Youtube announced Monday that it has partnered with ABC News to livestream the Presidential and Vice-Presidential debates.
Is it possible that these YouTube livestreams will transform the debates into must-see political theater and inspire watercooler discussions for the next six weeks even when Presidential debates have evolved into scripted, by-the-book affairs? After all, as the Post’s Chris Cillizza writes, it’s entirely possible the debates could be a snooze-fest.
This is where YouTube’s role as a leading meme-broadcaster comes into play. And the Internet’s most popular video-sharing site is going one step further this year than it has in the past by, as TechCrunch reports, building an entire real-time community around the debates.
Two of YouTube’s election partners — BuzzFeed and Phil DeFranco — will be providing timely updates and inspiring the Internet’s meme hoards to create funny video clips and animated GIFs. On the YouTube election hub, there’s already a "Mitt Romney Raps!" video (it’s not really him) and a non-family-friendly "99 Problems" remix featuring Barack Obama (sort of). And consider just a few of the videos from BuzzFeed that have cracked the Top 10: a Romney-inspired country anthem “I Built It,” a surprise proposal on the convention stage, and remix of Clint Eastwood Talking With Barack Obama.
In short, YouTube is the type of wildcard that both candidates have tried so hard to simultaneously leverage (see here for Obama and here for Romney) and avoid. In contrast to the scripted, by-the-book debate both campaigns prepare for, YouTube lets viewers capitalize on every slogan, sigh and slight to create the next Internet sensation.
Just think of how previous political debates would have played out on YouTube. Richard Nixon, sweating under the glare of the lights, would have been transformed into a “Sweaty Nixon” caption photo. Pictures of Dan Quayle would have been transformed into an animated GIF with the tagline “You are no Jack Kennedy.” These, and more, could have spawned a Tumblr cottage industry of Internet meme artists.
Imagine if the Lincoln-Douglas debates, the very model of political debate decorum, could have been mixed and re-mixed into an endless loop of two-minute YouTube videos.
We’ve already been given a taste of how a recent unscripted moment in this election — Clint Eastwood’s remarks endorsing Mitt Romney at this year’s Republican National Convention — generated a host of memes and a global supply of empty chair jokes. With both candidates furiously preparing to debate the intricacies of health-care, economic and foreign policy — here’s perhaps one thing they should spend some time studying: YouTube’s place in the Internet meme machine. At a time when some political pundits are downplaying the importance of these debates and exploring the question of whether they even matter YouTube answers that question defiantly: We get to see the Presidential candidates as they are, not as they want us to see them — and, perhaps, even have a little fun in the process.
Dominic Basulto is a digital thinker at Bond Strategy and Influence (formerly called Electric Artists) in New York. Prior to Bond Strategy and Influence, he was the editor of Fortune’s Business Innovation Insider and a founding member of Corante.com, one of the Web's first blog media companies. He also shares his thoughts on innovation on the Big Think Endless Innovation blog and is working on a new book on innovation called "Endless Innovation, Most Beautifuland Most Wonderful."
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