Caught in the net

As the Internet munches away at our tired brain-cells it’s interesting to see how politicians are managing not to cope — or better still, how their image-makers are grappling with this dastardly, irrational, technology. This week Patrick Foster, on his TimesOnline site, reported that the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown had silenced his YouTube critics by disabling “viewer comments” on the Downing Street YouTube portal. 

The issue that caused such angst was Brown’s appearance on his YouTube site trying to hose down a voter reaction to a scandal involving Labour ministers and their government-paid expenses. One minister, the Home Secretary, Jacki Smith, was mauled when it turned out that her husband had ticked-up porno films on his wife’s government credit card. British MPs’ have also been exposed for claiming 2nd-home allowances under murky circumstances. Naughty! 

Patrick Foster’s Online site reported, “Gordon Brown’s YouTube message on MPs’ expenses has been watched only 4000 times. By contrast the video of him picking his nose has been watched 630,000 times and the video of the Tory MEP Daniel Hannan haranguing him in the European Parliament has attracted more that two million hits”. Foster goes on, “ The Prime Minister’s woeful viewing figures can be seen as a symptom of his difficulties with the Internet”. 

The difficulties, that politicians are having, are that the Internet is nothing like their normal manipulation-playground. The Internet is nothing like traditional media— newspapers, TV, radio or magazines. Politicians can manipulate, lie, slip, slide and waffle as much as they like on sites like YouTube and Facebook. They can blog and Twitter their heads off, but interneters are ruthless in their decisions as to what they watch, buy (as in accept) and respect. 

Prime Minister Brown is not the only PM with a YouTube statistic problem. Our own Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, the most strident manipulator of the media Australia has ever experienced, doesn’t cut it with the great Blogging, YouTube Twittering, unwashed. His “Sorry” speech on the Stolen Generations managed only 88,923 hits while a send-up of Kevin Rudd, dressed in a Chairman Mao suit, clutching a Little Red Book, with a similarly dressed Wayne Swan, Julia Gillard and Peter Garrett, singing and marching to “The East is Red”, or something, managed to attract 211,743 viewers. Pipping Gordon Brown’s nose adventure is Kevin Rudd’s “PM eats his own ear wax” at 668,510 hits. 

The new visual, moving-image sound-stage that is YouTube, Facebook and other sites, is a cruel jungle, mainly operating at night, and is the feeding ground for the political disenfranchised. Both the serious, and the simple minded, go hunting.    A new younger generation of keen video-editing, camera wielding graduates of media classes, join with an older generation, to work this newly found medium in which they express their likes and dislikes and tastes. 

An extraordinary example of how this new digital window operates is in the area of music. A bit like Mark Twain’s famous aside that “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”, is the so called decline of classical and heroic/romantic music. It would be hard to find on YouTube any strutting, raucous rock-clip to equal the piece by Susan Boyle, 47, singing “I Dream a Dream”, which attracted 50 million viewers on YouTube. Or the video clip of Phil Potts, a very unassuming mobile-phone warehouse-worker, singing Puccini’s 1926 hit, “Nessun Dorma”, which to date, has managed 49 million hits. One of YouTubes’ earliest hits was an electric guitar piece by a young Korean, Jeong-Hyun Lim, playing “Pachalbel’s Canon”, sitting in his bedroom in Seoul. It attracted millions. 

According to Wikipedia, YouTube was launched in Australia on the 22nd of October 2007, from a development that first began in 2005. So the notion, and medium, is very new. What seems to draw the big numbers of viewers, which are often the result of “referred leads” from friends and acquaintances, is not so much a talking head with a message, but the combinations in a magic moment. A moment when a thought, an emotion, or an experience, can be captured. This is something Malcolm Turnbull might ponder. He desperately needs a dedicated YouTube trainer to create for him a powerful YouTube presence. 

Barack Obama has the style and the rhetoric that works on Internet vehicles such as YouTube. Kevin Rudd’s ponderous delivery and priest/pastor like attitude will never work. Where and when Rudd is sent-up, he rates like a rocket. His one big success on YouTube was an excellent interview he did on Channel Ten’s Rove. John Howard, who out rates Rudd with the number of YouTube sites, by 16 to 1, does so by the sheer number of nasty clips produced prior to the last election. For the rabid anti-Howard clique, he must be sorely missed. 

In January 2009 six billion videos were viewed on Youtube. While it has been suggested that the viewer numbers [hits] on YouTube can be manipulated, there is little doubt of the power of the medium — power, that is, if you can get your content right. Patrick Foster Media Correspondent for The Times says at Number 10 Dowling Street, the British PM’s media gurus launched an e-petitions website in 2006 which, “…proved a headache for the government, with more people likely to use it to petition for Jeremy Clarkson [Top Gear host] to be made prime minister than to save their local school. The eighth most popular petition of the moment, with 17,665 signatures and counting, asks Mr Brown to do just one thing: resign.” 

It is sad to think that the prime ministers of Australia and the United Kingdom can only attract big hit numbers while undertaking facial maintenance, but there is hope when a politician like Daniel Hannan (paragraph three), who can capture an audience of 2 million by simply delivering a heartfelt, political, 3 minute speech, without reading from a prepared script. Yes, there is hope!

Leave a Reply