Politics, whether personal or of national importance, are rarely delivered nor received without at least a hint of emotion. With the heavy incorporation of social media in the last U.S. presidential election waves of euphoria and disgrace rippled across the networked globe. While voters have been able to engage with party leaders through traditional text communication systems (i.e. letters, press articles, surveys) in the past, these methods ultimately stalled the response from the receiver while documents were in transit and then placed in priority piles before the reading of them could commence. Social media has shifted this processing order by enabling immediate access to the
source, be this through an open twitter session with the campaigner and the public, a poignant story articulated by a video that has gone viral which in turn forces campaigners to watch and address the cause, or the use of Facebook to rally people online and in person to force a discussion on a topic of mass opinion. This leveling of power in terms of vocal articulation combined with new and accessible socially networked tools enables each individual to express themselves in the manner that suits them best. The result is a more creative tackle.
Emotional topics, such as radio Dj’ Rush Limbaugh’s recent derogatory comments made about a woman campaigning to the U.S. Congress for the need of health insurance to cover the cost of contraceptive medication sparked debate across the nation and globally, leading to a public scolding of Limbaugh, and a huge debate on women’s rights. Topics discussed not only addressed assistance with birth-control, but also delved into religion and the woman’s right to become a university/college educated member of society. Moving beyond textual critique, social media enables artists like the Reformed Whores to voice their objections to Limbaugh’s comments through humour and song while building their audience and encouraging people to re-look at the social prejudices that still exist in Western society against women.
Running, almost simultaneously to the Limbaugh public outburst was/is the ‘Kony 2012’ or ‘#StopKony’ campaign by Invisible Children that has emotionally gripped millions of people and encouraged them to become educated about Uganda’s history, and to participate in and acknowledge the importance of public action against repression. While this project has received extensive criticism there is no question that in a ‘connected world’ we can no longer ignore problems that arise beyond a political border.
Artist Javier Téllez, amidst a larger project, organized for the human cannonballist David Smith to be shot across the U.S. – Mexico border between Tijuana and San Diego, essentially making light of the actual border and instead placed the line into the realm of human concept, reducing the physical barrier to a mere mindset.
Social media also has altered the way politicians run their campaigns and it has influenced the development of their political profile. After the emotional blow of 9-11, President Bush’s office addressed the public with several absolute statements. This method is increasingly impossible for President Obama. He must discuss more than one point of view within his public addresses in order to demonstrate that his government understands that voters may feel differently to him and have diverse beliefs. Addressing issues from several angles strengthens government support; as the U.S. could not
possibly have a unilateral opinion on any given topic as its citizens are empowered by their right to free-speech, to celebrate their ethnicities, their religions and their languages.
Artists play a large part in drawing attention to controversial issues, but on a whole society is becoming both more vocal and more creative in their attempt to broadcast their opinions. Importantly, social media allows citizens to speak collectively and to raise emotional issues while ensuring that they are discussed. As debates become increasingly accessible to everyone, and the voices of citizens are propelled into the limelight, individuals become the driving force of a more democratic electoral system. By becoming a society of visual communicators global perceptions of regimes, awareness campaigns, biases, and even borders can be re-examined and importantly cross-examined by the public, forcing a more transparent and humanist approach to living.
These are some initial thoughts as I start to think about developing a body of work in response to the social and emotional outbursts that take main stage across social media in the lead up to the U.S. election. These topics have the potential to become driving forces within the election and may influence the outcome.
Furthermore – Ottawa’s inaugural Nuit Blanche call for projects is due on April 15th. We are looking for ideas that develop our theme of ‘Life is Beautiful/La vie est belle’- we want the creative community to become extroverted – to show off their political stance – to shake our city up – to expose our human nature and to celebrated.