What Did We Learn From the Obama Infomercial?
33 million people watched Senator Obama’s half-hour sales pitch, according to Nielsen Media Research. In contrast, the Philadelphia-Tampa Bay World Series was the least watched in television history. There is no real correlation here – outside of numbers and desires and an intrinsic Darwinism that is looming larger in American culture.
There are more general lessons in media consumption, but it is Senator Obama’s use of the infomercial format that is particularly telling.
The infomercial has long been the medium of choice for the waffle-maker and the cable/pulley-based exercise equipment manufacturer and the at-home bread-baker and real estate investment charmer and the spring-loaded thigh-thinner. The infomercial is the venue where particular breeds of manufacturers or service providers deploy – usually late at night or on weekend mornings – to convince an audience to buy into something that is unnecessary to the core needs of that audience.
They use the 30-minute format to explain themselves because they generally do not have an advertising agency or a public relations machine or the machinations and raw admirations of agenda-setting media empires.
Senator Obama’s use of this venue – produced as it was in high-quality video for optimal theatrics – was an unnecessary sales pitch, bought as it was in primetime and presented to a population 33 million deep that the media outlets have already sold through their open support for the Democratic candidate.
But what did we learn from Obama’s half-hour advertisement that trusted American journalists had not already vetted for us? Well, we were first introduced to a woman with representational cartoon stickers on her SUV – nearly ten of them, reflective of the litter of children she has mothered. The woman cited the rise in food costs (remember the irresponsible number of mouths that need feeding) and fuel costs (remember the SUV) and the fact that her husband works for a tire treading factory.
And she voiced to Obama’s camera crew a general need for change. This segment of the infomercial should have been sponsored by a condom manufacturer.
We were later introduced to some numbers – the most interesting of which was the reduction in tax threshold figures from $250,000 in household income to $200,000. Just a week before a national election, the Democratic candidate showed his cards on the largest tax increase in American history – and the fact that considerably larger swaths of the population are going to pay. This was not the stuff of investigative journalism, as American journalists have since fancied themselves celebrity bloggers and columnists and opinionated talking heads.
This was a culmination of salesmanship and of propaganda and of a voting population eager for a charismatic character and unwilling to discern the victims or the costs or the truth.
The infomercial was brilliant – as it was a poetically perfect environment for the most uneasy of sales presentations and during a most uneasy time. It was and is a window on what likely is to come – not only in this presidential term but in future contests.
Tomorrow we will know our new president, and he will arrive as all of them have – dubiously. This election – as all elections before it – was a matter of sellable merchandise.
But this time around we have bought something more – an intangible transaction that hums at the marrow of our democracy. The infomercial was and is the embodiment of this purchase.
Hold on to your receipt.
Tags: Obama , Election , Infomercial , Sales , Media , Taxes , Politics , Democrat , Campaign , Journalism
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