Friday, January 16, 2009

Congressional Rick Roll Call

Yes, one has to ask about the wisdom of choosing the cheezy computer-generated animation of the Capitol dome fly-in as an opening and Pelosi's sloppy use of language in her sentence about the "importance of utilizing technology."

This raises a number of more substantive questions for me, not the least of which involves the use of a third-party commercial site for content in the public domain that is supposed to be "transparent and accessible." Many scholars who have done work on YouTube, such as Geert Lovink and Alexandra Juhasz, or on Google, such as Siva Vaidhyanathan, might feel uneasy with having legislators tacitly promote the agenda for media dominance of a single company, when the regulation of monopolies and placing checks on media consolidation are part of the federal government's mission. Just as few questioned the previous prominence of the trademarked RealPlayer interface on government websites, despite the fact that the company was owned by the Senate's own Maria Cantrell, no one now seems to be calling for more open formats for online video showing state business.

This week YouTube is promoting the channels for the House and the Senate and describes this access as a "backstage pass." This appeal to youth sensibilities does suggest that a model for pseudo-participatory culture in which celebrity legislators perform while constituents are little more than fans.

While Republican Mitch McConnell is presenting his content with some gravitas at his Republican Leader channel, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is posting fluff based on frivolous Internet memes rather than her usual more substantive -- if partisan -- digital materials. In particular, "Speaker Pelosi Presents Capitol Cat Cam" vies with outgoing President Bush's Barney Cam in inanity. As a stupid pet trick, there is little difference between Pelosi's felines and Bush's canines. One could argue that she signals her self-consciousness about the limitations of the format by concluding with an incongruous "Rick roll," but viewer comments on the video seem to indicate that most see this as a lame joke at the taxpayer's expense.

One viewer summarized the general irritation as follows: "did she just have one of her aides look on youtube for five minutes and report back that cat videos and rick astley are popular with the young'uns?"

Basic unanswered questions include how comments will be moderated on these channels and how constituents' "reply" videos would be approved.

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