The Obama video: media at hyper-speed

I was talking with a colleague recently about the Barack Obama tribute video made by Will.i.am from the Black-Eyed Peas and Bob Dylan’s son Jesse, and how fascinating it was to watch as it made its way through various media last week, from emails and Twitter feeds to blog posts and then into newspapers and media websites.

When I first came across the video, known as the “Yes We Can” video, people were describing it as compelling and passionate — many seemed impressed by the fact that it wasn’t official, and that it had young men and women of all colours in it, symbolizing the breadth of Obama’s reach and how people connect with his message.

Over time, however, you could see the tide starting to turn. Some people started to talk about how slick it was — filled with celebrities and very commercial, in a music-video kind of way. Then people started musing about how that was part of the problem with Obama’s campaign to begin with: style over substance, etc. The blog NewTeeVee called it an “appalling exercise in celebrity self-congratulation.”

Within a day or two, the video was being used as an example of how “user-generated” media isn’t always such a great thing for a campaign. The political site Hot Air called it “disturbingly cool,” while a blogger at The New Republic wondered whether it might not hurt Obama more than help him. One commenter on Twitter wondered when Obama campaign had started having his videos done by The Gap.

So the Obama video went from blockbuster media event and unadulterated success story to backlash in about 48 hours — less time than it would have taken for a typical campaign video to even be distributed to TV networks a few years ago, let alone watched by almost two million people, posted to blogs, commented on and analyzed. Fascinating.

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