Deep as I was in the unfolding drama of last week's Democratic National Convention, I kept my appointed, if eclectic, rounds, and not surprisingly, found a few connections between soap opera fans and the election. First, this posting on We Love Soaps:
When it comes to their TV viewing preferences, the highest indexing cable network among Republicans are Fox News Channel, the Military Channel, and The Golf Channel. Among Democrats, they are BET, SOAPnet, and Bravo.
I do recall seeing Democratic ads on the Media Domain site in 2004, but not Republican, so this seems to be a well-established pattern. I didn't get SOAPnet in ‘04, so I'll be watching carefully between now and November.
Then I took a look at Henry Jenkins' recent post, "McCain to Obama Supporters: "Get a Life!" Instead of attacking the candidate on substance or character, these ads focus on Obama's "celebrity." One, "Obama Fan Club," goes after those who support Obama and demeans the candidate's supporters as "fans," lowering a process already seen as calculating and cynical to new and, frankly, disturbing depths.
A little background about Henry Jenkins: He is co-founder and director of the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT. I got to know him when I was an outside thesis advisor for Sam Ford, who received his Masters in Media Studies in 2007. One of Henry's many areas of interest is fandom, in particular, challenging anti-fan stereotypes.
Now, soap fans know all about the stigma attached to those anti-fan stereotypes; I've written that the stigma attached to soaps and resulting marginalization are largely responsible for the current sorry state of soaps. But, what's going on here transcends any one medium and its fans. Earlier this year, Sam Ford taught a class on The American Soap Opera at MIT. Interestingly, (or perhaps presciently), one of his students, came at the same questions Henry is raising from a slightly different angle on the class blog.
Of course, stigmatizing others is just a way of separating "us" from "them." So while at first glance it may seem trivial in the overall scheme of things that fans of soaps and Star Trek and the WWE may be marginalized by virtue of simply being fans, there's nothing trivial about being marginalized as a citizen.
As Henry and others point out, there is something fundamentally undemocratic about this new turn of events. It's one thing for candidates to attack each other. That's how it's supposed to work, however ugly the ads may become. Of course, no one should know that better than John McCain; while he may not remember how many homes his family owns, he can't have forgotten what the Bush people did to him in the 2000 South Carolina primary, so it's disappointing, but sadly not surprising, that he's allowing his campaign to take this tack.
I live in Massachusetts, written off by both parties as reliably blue. But New Hampshire is a swing state, and part of the Boston media market, so I get to see these ads - again, and again, and again... And the only one I've seen so far is the infamous "Celebrity" spot comparing Obama to Paris Hilton. I am very curious about which markets are seeing "Fan Club" and another called "False Worship." Both are deeply disturbing, and I wonder what criteria the McCain campaign's using to decide where to show which ads.
Even if I were able to uncover that information, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't like what I would find, because real question here is the underlying purpose of marginalizing the other guy's supporters. I mean isn't the idea to convince them to vote for you instead? Or is this one more prong in the continuing effort to disenfranchise certain segments of society?
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