It’s the viral video season
Welcome to the viral video section of the American election scene, writes syndicated columnist Gail Collins.
Alas, poor J.D. Winteregg. We knew him ... um, actually not very well at all.
Winteregg ran as a Tea Party challenger to the House speaker, John Boehner, in this week’s Ohio primaries. He only got about 22 percent of the vote. So he’s gone, politically speaking. But not forgotten, thanks to his video charging Boehner with “electile dysfunction.”
It went viral. Nearly 400,000 people watched it on YouTube alone. That’s way more than the viral video portraying Nancy Pelosi as a sheep-slaughtering zombie queen, which Pelosi’s opponent released in 2012. Although way less than the 2.7 million views that Dale Peterson, a candidate for Alabama agriculture commissioner, got for his 2010 video in which he accused his enemies of stealing his yard signs.
Welcome to the viral video section of the American election scene. It’s not exceptionally important, but we do appreciate the fact that it’s exceptionally diverting.
This all started, arguably, in 2010 when “Demon Sheep” gave candidates the idea that they could win piles of attention by putting something outrageous up on the Web. “Demon Sheep” was from Carly Fiorina, a U.S. Senate candidate in California. Unlike most of the classics that followed, it was rather long, and viewers had to make their way through a whole lot of stuff about Fiorina’s Republican primary opponent and gasoline taxes before they got to the point, which was an actor wearing a woolly suit and glowing red eyes, crawling around a field.
The trend that followed was very much in the spirit of 21st-century democracy. If you don’t have any money to pay for an actual ad campaign, there’s always the hope that you could post something online that will get you talked about, thus drawing in actual donations. If nothing else, it will certainly help pass the time. Think of viral videos as the Candy Crush of election cycles.
Evidence suggests this year could produce a banner crop. In Minnesota, there’s a candidate in the Republican Senate primary whose son tells about the time he had stitches from a hockey injury and Dad cut them out with scissors because he was too cheap to pay a doctor. This is about — yes! — Obamacare.
In Iowa, Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst made a national splash with “Squeal,” a video in which she bragged that she spent her youth castrating pigs. Now she’s at the head of the primary pack, with Sarah Palin in her corner and a new ad in which she wears a lot of black leather, rides a motorcycle, shows off her gun and shoots at a target that is metaphorically Obamacare, while an announcer notes that she is a “mom, farm girl and a lieutenant colonel who carries more than just lipstick in her purse.”
I miss the pigs already.
For some reason, right-wing candidates are best at getting their videos to go viral. This may be one of those natural laws of politics, like the fact that extreme conservatives have the talk-radio programs, while liberals rule on late-night comedy.
You do not win this game with subtlety. Winteregg’s anti-Boehner video, a parody of erectile dysfunction ads, was actually pretty sophisticated for the genre. Nobody screams at the camera, and there are no actors flailing in the mud wearing bad reproductions of pig snouts.
“You make a great team,” says the announcer, as happy couples ogle and paw each other on screen. “It’s been that way since the day you met. But your electile dysfunction? It could be a question of blood flow. Sometimes when a politician has been in D.C. too long, it goes to his head, and he just can’t seem to get the job done. Used on a daily basis, Winteregg in Congress will help you every time the moment is right to have your voice heard at the federal level.”
Winteregg’s employer, a conservative Christian college in Cedarville, Ohio, was not amused and fired him from his job as adjunct professor of French. It’s always unfortunate when educators get punished for their outside political activities. On the other hand, I believe I speak for all of us who have been adjunct professors when I say it’s unlikely that we are talking about losing a living wage.
The “electile dysfunction” ad was unusual in that it did not have any starring roles for animals. If you want to go viral, you generally need to bring a four-legged friend.
Earlier this year, Dwayne Stovall, a totally unknown Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Texas, posted a video in which he sat on the back of a truck with his talking dog, insulting the Republican Senate establishment. Suddenly, he was no longer just an asterisk on the poll charts. He was Dwayne Stovall, the guy with the chatty golden retriever.
It didn’t win him the election — viral videos hardly ever win elections — but it did give Stoval his moment of fame. During which he told The Daily Beast that he was disappointed that he was not getting that kind of attention for his position on the national debt.
© , New York Times News Service
Gail Collins is a regular columnist for The New York Times.