Obama and Reciprocal Fan Cultures

The use of new media has been flourishing this campaign season, as digital tools, platforms, and social networking sites have increasingly opened access to our political discourse. “Obama Girl” might be the most notable, but much has also remained somewhat under the radar (or, at least, off network television). Nancy Scola, for example, recently posted about Obama “folk art” that has been popping up.

Yesterday, though, something a bit different happened. Spencer Ackerman, a political blogger who uses music lyrics for his blog’s headlines, posted video from a speech where Obama “brushed” Hillary’s attacks off his shoulders. Ackerman connected the dots, and titled his post “You Gotta Get (Get) That (That) Dirt Off Your Shoulder,” referencing a Jay-Z lyric, calling it “perhaps the coolest subliminal cultural reference in the history of American politics.” Eight hours later, the mashups began, and Ackerman posted one, and then another video from YouTube. [Note: both videos removed subsequent to writing this for legal reasons.]

Why is this significant?

Because, as Ari Melber points out in his post on these mashups, Barack Obama is a Jay-Z fan.

The term “fan culture” is used by MIT’s Henry Jenkins to describe what was often formerly seen as the “reception” side of cultural production. Studying fans allows us “to understand ways that new media can be used to transform our relationship to mass media.” It is the convergence of the passion of fans with new, digital media tools and web sites that has created a more “participatory” culture.

In Barack Obama, then, we not only have a Presidential candidate, but we have a fan. A fan who responds to what happened in a Presidential debate with a sly Jay-Z reference (caught by a blogger), which, in turn, encourages more fans to create mashups of Obama’s speech with Jay-Z’s music.

There is a certain reciprocity here, between Obama and his “fans,” a subtle message of both sincere fandom on Obama’s part, and an “I get it…” nod to his (often young) supporters.

This is certainly more than we’d ever see from either John McCain or Hillary Clinton — it’s definitely a function of “the age thing.” And it’s not a pander; at least I don’t read it that way.

It’s a gesture from a fan, something only a fan would do. And it’s something we’re likely to see more of, as people steeped in today’s participatory culture rise to positions of power.

Can an official Jay-Z Presidential campaign theme far behind?

[Update: Videos available at this Daily Kos post.]


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