Saturday, January 5, 2008

Number 2

An interesting gauge on how the American media works is that, after the Iowa caucuses, much attention was given to Barack Obama's decisive win, much attention was given to Hillary Clinton's third-place rank, but hardly a word was spoken about John Edwards' taking a close second place.

Focussing on the first-place winner is perhaps normal to American media and culture--"We're number one," and all that.

Focussing on Hillary Clinton, the celebrity candidate (euphemistically called the "experienced" candidate, though experience as a First Lady of a state and of a nation and an elected U.S. Senator is hardly more impressive than experience as an elected U.S. Senator alone), too makes a kind of sense, that is, within the context of American media and the Western world's fixation on fame.

John Edwards' impressive showing is arguably more unexpected and therefore more newsworthy than a first place win by either Obama or Clinton would be, since most commentators have ignored Edwards or written him off as a non-contender. Why is it not the subject of more media comment?

It can't simply be because he didn't win first place, or else why all the talk of Clinton's "loss" (however close it was) being the story next in importance to Obama's win?

More likely, it is because Obama and Clinton are, for different reasons, names to conjure by. The "Edwards" name still can't stand alone in a meaningful way in the popular imagination.

Edwards, the name or the man, lacks the exoticism or sense of novelty that Obama has.

Edwards does not conjure the aura of soap-opera drama that Hillary Clinton does. He is not the "wronged" party in a notorious sex scandal. He has not been fetishized, as Clinton has, as a "power" object (by which I mean to suggest "sex object," since sex is undoubtedly a quality Americans associate with power and use to make or break the powerful).

His wife Elizabeth's stuggle with cancer is the stuff of Hallmark, not Hollywood. One cannot imagine an E! Hollywood Story episode on Edwards. Even tabloid rumors of a secreted-away love child has been a nonstarter in piquing public fascination with the "private" John Edwards.

Edwards' celebrity supporters (Tim Robbins, David Cross, Gary Cole, Hank Azaria) arguably lack the hip currency of Obama's celebrity supporters (Oprah Winfrey, George Clooney, Samuel Jackson, Will Smith) or the baronial power of Clinton's (Barbra Streisand, Elizabeth Taylor, Martha Stewart, Bill Clinton).

In the end, Obama took first place and deserves the attention he's getting ... until, at least, the New Hampshire primaries. But Edwards is still in the race ... and right now an Obama/Edwards (or Edwards/Obama) ticket sounds pretty exciting.

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