Two very different politicians are using YouTube in two very different ways, for two very different ends. Rob Ford continues to hope that his political career doesn’t end in handcuffs with police frog-marching him out of Toronto City Hall, and while he’s killing time between his associations with actual killers, he’s decided to grace the Internet with clips of him and his brother Doug using words.
Meanwhile, Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party released a video yesterday making his argument for the hearts and minds of middle class Canadian voters. The contents themselves aren’t particularly novel for anyone who’s been paying attention—high household debt ratios, stagnant salaries and wages, an upper crust that’s pulling away from the rest of us—but the medium contains multiple messages.
First of all, there’s the presentation. Rather than have Trudeau speak directly into a camera, he narrates a series of literally hand-drawn images, in an adaptation of the style of the RSA Animates lectures that were a big deal a while back.
The choice to not present Trudeau’s face except for a few moments tells us a few things: first of all, the Liberals (correctly) assume we don’t need to be told who their leader is. As a-doy obvious as it may sound, this is actually worth mentioning for what is, after all, still the third party in Parliament. There’s an acknowledgement here of Trudeau’s celebrity, and a willingness to use it, without needing to make Trudeau the centre of attention.
That’s made explicit near the end of the seven-plus-minute video, when Trudeau’s voice says, “This isn’t about me, and it’s not about the Liberal Party.” It’s a lie, of course, and not one the Liberals are even terribly interested in disguising. But it’s a seductive pitch, and one that has a long pedigree in Internet-amplified campaigning—it goes back to the Internet’s neolithic era of politics and the Howard Dean campaign of 2004.
And while we’re in the meta of media, can we just notice that this video is very competently executed? If that sounds like damning with faint praise, it both is and isn’t. The Liberals have had a decidedly mixed record with video since the millennium ticked over. It’s cruel to bring up the winter of 2008 and the coalition that wasn’t, but then-Maclean’s reporter Kady O’Malley memorably described Stéphane Dion’s video message to the Canadian people as looking like it was recorded on a webcam, “and not one of the expensive ones used by practical girls working their way through university.” So a party operating with workmanlike competence, after the fiascos of the Dion and Ignatieff years, is a welcome sight.
The comparisons with the Ford brothers are obvious, and take far fewer words to run down. For all the criticism about Trudeau’s main asset being celebrity, it’s the Fords who possess the more desperate need to have their faces seen. They not only refuse to go away, but are so petrified of their dwindling relevance they refuse to be anything but the divas of their own show. That the brothers can’t even agree who is actually leading the show is really just the cherry on top. The content of their clips is just as notable: while Trudeau uses his time to make a pitch for a growth-oriented progressive political agenda, Rob and Doug talk football, Rob’s losing battle against flags, and his political enemies. It’s not about you, it’s all about me.
The question we’re left with is which use the medium will reward. Is the Internet circa 2014 the kind of place where the Fords or the Trudeaus win out? The answer could be both, because the medium isn’t always the message; radio and newsreels accommodated Roosevelt and Hitler with disinterest. But I strongly suspect the Liberals, borrowing from methods that have already proven themselves online, are going to have much better luck than the Fords’ attempt to bolt AM radio-style diatribes onto a medium nearly a century younger than AM radio.
If the Internet has taught us anything, it’s that Rob Ford’s politics don’t belong on YouTube. They belong in YouTube comments.