Viral video mashups play prominent role in campaign cycle

Studio 360

A minute after Mitt Romney uttered the infamous “binders full of women,” a Tumblr was born.

The blog’s creator, Veronica De Souza, started posting images that played with those words, including a submission that combined an image of a Trapper Keeper (the loose-leaf binders of elementary school fame) with the words “Trap Her Keep Her.” By the next morning there were nearly 2000 submissions, and everyone in America was talking about binders full of women.

That’s just one example of the proliferation of blogs, videos and other homemade political commentary thriving online in this election cycle and taking control of the story away from the campaigns and the news media.

YouTube has become a breeding ground for mashup and parody videos that move virally and are far more memorable than the campaign ads. 

Virginia Heffernan, a commentator on digital culture anda Yahoo! News correspondent, called it a sort of "crowdsourced psychoanalysis."

"It seems like there is a little bit of collective unconscious that goes on in the form of Twitter, very playfully,” Heffernan said.

A Brooklyn outfit called the The Gregory Brothers became famous a few years ago for the web series Auto-Tune the News. Shortly after the first presidential debate, the quartet posted a “songified” version in which the voices of Barack Obama and Romney were digitally manipulated so that they “sing” their lines from the debate.

The video has over 2.8 million views. Like many of the viral videos, Songify the Debates evades any reading as a partisan statement.

In a mashup that sets the president's words to the tune of Jay Z's “99 Problems,” it's difficult to tell if the message is pro- or anti-Obama. The president looks cool — finally, the hiphop president some were hoping for! — but there are critical moments.

At its most damning, the video cuts away to footage of Martin Luther King delivering his famous “I have a dream” speech, then cuts to Obama saying “I have a drone.”

College Humor's “Mitt Romney Style” video is a parody of the Korean pop hit “Gangnam Style.”

Compare its 8.2 million views to the politically influential “47 percent” video, with just 3.2 million views.

Bad Lip Reading takes real footage and substitutes a voiceover that seems to match the lip movements on screen, gutting the politics and filling in with abstract poetry. Candidate Romney looks at us solemnly and declares, “I was happy, and then your sister threw a sea fish at my TV.”

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