sorry. The main point is not that people are trying to talk about gay marriage--the main point is that NOM's ad campaign was an epic fail, and not just because its message is stupid and bigoted. NOM failed because it treated the internet like it was television, only more so. It figured, hey, let's make a really powerful video about why gay marriage is teh suck, put it online, and get people to forward it on to their friends. That way we'll recruit a whole army to get behind our evil, bigoted anti-gay agenda!

The problem for NOM is that the internet is not TV to the somethingth power. It's something else entirely--a new expressive space so different from TV that any comparison is utterly useless. Advertisers and technology writers who fail to treat it as such are making the Space Odyssey mistake. Clay Shirky describes a scene from 2001 in which

space stewardesses in pink miniskirts welcome the arriving passenger. This is the perfect, media-ready version of the future--the technology changes, hemlines remain the same, and life goes on much as today, except faster, higher, and shinier.

The takeaway of the NOM campaign and its parodies, and the immediate spread of the Miss California interview, and the spread of almost anything about gay marriage or gay rights that's in any way repurposable, is not the platitude that "at least people are trying to talk about it." The takeaway is that any campaign that treats people as passive consumers just sitting around waiting to be told what to think is so out of step with the social revolution brought about by new media that it's practically begging to be bitch-slapped by the people with the power to bite back, which is to say almost everybody.

1 comment:

Melissa said...

This was my favorite point regarding the anti-gay agenda: "'s practically begging to be bitch-slapped..."



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