Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Information Milieu of the Obama-Romney Presidential Debate

"...the opponent becomes noise and the public becomes a target of communication...a collective receiver to which a message can be sent only on condition that the channel is kept free of noise..." (Terranova 17)

In tonight's debate between President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney, many of Terranova's concepts like information generated by free labor and the interplay of signal and noise in the informational milieu came into play. I watched the debate on CNN, which adorned the footage of the debate with what Terranova might refer to as 'signals' (as opposed to signs). Terranova posits that "...what matters is the endurance of the information to be communicated" (16), and that this information survives alteration or distortion by "noise". Besides the constantly flickering Presidential Debate graphic in the left hand corner, the red CNN logo on the side served as a signal easily replicated and  instantly recognizable to the public.

Terranova also equates 'endurance' of information with repetition and redundancy, and mentions political campaigns as prime examples. The candidate's focus, along these lines, would be to get a clear message to the audience. "The more information, the less meaning" (14), as Terranova puts it. Accordingly, President Obama, somewhat clumsily, evaded a question on what Romney called a failed 'trickle-down policy', speaking instead about three unrelated and clearly over-prepared topics: education, taxes, and energy. The President had been trained to stick to the information, repeat it, and, above all, cut out the 'noise'. Furthermore, both candidates rattled off numbers left and right, and much of the debate was centered on a "no, that's not what I said" or "you've got it wrong, that's not what I plan" rhetoric, underscoring Terranova's point that the debate was not so much about "exchanging ideas and, ethical truth, or rhetorical confrontation" (16), as much as eliciting a certain response from the audience. During one notable moment, President Obama used a popular quote from President Clinton on 'arithmetic', a clever ploy that was able to cut through the overwhelming turbulence of information on stage to elicit a specific, favorable reaction from a wide network; his audience.

One of the most distracting gimmicks displayed prominently during the entire debate was CNN's 'Undecided Colorado Voter Meter', a line graph that gave a continuous live update on whether undecided voters in he state hosting the debate felt positively or negatively about what the candidates were saying. Not only did this graph provide a talking point for viewers that immediately drew them out of analyzing the ideas of the candidates and assessing their truth, but the graph also served to underline Terranova's concept of the soft power arguably demonstrated by the content editors of CNN. CNN's goal to bring the viewer in (generate and maintain their interest) as an individual into the multitude (by graphing other's responses and sharing them with the individual viewer), acted as a tool, Terranova would claim, that allows the "...overcoding and the ultimate containment of the productive power of flows" (123). In other words, CNN's aim was to keep viewers watching their broadcast by providing them any information they might seek from other media outlets, like Facebook.

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