On Saturday, October 27, iconic pop star Madonna was unceremoniously booed while on-stage at a concert in New Orleans, Louisiana, after telling her fans they should vote for President Obama in the upcoming election.
Several attendees reportedly walked out of the concert in disgust after the famous singer said, “I don’t care who you vote for as long as you vote for Obama. Seriously, I don’t care who you vote for. Do not take this privilege for granted. Go vote,” according to TVGuide.com.
The comments from the performer, known for her song “Material Girl”, ended a week of marathon celebrity endorsements for the two presidential campaigns, in addition to President Obama being the feature interview in a cover story for Rolling Stone magazine.
Following in the tradition of a 1980s Madonna song – the popular hit “Like a Virgin” – Lena Dunham dangled overtly lusty innuendo in a campaign advertisement comparing voting for Obama in 2008 to a woman’s first sexual experience with a man. Dunham, who is the creator and star of the HBO series “Girls”, tantalizes young adults of both genders in the commercial with the allure of being in the “cool crowd”.
For young adults, that is the impulsive and compelling peer pressure to acknowledge their own libidos, and built on the fear of the risk of becoming a lonely social misfit.
The powerful message to voters in the 18-to-24-year-old age group is clear, and the advertisement unleashes some of the most basic desires for young people who are still refining their own identities to conform to the views of potential romantic partners.
The clear response of repulsion from prominent supporters of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney drew further attention to Dunham’s Obama advertisement, and succeeded in helping it go viral on YouTube through the use of social networks. The video was uploaded by the Obama campaign late on Thursday, October 25, and within 72-hours had been viewed over 1.9 million times.
To put the astounding number of views in such a short time-span into perspective, the Dunham ad reached a population size nearly five-times larger than two of the largest cities in the two most closely contested battleground states. The population of Cleveland, Ohio is 393,806, and the population of Virginia Beach, Virginia is 442,707, making the market penetration of this one advertisement particularly effective in the online community where 98 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds use social media to communicate with friends.
The formula behind this advertisement employs a strategy similar to the “Daisy Girl” ad ran by incumbent President Lyndon Johnson in the 1964 election. The controversial advertisement only ran once as a paid television commercial in early September of that year’s presidential race, but was rebroadcast on television news programs many more times throughout the campaign because of its controversial nature. The continuous replays of the ad combined with outrage by supporters of Johnson’s opponent, Sen. Barry Goldwater, are what amplified the impact of the commercial and helped define the contours of the campaign.
By contrast, the Romney campaign launched a new advertisement on YouTube the day before Obama’s Dunham ad called “Momentum” that has only garnered a modest 153,581 views as of October 28.
Syndicated radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh devoted large segments of his program to condemning the Dunham ad on Friday, October 26. Limbaugh’s program reaches an estimated 20 million listeners each weekday, and is the most popular conservative talk radio show in the United States.
Limbaugh inadvertently generated even more exposure and controversy for the ad by analyzing, “But I just find it fascinating that you wouldn’t have to go back at all in American history to find the time where any candidate, particularly a president candidate, including an incumbent, running this ad, it would embarrass them out of the race. The humiliation, the catcalls of disgust, and my thinking on this really is — for example, The Politico has a story. You know what the story on this ad is? Headline, I have to paraphrase it, but the reaction is ‘conservative blogs outraged over new Obama vote ad.’ And that’s the illustration of the cultural divide.”
The reaction from Romney’s supporters illustrate the effectiveness of the advertisement to motivate young voters to the polls using the power of libido and a general distrust of older people condemning the more lascivious conduct of members of their generation.
A prime example of how such controversies can be amplified to produce unintended consequences and generational friction can be found in Elvis Presley’s famous hip-gyrating appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in 1956. The more outrage and anger expressed by critics of Elvis Presley and detractors of the rock and roll genre flowed, the more it enhanced the fame and popularity of the legendary performer among young people of that era.
Much as Madonna challenged conventional roles of women in entertainment by brazenly flaunting her sexual image in the 1980s, one of the successors to her pop culture prowess generated more headlines for the Obama campaign the day before the release of the Lena Dunham advertisement.
Katy Perry performed at a Las Vegas fundraiser for President Obama on October 24, making splashy headlines for her skintight latex dress resembling an election ballot as a vote for Obama. Perry is referred to as one of two most visible voices for her generation by New York Times investigative journalist Ian Halperin in an article for Celebuzz.
The Obama fundraiser attracted a crowd of 13,000 at the Bellagio, and took place only hours after President Obama appeared on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, where he took sharp political shots at recent abortion and rape comments from Republican U.S. Senate candidate Richard Murdouck.
The impact of Katy Perry in pop culture for 18-to-29-year-olds is evident from the diva becoming the first female performer to generate five number-one hit singles from one album. For young women voters who follow the popular pop singer, and who are not actively engaged in following the day-to-day narratives of the 2012 presidential race, Perry’s resounding endorsement and support of the Obama campaign may cut through the noise and inspire more interest and participation in the election.
Every young person who ends up casting a vote in the 2012 presidential election effectively cancels out the impact of an older voter supporting the opposing candidate. This was a salient factor in Obama’s 2008 victory over Arizona Sen. John McCain. Obama captured 66 percent of the 18-to-29-year-old voting demographic, as opposed to McCain’s 32 percent support in the 2008 election, according to the University of Connecticut.
While young voters only made up 18 percent of the electorate in 2008, their impact was fueled by turnout. For Obama to win re-election, his campaign must generate enthusiasm among this constituency, as well as a high margin of victory.
The Romney campaign countered Obama’s week of endorsements from pop culture icons with one of their own. In a high school football stadium in Defiance, Ohio, 1970s rock singer Meat Loaf endorsed Romney at a campaign rally on Friday, October 26.
Romney could hardly contain his excitement by saying, “Was it not just amazing to have Big & Rich performing, and then Meat Loaf? I mean Meat Loaf was here, can you believe it?”
Steven Holmes is the Los Angeles Political Buzz Examiner.
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