Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


News Analysis: Political culture entertains American public

Ever since Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry emerged as the early primary frontrunner, American popular culture exploded with a mix of political humor and novelty products, prompting students to take notice — if only to laugh.

From a Bush vs. Kerry corn maze near Lake Geneva, to Internet cartoons and games, “W” ketchup (as opposed to Heinz) to Kerry flip-flop sandals, spending a day without noticing the proliferation of this year’s presidential campaign in popular culture is becoming increasingly difficult.

However, this does not mean Americans have stopped looking for real political substance.


According to Google’s Zeitgeist, John Kerry has remained in the top 10 most-searched items for several months. He gained the eighth-most hits for the week of Aug. 23 (while the president’s daughter, Jenna Bush, is the most sought-after political vixen).

In July, the search engine’s press center showed “Bush” and “John Kerry” were No. 1 and 2 for political searches, well ahead of the Democratic National Convention’s all-star Barack Obama.

Although some may argue this exposure of all things political could get tiresome, University of Wisconsin senior Emily Hochman feels otherwise.

“I think a lot of people are so fed up with the propaganda; … [seeing] the clever things … can raise awareness,” Hochman said. “People will laugh at some skit or joke, and then say, ‘Wait, what are these issues?'”

One clever thing Hochman referred to was, a site featuring a parody of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” in which John Kerry and President George Bush sing why, “This land will surely vote for me.”

Jibjab co-creator Evan Spiridellis spoke of the success of the Internet cartoon. He feels its non-partisan spin making fun of each candidate helped attract more than 40 million visitors.

“I think the election is down and dirty,” Spiridellis said. “I think there’s a lot of tension on both sides, and I think people just wanted something they could laugh at and the fact that we have no political agenda, in terms of holding one guy up over the other, I think that is sort of something that people from both parties could appreciate.”

“[The campaign] is in the public conscience, it’s an easy target, it’s always there to exploit,” Spiridellis added.

He also disputed the claim that the political onslaught will get tiresome.

“No, I don’t think people get tired of political stuff, especially in an election season. Until November, this will be relevant.”
Other online humor endeavors include’s short featuring “Anchorman” star Will Farrell as George Bush. A plethora of games and shorts at the GOP’s website, such as the anti-Kerry “Tax Invaders,” are also on the web.

The candidates themselves also realize the power of American popular culture. Kerry has been on the Daily Show and Jay Leno’s late-night program more times than he’s given CNN exclusives.

Comedy Central carried extensive coverage of Bush when he cracked self-deprecating jokes about finding weapons of mass destruction in the Oval Office at a March Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner, almost proving primetime more desirable than a spot on “Nightline.”

But humor and quirky baubles have not been the only tool campaign junkies and politicians have used this election year.

Michael Moore’s documentary, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” a harsh critique of the Bush administration during the run-up before the war in Iraq, was a political blockbuster at the box office this summer.

Several conservative-leaning movies are due out soon as well, including a 45-minute film about conservative pundit Ann Coulter and the movie “Michael Moore Hates America.”
Film is not the only medium the political world has invaded, either.

Partisan support now appears on the FM dial of the radio, where shock jock Howard Stern spoke out against Bush. Former rocker-turned-syndicated deejay Alice Cooper said he supports the president and hopes America reelects him.

Musicians like Dave Matthews and Bruce Springsteen are lending support for Kerry on the “Vote for Change” tour this fall while Motor City guitarist Ted Nugent vocally supports Bush during his concerts.

Yet the trend for a campaign to bleed into the mainstream is nothing new, according to UW political science professor Kathy Cramer Walsh. However, Cramer Walsh said has noticed a unique facet to this campaign season — the drive to attract young people.

“A lot of it is targeted to or attracted to younger voters,” she said. “In order to attract the young person, it has to be hip and new.”

Though Cramer Walsh did not think any kind of popular-culture references would sway someone to vote another way, it might influence people to go to the polls and vote for their favorite candidate instead of not voting at all.

As for the sticking power of politics in the mainstream, Cramer Walsh said it will probably die down in the months following the general election and return to late-night television like Saturday Night Live. But she does hold out some hope for the American conscience to stay on top of what is happening in Washington.

“Hopefully, when more and more people get interested and get involved … they will keep these relationships after [Election Day].”

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