By now we have all watched the “meltdown” video of self-styled “birther” conspiracy spokesperson, Orly Taitz. The clip of David Shuster and Tamron Hall trying to get Taitz to answer questions, while Taitz rambles and calls them “Brownshirts for Obama” (among other things), has all the OMG-did-that-really-happen that sets the comedy writers into action on late-night TV. By Sunday morning, when the talking heads finally mull over its significance, everyone in America will have already seen the video at least once, as it is destined to be the big clip of the week.
Beyond the obvious, knee-slapping twitter punch lines that come out of Taitz’ tantrum (“Orly Taitz sez the special pardon is a forgery. Kim Jong-Il really President of Kenya. LMAO”), my question is: what does this particular video gem say about the nature of political media?
Interestingly, these kinds of embarrassing videos are almost always of right-wing political figures caught in the act of embarrassing themselves. Why? Does left-wing politics lack a lunatic fringe or top political figures who lose self control in front of a a live camera? Hardly.
The political left in America, however, has a tendency to look for these kinds of moments where the political right does not.
For the left, a political threat is no longer dangerous it can be shown hitting the level of exaggerated vaudeville. If they can show “meltdown” on video, the left feels it has disarmed a political attack from the right.
The right has a different approach altogether, which leads them to accumulate fewer of these Taitz Tantrum-type outtakes. Rather than go for the take-down, embarrassing video, the right weaves all political attacks from the left into an ongoing media branding campaign intended to undermine the meaning of the word “liberal.”
The end result? Left-wing political media yields the occasional zinger on video, while right-wing political media unfurls an endless narrative critique.
Because of this difference, left-wing clips like the Taitz tantrum have a far greater potential to slip out of their political corner and become mainstream cultural artifacts. Thanks to such new media comedy outlets as “Funny or Die,” which already released a comedy version of the Taitz video (“Play Orly Taitz Off, Keyboard Cat“), the sound of Taitz accusing David Shuster and Tamron Hall of being “fassists” will echo across the iPhone-sphere and reach the lofty heights of YouTube high rankdom. Rarely does the same fate befall a clip of Glenn Beck ridiculing liberal tax policy or Bill O’Reilly comparing left-wing blogs to Nazis. Left-wing political media is more organic to the internet and wanders further, whereas right-wing media tends to stay more within its original broadcast medium and its original audience.
So the right-wing media moments become popular because they win the nightly numbers. Left-wing media moments hit the headlines after swarm to the surface on Digg or Twitter.
Once the unhinged shouting has stopped, in other words, the Taitz “meltdown” is not just bizarre. It is also a window onto the difference between how the left and right make use of the media.
And a darned entertaining one at that.
Jeffrey Feldman is the author of Framing the Debate (Ig Publishing, 2007), Outright Barbarous (Ig Publishing, 2008), and founder of Frameshop, the influential blog on politics and language. He holds a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology, which he applies to the analysis of speeches, media, and campaigns. An influential voice both on and in the media, Dr. Feldman is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post, has appeared on PBS, MSNBC, and Air America, and can be seen frequently on CBC Newsworld.
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