I have been following the conversations and controversies regarding Obama’s ‘The Life of Julia’ campaign introduced last Thursday with great interest. Ever since I read Latour’s Politics of Nature: How to Bring Politics into Democracy in 2010, I have been interested in topography of (or in) political communication. Obama’s campaign, with its savvy inclusion of technological objects and channels, is an interesting case study for this. So here are my thoughts on this:
- Political jargon and policy stands are often out of reach of the voters who struggle against the volume of information that is produced daily in the political field (which is interlinked with economic and international happenings, which add to the complexity.) to make an informed political decision. My first thought about the Julia campaign that it was a good attempt to ground these policy debates by situating it within the day to day life(-time) of an individual – a woman, Julia.
- My issues with the campaign lies with the fact that the everywoman chosen by the Obama camp should resemble so closely the white, heteronormative, middle class, law-upholding American female ideal. I would have liked to see Obama’s policies regarding crime prevention and rehabilitation, support for single mothers, runaway teenagers, etc. be weaved into this narrative. There is no excuse for not doing so given the current technological capacities to tell stories with multiple diverging story-lines.
- Having said that, I do disagree with Obama’s critics who claim a dislike for the campaign based on the fact that it sends the message that American women are incapable of making it on their own without the government’s ‘cradle-to-grave assistance’. The campaign is a rhetoric – logically speaking, in a means based benefits system, once Julia’s (or individual X’s) standard of living and opportunities available to her has been raised, at an early period of her life hopefully, she would not require governmental support, at least to as great a degree. Moreover, I do see such critique as coming from the relatively privileged upper middle class, white feminist quarters and do think they are baseless given the fact that according to initial reports, American women seem to respond well to the campaign and are not insulted by it.
- Another critique of the campaign is that it is willfully misleading as it dodges the specifics from the Obama campaign but nails down Romney’s based on specifics. This I do take more seriously. Of course, the ‘infographic’ is stained by party political rhetoric. Its accuracy is under question, and rightly so. I do think, however, that were voices from other, competing or otherwise, were linked to this narrative (or conceivably on a separate and relatively neutral platform), it would provide an easy, one-stop (but not one-voice) snapshot of the political information that the voters would need to make decisions in the upcoming elections.
So in short, a promising start of the use of web and modern imaging tools to bring a campaign to life, but disappointing in view of the number of tools and digital narrative capacities that have not been tapped yet in order to create a very rudimentary form of a political map to help guide the votes. What did you think of the infographic and the uproar #Julia caused in the media? Do you find this interesting as a form of political communication, like me, or do you think the campaign and the discourse around it is mostly gender-related (the discourse surrounding it is certainly quite gendered)? Or do you want to discuss the policies in the infographic – do you see social security dominate these conversations?