Welcome to the Carnival: Parody, Pop Music, and Presidential Politics on YouTube

Curator's Note


The two parody music videos shown in this exhibit, “Hott4Hill” and “I’ve gotta crush…on Obama,” draw attention to issues of sex and race that were often off limits during the Democratic Primary. The video “I’ve gotta crush…on Obama,” uses the hip hop music genre to address the candidate’s connection to the black community and plays up sexual references and innuendo common to hip hop music videos. Lyrics like “so black and sexy, you’re so fine” draw connections between Obama’s race and his sexuality. This depiction of the candidate blurs the line between Obama as celebrity and Obama as politician.  In the mainstream media discussions about Obama’s racial identity and celebrity status were often met with accusations of racism. The parody video, situated in the carnivalesque atmosphere of YouTube, brings the conversation down to a level where viewers can address taboo topics without fear of violating social conventions.

During the Clinton campaign, the candidate was often cited as saying that she “was not running as a women.” This quote was routinely used to avoid addressing issues of gender that are so often associated with the presidency, and it became a way for mainstream media to circumvent accusations of sexism in their coverage of the candidate. The video “Hott4Hill” brings the candidate’s sex to the forefront. The producers of the video juxtapose references to Clinton’s policy choices and experience with images of phallic symbols, comments on the candidate's sex appeal, and the use of a jet stream as a thinly veiled innuendo for male ejaculation. Lyrics such as "I know you're not gay, but I'm hoping for bi" and offers to be the candidate's French maid, eroticize the candidate in a way that makes discussions of gender issues difficult to avoid. This video was posted as a response to the Obama Girl campaign, which raises some question about the contrasting depictions of the two candidates as sex symbols.


The Democratic Primary was a tense time for most members of the party, with a tremendous amount of in-fighting taking place. In that environment, conversations about sex and race were often filled with accusations of sexism and racism. The online carnival became a space for voters to shout statements they might not have whispered in public. These videos provide interesting examples of the burlesque performances of political participation that seem to characterize much of the 2008 election cycle.




Amber, This is very interesting post on how the videos, as you argue, express the candidates’ race and sexuality in ways that are, in comparison to mainstream debates, taboo—or at least they provide alternative ways of framing and responding to the candidates.  The “Crush on Obama” video contrasts both with Obama’s post-racial candidate persona and with attempts by numerous opponents to position him as “not one of us,” where “us” was code for white, Anglo-Saxon, Christian, Protestant (WASP).  In light of your comments, I wonder how we might understand the cultural and political significance of this video in relation to specific ways that Obama was characterized in racial and sexual terms during the election year?  In addition to the post-racial stance, I am thinking of Joe Biden’s description of Obama as a clean, articulate black man, references to the Obamas as the Cosbys, contrasts made between Obama and Jesse Jackson, the Rev. Wright scandal, opponents framing Obama as an uppity educated black man, opponents linking him to terrorism, McCain’s playing on fears of black male sexuality by associating Obama with Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, etc.


Chad Thomas Beck, Indiana University

Very interesting post, Amber, not least because now we have some distance on these phenomena and might talk about them more dispassionately than we once might. Chad Beck's provocations are seconded here, but I also think there are fruitful avenues of inquiry in looking at these videos (and their and your invocation of the "carnival") in terms of their bounded status within the Democratic Party. That is, are these productions a way of being combative within the party without leaving any bruises, a strategy for candidate support that advocates one without damaging the other? Certainly, there was substantial handwringing by party officials, pundits, and the populace alike over the supposed advantage the Hillary/Obama death-match would give the more or less unchallenged Republican nominee, John McCain. Also, I'd be interested to hear thoughts on how these packages based on racial and gender characteristics  - which highlight difference even as they ostensibly celebrate the candidate - compare to materials produced around the candidacy of Sarah Palin, the criticism of whom was largely decried by her supporters as sexist.

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