President Barack Obama is, simply put, one of the most popular leaders we’ve had in a long time. With his charming attitude and well-spoken nature, it’s hard not like the guy sometimes, even if you don’t necessarily agree with his policies. But where does this all come from? This super-positive, often even idealized, image of President Obama? The media of course!
Henry Jenkins, who we all should know from (hopefully) studying for a recent exam, discussed on his blog how the Obama campaign effectively took advantage of multiple media platforms to create a strong fan following. Remember the concept of “participatory culture?” Well, in today’s mediated culture, it’s become increasingly important to give the fans a sense of power and participation. The same goes with political campaigns. What did Obama do right and McCain do wrong? Well, according to Jenkins…
The Obama campaign broke so much new ground (in the use of user-generated content, social networks, mobile technologies, and game-based advertising, in particular) and set new records (in the use of the web to raise money or track supporters). Digital media were absolutely central to his much praised “get out the vote” efforts and critical to his ability to court younger voters. By contrast, the McCain candidacy failed across all platforms — not exploiting fully the potentials of new media and often, getting hurt by its mismanagement of traditional media (Think about Sarah Palin and Katie Couric).
Media is changing, and the Obama campaign took advantage of it. As a result, we’ve seen a following for Obama unlike any president in the past (except maybe Kennedy). He’s not just a political figure– he’s become a celebrity in every way, a person that has more to offer than just his platform. Obama plays a pick-up basketball game and The New York Times is all over it, going so far as to even analyze how basketball has affected his life. Obama gives his daughters $1 allowance a week, and People magazine is dishing the details behind it. Even Obama’s love life can be a model for Americans, as MSNBC states. Fact is, through the use of multiple platforms of media, Obama has connected with the fans on a personal level, and that is a big reason why he is so loved.
Another interesting thing noted by Jenkins: Obama is a fan himself— just another reason why we can look at him and think, “Well, he’s just one of us.” (If you ignore the whole President of the United States thing, of course).
Is Obama now America’s most powerful fan boy? Early returns suggest that it may just be the case: there are so many stories now about the Obama family voting on American Idol and reading the Harry Potter books together. The President-Elect is rumored to know how to give a Vulcan salute (to Leonard Nimoy no less), to drop casual references to Star Trek and other science fiction and comics texts into conversation. He’s even alleged to have attended San Diego Comic Con one year. Of course, some of his street cred as a fan was damaged by a story in Newsweek during which he was qouted as comparing Michelle’s belt buckle to “Lithium Crystals.” Any Star Trek fan worth their salt monster knows that should be “Dilithium Crystals.” We can only hope that the reporter misunderstood what he said but if so, he should demand an apology for the slander it poses to his fannish reputation. Let the fun begin!