Viral Videos Mash Up the Vote

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A minute after Mitt Romney uttered the infamous “binders full of women,” a Tumblr was born. The blog’s creator, Veronica De Souza, started posting images that played with those words, including a submission that combined an image of a Trapper Keeper (the loose-leaf binders of elementary school fame) with the words “Trap Her Keep Her.” By the next morning there were nearly 2000 submissions, and everyone in America was talking about binders full of women.

That’s just one example of the proliferation of blogs, videos, and other homemade political commentary thriving online in this election cycle and taking control of the story away from the campaigns and the news media. YouTube has become a breeding ground for mashup and parody videos that move virally and are far more memorable than the campaign ads.

Kurt Andersen talks with Virginia Heffernan, a commentator on digital culture who is now a Yahoo! News correspondent. “It seems like there is a little bit of collective unconscious that goes on in the form of Twitter, very playfully,” Heffernan explains, “like a crowdsourced psychoanalysis.”

Scroll down to watch the videos in the audio segment.

The Brooklyn outfit called the The Gregory Brothers became famous a few years ago for the web series Auto-Tune the News. Shortly after the first presidential debate, the quartet posted a “songified” version in which the voices of Obama and Romney are digitally manipulated so that they “sing” their lines. The video has over 2.8 million views. Like many of the viral videos, Songify the Debates evades any reading as a partisan statement.


In a mashup that sets the president's words to the tune of Jay Z's “99 Problems,” it's difficult to tell if the message is pro- or anti-Obama. The president looks cool — finally, the hip-hop president some were hoping for! — but there are critical moments. At its most damning, the video cuts away to footage of Martin Luther King saying “I have a dream,” and Obama answers, “I have a drone.”


College Humor's “Mitt Romney Style” video is a parody of the Korean pop hit “Gangnam Style.” Compare its 8.2 million views to the politically influential “47 percent” video, with 3.2 million views.


Heffernan says her favorite video is the "Barack Obama vs Mitt Romney" parody from the Epic Rap Battles Of History series, which pits the politicians against each other in an 8 Mile-esque hip-hop throwdown. "It sort of crystallized the state of the satire and made clear to me what’s at stake in the election, more than any op-ed, more than any talking head on cable news," Heffernan tells Kurt.


Bad Lip Reading takes real footage and substitutes a voiceover that seems to match the lip movements on screen, gutting the politics and filling in with abstract poetry. Candidate Romney looks at us solemnly and declares, “I was happy, and then your sister threw a sea fish at my TV.”

Music Playlist

  1. 99 Problems

    Artist: Jay-Z
    Album: The Black Album
    Label: Rock-A-Fella Records
  2. Something About Us

    Artist: Daft Punk
    Album: Musique Vol 1
    Label: VIRGIN