Felix Stalder on Wed, 28 Jan 2004 17:07:44 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Dean and Kerry: Hot and Cool

Reading Ronda's article, it seems to me that she, and a lot of other people 
who write about Dean, the Internet and politics, miss some essential points. 
Usually, the story is one about grassroots involvement, the power of 
connectivity, etc. These are certainly important points, and they support a 
story we all like to hear -- the Internet as a means of democratic 
participation. Yet, the events suggest that underneath this, there might be a 
different story.

One of the the events McLuhan referred to again and again, was the Nixon/
Kennedy debate in 1960, which was right at the transition from radio to TV as 
the predominant means of mass communication. TV had reached a penetration of 
about 50% of the households. The majority of people who listened to this 
debate on radio thought that Nixon had come across better, while those who 
watched it on TV thought Kennedy was more appealing.

McLuhan related this back to the particular characteristics of the two media, 
calling radio 'hot' (high-definition, agitating) and TV 'cool' (low 
definition, sedating) and concluded that different types of media favor 
different types of politicians. The cool Kennedy was suited better for the TV 
age than the hot-headed Nixon. (The fact that Nixon eventually became 
president indicates a) politicians can adapt and b) McGovern was even 

Anyway, as I watch some of the spectacle around the democratic primaries, it 
strikes me that it could be possible that, again, we have the story of 
different media favoring different types of personalities. Why? First, the 
Dean campaign is different from other maverick campaigns (say, John McCain in 
2000) insofar that it's clearly not the case of an independent, poorly 
organized, under-funded campaign being steamrolled by superior organizing and 
funding. After all, Dean has, by far, the most money and, arguably, the best 
on-the-ground organization. So, this is not the classic outside-insider 
story, largely thanks to the Internet, as many have observed.

Yet, could it be that exactly the kinds of qualities that make Dean so 
attractive to get involved with via the Internet make him less appealing on 
TV? Online, his 'radical' stance comes across as principled, as a clear 
alternative. On TV, it comes across as arrogant and hot-headed. TV clearly is 
a cool medium, favoring a cool demeanor by politicians. Nobody got this 
across better than Clinton. Yet, cool politicians are not the types who feel 
you need to help personally (unless in ultra-crass cases such as the 
Clinton-impeachment that spawned moveon.org). On the Internet, spontaneity is 
essential part of an engaging interactive experience, while on TV, it's 

Dean, it seems, is in a difficult position. He needs to continue to appeal to 
his Internet-based organization, which could fall apart as quickly as it was 
assembled, yet he needs to tone himself down to make the transition onto TV 
where the boring but authoritative-looking Kerry operates much more smoothly.

Following the McLuhan story, Dean-types would win, in the long run, as we move 
from TV-based to Internet-based politics, but things are never that smooth. 
In the short-run, I certainly wouldn't bet on it.



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