Friday, October 17, 2008


What's so interesting about both the debates and the campaign is its meta-ness and performantive aspects. We know from history that content and visual performance do not always agree--the crucial debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, where television viewers thought Kennedy won and radio listeners thought Nixon did is the most prominent example. But with the growth of so many forms of criticism and the addition of so many pundits on television and on the Internet is that performance--and its resulting commentary--have become especially prominent.

Focusing on performance in some ways more accurately mimics the way we often choose our political candidates; certainly some voters focus as much on personality and demeanor as they do on issues.*

While the media focus on performance has increased over the last few election cycles, a new somewhat mitigating factor has also arisen.


By metaness I mean a focus on the process of commentary as well as the commentary itself, Metaness is often a form of transparency in that we understand the process by which information reaches us. If we are open about the way media cover candidates, we are more likely to get at a truth than by simply listening, watching, or reading straight journalism. Check out this video from's all about how the story is being told rather than the issues of the candidates. Political Internet journalism and blogs tend to be at the forefront of this, but I've noticed the post-debate coverage on the networks to be much more meta than in the past.

Indeed, this campaign has shown the full flowering of meta-commentary, both on the right and left, on television and on the Internet, and everywhere in between. Pundits and writers are focusing not only on the policies and performances of Barack Obama and John McCain but also on the way media is bringing that information to its audiences. Sometimes that coverage eclipses the actual content generated by the two  candidates, leading to the idea that the candidates do not have ideas, a decidedly negative result. But at the same time, metaness acts as a mitigating filter, letting audiences know the ways media and political campaigns are giving them information.

Of course, that's what this blog is about too; we think the signs and symbols of the campaign are a crucial part in understanding the messages behind the messages.

That's not to say of course that issues are not important; obviously, they are the most important aspect of a campaign. But at least the coverage of the coverage of the campaign has caught up with the implicit focus on non-issues in the election.

Comments? I'm still working through some of the ideas behind this...


*If you want to know the positions of the candidates, the worst place to find it is in network news coverage and the best is on the campaigns' websites. The debates are somewhere in the middle. 


Miles said...

You could index the "metaness" with the Aristotelian rhetorical triangle (itself a metadiscourse), by arguing that political messaging and marketing sites like and reside at the ethos corner, watchdog sites like and reside at the logos corner, and focus group dial testing sites like reside at the pathos corner.

SemiObama said...

It's interesting--the political blogs, especially, Daily Kos, are strong at pathos, and now, because of their prominence, ethos as well, though the ethos is strongest within the community, less strong among Democrats and some independents, and without value outside it.