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Jordan Michalik

One of the most sought after tickets for a concert are the backstage passes.  Who wouldn’t want to go behind the scenes of a major concert and potentially get to meet the rock stars themselves?  The Republican National Convention is giving every American the chance to do just that this year as of April 13, 2012, by naming Google & YouTube the official social platform and live stream provider of the convention.  Getting backstage isn’t just about being closer to and meeting those rock stars that seem so distant, it is also about a chance to to get that glimpse of normalcy from them, to see that they are in some way average. Are we going to see this with the politicians as well or is this going to be another guarded performance?  Will this backstage pass give us “access” to the politicians or just be more of the same?

“Google and YouTube are transforming the political process, providing voters an unprecedented degree of participation and, for the very first time, giving every American who has access to a computer, tablet, video gaming system, interactive television, or video-enabled smart-phone an exclusive backstage pass to the podium of a national political convention,” said convention CEO William Harris.

As Harris states, this is an opportunity for a new level of participation for Americans and a chance for the Republican National Convention to reach more viewers on basically any platform. The RNC did something similar in the 2008 election cycle.  They streamed the video of the convention using Ustream.  According to Business Wire, “In addition to broadcasting the convention in its entirety, Ustream also provided viewers with an all-access look at what took place behind-the-scenes, including exclusive backstage interviews, unique camera angles, complete press conference coverage and interactive chats with RNC staff and fellow viewers.”  According to Reuters, approximately 7 million people used Ustream to view the RNC.  This is a huge number of people to use an online source to watch especially when approximately 27.7 million people watched the RNC on TV.

The expanded amount of viewers for the RNC is a huge leap for both political conventions and new media.  Although a good portion of these new viewers are drawn in by the fact that they can access the footage on basically any device, there is another portion of viewers that want to see something they wouldn’t normally on TV.  Focusing on these 7 million (possibly more in 2012) new media viewers and the all-access pass one can only question the prospects of scripted and well-timed conversations, set camera angles, and pre-set candid moments of candidates being “natural”.  After all it is to gain votes and any moment not presenting the candidates in the best light would just not be in the script.

Andrew Chadwick in “The Electronic Face of Government in the Internet Age: Borrowing from Murray Edelman” says that, “Political settings are usually staged, contrived and even artificial. They often have a ‘heroic quality’, and are designed to signify ‘massiveness, ornateness, and formality’ to a large audience (Edelman 1964: 96). This allows them to function as extraordinary, dramatic spectacles which are constructed as intrinsically important, though their outcomes may lack any significance for substantive policy” (444).

Looking at the RNC it sounds exactly like what Chadwick is describing.  The national conventions are huge events covered extensively by the media with all the concert-like excitement.   Convention goers create an atmosphere of political excitement.  Just as with any good concert promoter the RNC promotes itself with all the attributes of a good show, t-shirts, buttons, hats and of course the great performances.  The convention is where the platform is announced for the party, there are speeches given by influential party members and there is excitement generated around the candidate for the upcoming presidential election as well as his running mate.  In general this is a big show put on by the party for the public.  With the cameras not only in front of the politicians on stage but also behind the scenes this gives them more time to perform for their audiences.  Instead of the realness that is expected from backstage footage politicians will remain to be the same people they are on the stage, off the stage.

Looking through the behind-the-scenes footage and interviews from the 2008 convention it was more of the politicians such as Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani extending their speeches from the stage onto the video.  This is not what most expect when they hear backstage and behind-the-scenes.  There won’t be cameras catching Mitt Romney with food in his mouth or hanging out looking anything less than picture perfect.  Instead it will be the politicians dressed and perfectly put together saying perfectly planned bits or interacting with people just as they would at any other event.  By telling people they get a “look behind the podium” it gives the public what seems like a sneak peak at the politicians just being average people, but this is not the case.  If the RNC really wanted to allow the public backstage they would show the candidates being themselves (which we rarely see) and would bring the American people closer to their candidates rather than keeping them at a distance.

At the 2012 RNC audiences should probably expect more of the same footage as in 2008.  There will be new viewers that will “tune in” to see the backstage performances and some may feel that what they are viewing is “real” and non-scripted and it is those viewers that the RNC is aiming for.  The idea of allowing the public behind the scenes in general is a great idea.   The backstage feel that concert fans get is one of anticipation in seeing their band just hanging out just maybe they will find in that moment backstage that the rock stars are very much like them. That is what the RNC is striving for with the convention backstage all access pass.  The difference between the rock stars and the candidates is simple, the fans of the rock star are not seeking anything but validation that their idols are what they dream and the political candidate is staging an average citizen on the street performance.   I think the RNC should continue this backstage eye on the candidates in the future.  It is a step in the right direction it just isn’t quite there yet.

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