The debatest show on Earth

Posted by Jenna Gallagher on October 5, 2012 |

New York Magazine has a brilliant sometimes feature called The Undulating Curve of Shifting Expectation. It’s an infographic that highlights media and pop culture trends as they cycle through pre-buzz to saturation point to backlash to backlash to the backlash.

Wherever we stand on the candidates, I think that most of us can agree that when it comes to the 2012 election and social media, we are so far beyond backlash we’re in a different mag.

Then again, I could be wrong. After all, Wednesday’s debate broke records as the most Tweeted event in US political history. Which sounds impressive, except for, as Forbes points out, history, in this case, begins at the dawn of Twitter: 2006. Oh, and the prior record for most Tweeted US political event was held by President Obama’s convention speech, which was last month.

The record the debate achieved was 10.3 million Tweets between 9:00 and 10:30 pm EDT on Wednesday night. The climax was beleaguered, 12-year veteran moderator Jim Lehrer’s “Let’s not,” response to Romney’s request for a topic at 9:53 pm EDT. In fact, points of order were so widely dissected on Twitter that The Atlantic and other news outlets named Lehrer the loser of the debate.

Not that there wasn’t plenty of good old-fashioned mud slinging from both sides. At one point, KitchenAid, the small appliance company, even got in the mix. In their case, it was a tasteless Tweet about President Obama’s deceased grandmother that a heedless employee posted on the official account (it was immediately taken down and replaced by an apology).

Then, of course, there were the hastily Photoshopped pictures of Big Bird holding a Will Work for Food sign, the random postings about the Obamas’ anniversary and the candidates’ attire and maybe even a word or two about what the candidates actually said beyond the quips and sound bites. Or maybe not.

In fact, when we talk about being tired of people battling about the election on social media, aren’t we really saying we’re tired of them battling about policy? The ancillary things, like Michelle and Ann Romney’s wardrobes, the clever bons mots, and the oh-no-he-didn’t moments, we can’t seem to get enough of those.

An election year has always provided a national theatre for Americans, but now that we’re experiencing it through social media it’s more like a national reality show. Less Downton Abbey, more Real Housewives.

Regardless of whether or not he handled Wednesday evening well, Jim Lehrer might be less likely to lose his job to Romney’s proposed PBS cuts than he is to lose his Presidential debate moderator job… to Bravo’s
Andy Cohen.




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