What’s The Sarah Palin Hack Got To Do With It?

This news is about a week old now, so I&D is not moving anywhere close to internet time like a good blog should, but, worth nothing here that last Tuesday saw the first majorly publicized security compromise of the 2008 presidential election season. “Members” identifying themselves as Anonymous hacked US vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s e-mail and exposed the contents online through Wikileaks. The story made the usual rounds, on Slashdot, Wired News, Gawker before hitting all the mainstream traditional venues. Beyond the usual hubblaboo that’s gone down since — there’s definitely some interesting swirling issues here that are salient to democracy in general, and the way in which candidates relate to the voters.

As David Weinberger’s talked about — what’s interesting is the extent to which the internet and the information it makes accessible remotely (either legally or illegally) slices deeply through the big budget PR apparatus that usually surrounds public life. Not only that, but in turn the internet community has also served as a fertile platform to support the creation of new kind of fame that precisely mine the extent to which people are presented without that apparatus, for better or for worse.

In the realm of basic “celebrity,” this has already been clear. We started out mocking the traditionally famous, and now internet culture is busy generating its own celebrities. Whether it’s Perez Hilton or Numa Numa Kid, the internet has generated its own culture away from mainstream publicity and promotion in popular culture. There’s something quite different in the quality of this kind of celebrity: it’s based quite away from the metric of perfection and more towards empathy. That is to say, our interest is in the extent to which we empathize with these people, rather than place them on a pedestal.

In the realm of cutting through the PR gauntlet, the same holds true for politics. Certainly the Bush presidency, with its exceptional number of gaffes preserved for posterity seem to suggest this. I think it’s notable that the Palin hack didn’t reveal anything particularly scandalous: the usual back-and-forth of personal correspondence and perhaps a general misjudgment about the security of using Yahoo for state business. Still, in both cases cut behind the world that marks the usual glossy outlook of the presidential candidate websites. And in both, the result is the same: the candidates are just normal people under intense scrutiny and all the stupid mistakes captured on camera that implies.

Will the parallel next step emerge that we’ve seen in internet culture? Can there be a Tron Guy or Christian Lander who emerges, Bulworth-style, into mainstream public political life from the netroots without a large staff and PR machine and separate from the world of the perpetually blogging commentator? Sure, there’s been joke candidate before and always will be. And there’s candidates who’ve had seen massive support online. But none, really, that achieve viral notoriety and cultural influence that most web celebrities have built online. This is the plot of a bad movie soon to be released, to be sure, but it also presents a salient possibility that the internet creates a public sphere that rallies more closely around a different set of values than has traditionally framed candidates competing for public office.

Be Sociable, Share!
Posted in blogging, Current Events, Elections, Ideas. Comments Off on What’s The Sarah Palin Hack Got To Do With It?

Comments are closed.