After what seems like an eternity, the process of selecting the next American president is almost over. As in all good elections, it had cheap shots and low blows coming from all sides, tears shed, harsh words said and regretted later, brother turning against brother, and so on and on.
But, thankfully, the campaign season generated, as well, some very funny satire and witty commentary, and much of it came in the form of viral video -- which is great news for us in the UK who don't get the shows they're taken from, or are only shown months after we've forgotten who these people actually are.
Some good stuff was created by regular Joes(TM) like you and me, but the best stuff this year came from organizations like the Onion, The Daily Show, and Saturday Night Live. We've put together a list of what we think are the very best viral videos from and about the primaries and the general election.
A special note: The videos that made this list don't necessarily reflect the political views of either me, Digital Arts or IDG -- they are simply the ones that were the funniest or cleverest or that offered meaningful commentary on the race. Some candidates, obviously, were bigger targets than others. In 2004 it was JibJab's This Land is Your Land, and the Swift Boat video. What video will we remember from 2008? Pretty likely it's on this list.
1. SNL: Katie Couric interviews Sarah Palin
The McCain campaign would probably never admit it, but Tina Fey's spoof of Sarah Palin was so spot-on that you'd have to figure it into much of America's increasingly negative opinion of the vice presidential nominee from Alaska. Palin, with her sexy-librarian looks and folksy come-on makes a big target for parody, so SNL brought in a big gun to do the job. Fey had graduated from the cast of SNL and gone onto other things (30 Rock), but was called back to play Palin. What puts this video over the top: At one point Fey uses Palin's exact words from the latter's ill-fated interview with Couric, and the nearly nonsensical answer is one of the funniest lines of the bit. The only way things could get weirder is if 'Caribou Barbie' begins borrowing Fey's SNL lines in her own press appearances . . .
2. SNL: George W. Bush endorses McCain/Palin
I was so happy to see Will Ferrell return to Saturday Night Live (along with Tina Fey) to reprise his brilliant portrayal of George W Bush. I will never forget the 2004 bit where Ferrell's Bush is seen (while two other characters carry the dialog) in the background completely engrossed in batting around a ball of yarn on the couch. This time Ferrell's Bush is playing host to Fey's Palin and Darrell Hammond's McCain in the Oval Office, offering his blessing/endorsement, while a very reluctant McCain keeps trying to escape stage left. The video masterfully apes McCain's real-life approach to his association with W (and the latter's sub-30 per cent approval) this campaign season: Smile, and avoid like the plague.
This one goes way back to those heady days long ago when the competition for the Democratic nomination was at least a three-person race between Obama, Clinton, and former North Carolina Senator John Edwards. Edwards ended up framing the debate on a few issues, including the Democrats' new-found aversion to the influence of lobbyists in Washington. But Edwards was always vulnerable to opponents' claims that he was another smooth, good-looking Southern playboy like Hillary's husband Bill, who reportedly dropped into Hollywood every once in a while for $700 haircuts while he was president. Edwards' haircuts cost only $200 apiece. This video makes that point better than any of Edwards' primary rivals did, and it does it with no words at all.
Lots of people were complaining about the generic, talking-point-heavy sound of this year's presidential debates (with the possible exception of the more confrontational third debate). This video does some clever jujitsu on the raw footage of the debates to demonstrate just how scripted and repetitive they really were. It's funny, but it shows how the Commission on Presidential Debates has allowed the campaigns to negotiate away any chance of spontaneous or insightful moments, making the event something more like just a joint infomercial starring both candidates.
Okay, we knew Mike Huckabee was at least a little bit cool when he strapped on a bass guitar and jammed with some rock band at a campaign stop in Michigan. But this video proves Huck has real Web credibility and a decent sense of humor too. It uses a format where both men are saying what they like about each other, Huckabee using some of the best stuff from the now-fairly-well-known Chuck Norris Facts site ("Guns don't kill people; Chuck Norris kills people" and "There's no chin behind Chuck Norris' beard -- only another fist.")
In some alternate reality, instead of debates, stump speeches, and attack ads, McCain and Obama opt to settle their differences with a dance-off! It's Obama and his posse, and McCain and his posse, talking a little smack and then taking it to the dance floor. Obama and his crew go first, then McCain steps up. The half-crazed look on McCain's face when he first gets his groove on is priceless. Both candidates have good moves, but in the end Sarah Palin shows up and goes old school on everybody. The makers of this video use some pretty fancy software to affix the candidates' heads to the bodies of some lithe young dancers, and to great result. I also like this video because it plays no favourites and really doesn't make fun of the candidates at all.
The Republicrats videos may have gotten lost in the thousands of viral videos about the campaign, but they deserve attention and a place on our list. In this video, which is one in a series, the Republicrat candidate Sean Masterson inserts himself into the debate with McCain and Obama, and takes some pretty funny shots at both of them, as well as at commentator Bob Schieffer and the format of the debate itself.
Sarah Silverman's The Great Schlep was a pretty witty look at moving the elderly Jewish vote, but I found Ronna & Beverly to be just as funny and maybe a little more incisive. Ronna Glickman and Beverly Goldstein (Jessica Chaffin and Jamie Denbo), two middle-aged Jewish housewife types, give voice to a catalog of stereotypical Jewish political beliefs -- many of which may still be alive and well in contested states like Florida. But Ronna & Beverly aren't trying to do any sort of heavy-handed social commentary here; it's mainly just funny. In another video Ronna refers to the Democratic candidate as Baruch Obama. And don't forget to notice Beverly's artfully applied lipstick. Good stuff.
In Wassap 2008, Anheuser Busch updates its popular TV commercial from 2000. The original is kinda funny in its own right, and the Superfriends version of the spot is really funny. The 2008 version uses the same actors as the 2000 original, and it asks and answers the stock campaign trail question: Are you better off than you were eight years ago? That would be no, but the video has a somewhat happy, or at least hopeful, ending.
The Onion's viral videos are always good for a laugh, but its recent entries from its "War for the White House" series have hit it out of the park. My favorite one is this little ditty, which examines the role of bullshit in today's political discourse. The guest "expert" in the segment, "Kip O'Leary," explains: "When it comes to electing the leader of the free world, voters look to issues like the candidate's relationship with their ex-wife; did they ever smoke? Where do they vacation? What's their exercise regimen?--these are the kind of key bullshit issues that voters really care about." The video strikes a chord this year, when we seem stuck on discussing things like Obama's middle name and McCain's fondness for Beach Boys songs.