I have to admit that I am not the world’s most accomplished “techie.” For example, when I finally got around to checking out YouTube for the first time on the Internet, I mistakenly typed in My Tube and, sure enough, linked to a site of highly questionable content.
I have, however, been intrigued with issues of media since my college days, and for decades I have marched under the banner of media theorist/philosopher Marshall McLuhan. McLuhan, who died in 1980, coined the terms “the medium is the message” and “global village,” and as media has morphed in myriad ways in recent decades, his insights have proved remarkably prescient, perhaps more relevant today than ever before. (McLuhan has more or less fallen off the radar of the younger generations. It used to be really cool to cite McLuhan. In a great spoof, Woody Allen’s 1977 movie Annie Hall has Allen arguing on the street with a self-professed McLuhan guru-jerk. Out of the shadows steps a stranger to declare the winner – the real 66-year-old Marshall McLuhan.)
It was then with sadness that I watched Tuesday’s CNN-YouTube Democratic Presidential Debate – sad that Marshall McLuhan was not around to see what was truly a landmark event in the medium of television. It was epic. The “little folks” bypassed the Fourth Estate and confronted the candidates directly. The video vignettes were, among other things: clever (why can I buy the same latte at any Starbucks in North America but voting procedures are different everywhere); creative (a snowman and his snowball son worried about global warming); humorous (a folk singer sings about taxes and asks to get a parking ticket fixed as well); personal (four families facing huge health care challenges); and even deeply disturbing (a gun control opponent holding up his assault rifle “baby”).
The candidates fared so-so. Two young African American women alertly asked if elected President, would the candidates be willing to work for minimum wage. Most said “yes” – my larger takeaway being that that the candidates at the podiums were there to pander for votes and would say almost anything to get elected. Why would the Leader of the Free World work for minimum wage? In regard to the issue of energy and global warming, Hillary Clinton commented on the incredible innovation of the American people. She could have just as easily referenced the same in regard to the creation of the Internet, YouTube and the barrage of Tuesday’s video questioners (culled from thousands of submissions).
Kudos to CNN and YouTube for writing a new chapter in the history of American democracy – the medium really is the message and what a great glimpse at my fellow voters. The Republicans tee off next with a similar debate in September and I, for one, will sleep better each night knowing that our citizens are hard at work churning a new round of videos to make their voices heard both here and around the world. Shame Marshall McLuhan did not live long enough to see his village become truly global.