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Basil Marceaux lost his race, but on Web he won place in public imagination

SLOPPY OR SAVVY? Basil Marceaux in the TV clip that went viral.
SLOPPY OR SAVVY? Basil Marceaux in the TV clip that went viral. (Wsmv-tv Via Associated Press)

"I hate to say this, but I set the Internet up," he said. "I set the Internet up so they would talk bad about me because it's the only way to get hits."

He says that after the filming of the now infamous television slot, a producer told him that his hair was messy and that he'd made some "mistakes." He says he was asked if he wanted to film it over again, but he decided it was "perfect."

(He then goes on to warn the reporter that his life is in danger from the same men who shot Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr., and that if the reporter comes to visit him, she should probably bring a rifle.)

Marceaux's savviness or sobriety may have been under debate, but his knowledge of the science of Web hits is spot-on.

After all, politicians online -- where forwarding is free and the audience is huge -- have trotted out increasingly outlandish ads in the hopes of going viral. See California Senate candidate Carly Fiorina's "Demon Sheep" ad, which features a glowing-eyed man infiltrating an unsuspecting flock. It was proclaimed so baaaaad that it was genius, when it aired back in February. Or see Dale Peterson's butt-kicking "no prisoners" ad for Alabama commissioner of agriculture and industries -- an office no one had heard of until the ad went gonzo. He didn't win, but everybody knew his name, if only to mock it.

Basil Marceaux was one step further. For a public exhausted by politics-as-usual, he offered not only an outlandish ad but an outlandish persona, so beyond reason that he demanded attention. His popularity happened at lightning speed, taking just days rather than the years most political candidates require -- and those are the fortunate ones who rise from obscurity at all.

Like "Napoleon Dynamite's" Vote for Pedro campaign, like every high school that has jokingly nominated the band geek for prom king, Marceaux's Internet success was based on the principle of ironic support. How hilarious would it be to pretend to love him? How hilarious would it be to actually love him?

Brandishing Marceaux as an ideal candidate -- for realz or no -- was a one-fingered salute to mainstream politicians everywhere. We would rather fake-support this guy than real-support you.

But as often happens with irony, the line between sarcasm and sincerity can grow increasingly blurred. To some faux followers, Basil Marceaux became a Chauncey Gardner, an innocent whose ramblings contained great wisdom and meaning.

The infotainment site ran a series of video interviews with the "loveable eccentric," then tenderly declared, "If Basil has an overarching theme to his campaign, it is that most American ideal of correcting injustices."

In Thursday's election results, Marceaux won only half a percent of the final count -- but that still represented more than 3,000 people who used their only vote to support a man who said he would prioritize ending "traffic-stop slavery."

In the telephone interview, Marceaux stressed that he may have become an "international celebrity" but that this election was really about the people, and he won't stop fighting for them.

He'll be back, or someone like him -- perhaps someone who has been groomed and stage-managed to precisely this level of outlandishness. The Web will be waiting with open arms.

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