Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Where Is Governor Moonbeam?

Last week California governor Jerry Brown announced his veto of the state budget in a "Budget Veto" YouTube video. The governor opens his direct address to the voter with a moment of flourishing penmanship before her pushes a document away to give some straight talk about the state's need to address its fiscal crisis responsibly. The camera then zooms in on the seventy-three-year-old politician during the entirety of the sixty-second clip.

Delivering this kind of stern talking-to can be politically disastrous, as it was for former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, after he gave his extremely unpopular 1977 Address to the Nation on Energy. But Brown now can refer to a number of rhetorical models, as legislators now speak directly to constituents frequently in the YouTube venue in carefully studied scenes of executive authority and public trust.

He probably should avoid the style of unpopular UC President Mark Yudof, whose UCofficeofpresident YouTube channel often garners far more "dislikes" than "likes" when Yudof takes a starring role, particularly when he spoke about state employee furloughs here and here. (Lately the channel features other spokespeople for the University of California system.) What's wrong exactly with Yudof's YouTube persona isn't entirely clear, but he does have a tendency to look down as he speaks, and he is likely perceived as a "fatcat" who fills up the frame with his bulk.
Governor Brown chose not to emulate the Obama White House YouTube style that emanates cool and reserve. In these videos the U.S. president never appears behind a desk, and the luxurious domestic spaces of the White House are often noticeable in the background. Naturally, the famously frugal Brown could never highlight the opulence of the governor's mansion, and his desire to seem like a decisive chief executive probably makes the desk a necessary prop. Brown's handlers also decided to forgo achieving the intimacy of a close-up with an actual cut, a signature feature of Obama addresses; instead the governor seems to favor a continuous zoom that seems to emphasize Brown's relentless intensiveness and his unblinking engagement with the viewer.

At least Brown avoided the theatrics of his predecessor, now disgraced former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who actually brandished a knife in his budget-cutting online speech and appeared flanked by kitschy elephants to signify his loyalty to the machismo of the Republican party. In speaking to his Twitter followers and praising their input, Schwarzegger even used his dog as a prop once. It is worth noting that Schwarzenegger eventually approached the genre of the online address with more gravitas in imitation of the Obama style, as his farewell video indicates.

Although Brown has only posted six YouTube videos, he does seem to be aware of how the platform functions rhetorically. He has refined his style on GovernorBrown's YouTube channel, since he posted his first Governor Brown Checks In With the People of California video in which Brown seems to be burning the midnight oil in a scene shot in the dead of night in which his cluttered desk establishes his interest in researching the state's budget problems, which seems to be contained in large white binders. (There is also a weird outlier in this group of addresses that opens with Brown's disembodied head on a TV screen.)

It's important to remember that Brown announced his candidacy in a YouTube video that thematized his straightforward unvarnished rhetorical style with a wall of unfinished brick in an office that even lacked bookshelves.

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