January 28, 2004

Kerry Cools Dean Dot Com Off

There is an awful lot of discussion about dean and the internet, especially in light of his disappointing finishes in the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries, and today's departure of campaign CEO and former internet stock speculator Joe Trippi.

Personally I'm more intrigued in John Kerry's rapid rise from being written off to top of the ticket. But Dean's decline and Kerry's rise are quite likely linked to each other. And while I'm not a huge McLuhan fan, I think there is actually a lot to be gained from looking at this campaign with his infamous hot media / cool media construction.

Kerry success I think has a lot to do with just how cool he is. Or perhaps Outkast puts it better, Kerry is straight up ice cold. No emotion, no expression, no action. Kerry is practically running his campaign leaning against the wall like James Dean.

McLuhan of course saw TV as the ultimate cool medium. Diffuse, low resolution, low information. Once Kerry found his stride he became the ultimate TV candidate, and lucky for him he caught his stride just as the ads started running and TV coverage picked up. Its not that people like Kerry, its just that his cool personality means they don't dislike him. Media season is on and Kerry is the tallest and coolest on TV. Mix that up with a good ground operation and the result is his victories.

Howard Dean in contrast is pure hot, passion and intensity. He fires up his people for sure. Back in the days of barnstorming and radio campaigns Dean would have blown away Kerry. But times are different and his main medium is the internet.

McLuhan never got the chance to put the internet into his hot or cold spectrum. It's a tricky case to figure out. On one hand inside a Dean chat room or a mailing list flame war, the internet feels like a blazing hot medium. Text is hot and internet has massive amounts of it flying back and forth at high speeds. But at the same time it's a low resolution, distributed medium, and that's cool not hot.

So is the internet hot or cool? Perhaps like light being photon and wave, its both at the same time. Isolate an individual point and odds are its going to be hot. Loads of focused, intense and detailed information. Hot. But look at it as a pattern and its different. There are plenty of scattered points of intense heat around. But they don't radiate, and the space in between is dead cold, there is nothing hot in 404 messages, fiber optic cable and blogs with just one year old entry.

So here we have Howard Dean and his sites are 4 alarm hot. The hot candidate fires up his people and the media notices and catches the intensity. But when it comes time to vote that intensity just doesn't radiate. Its diffuse, spread across the internet, spread across the country. Click on another web site and the energy is gone.

I suspect as voters walked into their primaries and caucuses, that they started to forget how hot Dean was for a second. The heat was localized and there's no internet in the voting booth. Kerry's cool on the other hand was just starting to reach them.

There's a little "dated Dean, married Kerry" meme percolating but I'm not sure that's on point. Its more like had a passionate fling with Dean, followed by a bit of an argument. Once you're out the room you can't quite remember why he seemed so hot. And there's Kerry, leaning against the wall, acting cool, ain't saying nothing. Never really noticed him before but all sorts of respected politicians seem to be down with him, talking him up while he just kicks it. Cool Kerry up against the wall, not a marriage, more like a crush. Lets see how long it lasts...

Posted by Abe at January 28, 2004 11:43 PM


I just read another hot/cold analysis at nettime that you might enjoy...

Plus, and I'm sure the dean people have talked about this, I heard this audio footage of the Iowa speech on some network news show last night. They played audio recorded from the floor of the speech, instead of the familiar audio taken from his mic. The crowd noise was so deafening he had to yell like that. He's a victim of a media misunderstanding, but it's not an internet-organizing shortfall, but an audio engineering mistake...Soundbwoy strikes again...
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