By Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Hillary as a Soprano . . .
In announcing the winning tune of her month-long online contest to pick a campaign song, Sen. Hillary Clinton, not exactly Mrs. Hip in the pop culture department, released a video on her Web site yesterday. But never mind the winning song, Celine Dion's "You and I." (We had another suggested song.) Let's dish about that much-dished-about video, starring none other than Mr. and Mrs. Clinton.
Hillary walks into the Mount Kisco diner in Westchester, N.Y., and takes a seat. Seconds later in comes Bill, dressed in a short-sleeved, untucked shirt. "No onion rings?" Bill asks when he sees that his wife has ordered a bowl of carrots. "I'm looking out for you," replies Hillary, who peruses the diner's jukebox selections, the same tunes voted on by her campaign supporters. Tina Turner's "The Best." KT Tunstall's "Suddenly I See." Smash Mouth's "I'm a Believer." Bill says he thinks Smash Mouth will win. "We'll see," Hillary says.
Then the camera fades to black.
Everything in the video -- Chelsea parallel-parking outside, Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" playing in the background -- is right out of "The Sopranos" finale. Even Vincent Curatola, who played John "Johnny Sack" Sacramoni on the HBO show, makes a cameo. Folks at HBO said they had nothing to do with it.
"It's fun, it's lighthearted, it shows another side of her," Peter Daou, Clinton's online director, said of the video. It was produced by Mandy Grunwald, Clinton's longtime media consultant, with the help of advertising wizards Jimmy Siegel and Dan Levinson, whose previous clientele includes corporate giants Pepsi and Visa.
Yesterday's video was the third in a series that aims to prove that Hillary has a sense of a humor, especially about herself.
On May 16, she kicked off her campaign song contest with a YouTube video titled "I Need Your Advice." At the end of the spot, she said, "Whatever song you choose, though, I make you this solemn and sacred promise: I won't sing it in public." Then it cut to the famed video of Clinton singing the national anthem off-key. A week later, she posted another YouTube video, this time highlighting some of the negative responses that she's gotten for her campaign song contest. She said, in her trademark serious-with-a-smile tone, "I'm so gratified that all of you thought this was such a wonderful idea," and showed some of the video comments from YouTube users.
"This is ridiculous."
"Are you kidding me?"
The two videos were watched nearly a million times on YouTube. Some 25,000 people suggested songs, said Daou, and more than 200,000 voted.
So far in this campaign season, dubbed the YouTube election, the most popular online videos have been the unofficial ones. Think of the Hillary-Clinton-as-Big-Sister video and the video of "Obama Girl" singing about her crush on Sen. Barack Obama. The official videos produced by the campaigns themselves haven't been as popular. For example, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson's edgy and inventive going-on-a-job-interview video, posted early last month and viewed 181,000 times, has yet to catch much steam.
Clinton's camp is pushing hard for video cred, and yesterday's effort is proof. Forget that the self-inflicted analogy -- the Clintons as the Sopranos -- might be too irresistible for her detractors.
And for hard-core fans, the video might bring to mind the Monica Lewinsky scandal. In the show's third season, Carmela, wife of the philandering Tony, talks about her admiration for how Hillary handled her marital woes. "She's a role model for all of us," Carmela tells her gussied-up gal pals.
Dan Manatt of PoliticsTV.com, which creates news and satirical online videos, said Hillary's latest offering is a welcome addition to the throng of candidates' videos.
"It shows that Hillary Clinton is very adeptly using the Internet to humanize herself."
But Manatt, who's worked on online political videos since 1999, said the move could also be risky.
"The Clinton camp gets an A for effort and creativity and audaciousness," he said. "Yet the jury's out on whether everybody finds it charming that they're self-effacing or that they are in fact drawing a parallel that is really ironic and not flattering regarding what's seen as the liabilities of the Clintons. That they're very aggressive in trying to scare away donors from other campaigns. The perception that they engage in strong-arm tactics. Still, you have to hand it to Hillary. You can't get more Joe Sixpack than Tony Soprano."
Then again, nothing is more anti-Tony Soprano than Celine Dion.