Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Voice & Videocams of the People

Having recently carped about the limitations of user-generated content, I gotta give it up for the phenomenon of all those Real People asking the Democratic candidates their questions in the "CNN/YouTube debates" the other night. (That YouTube link is to a page with the entire debate, clip by clip, featuring tiny, animated thumbnails of the questioners, and the candidates full-frame; and some might say, full of it in general.)

It was exciting, and you got the feeling that this is what democracy was really supposed to be about. If you missed it, the candidates were asked to raise their hands only once, unlike previous rounds where they were set up to look like schoolchildren.

Jon Stewart was complaining last night that the answers were the same old pablum, but I thought it looked like the too-many, too-soon candidates reacted differently than they do to the usual Respected TV Journalist. After all, the RTJ delivers his questons with this tremendous gravitas, his mighty brow furrowed, and, being human, the candidates respond in kind. (I’ll yield to the temptation to say Monkey See, Monkey Do, but I’m scratching my side as I do. After all, this is how humans learn.)

So, yes, this was a genuine Voice (and grainy image) of the People, and will probably set the mark for televised debates from here on. But my point’s never been that there’s anything wrong with giving us commoners a direct voice; it’s simply that you can’t build a website just with free content.

Note that the user-generated debate still had the Gatekeeper: CNN picked which of the thousands of video questions submitted actually got on the air (or rather, on the cable). It’s a good thing, too – can you imagine what kinds of amazing incomprehensibilities would have been heard if they’d picked the questions at random? Kind of like the variety of comments one finds in unmoderated forums.

And, of course, they also had 360 degrees of Anderson Cooper repeating, “Time… time,” all night, attempting to corral the gathering winds of the Looking Presidentials. Now there’s a tough job.

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