I have this super vague memory of Bill Clinton campaigning for president. I had just started my sophomore high school, and was only recently returned to the U.S. after some time spent living in Thailand. My parents were divorcing.
It was 1992.
Even then, MTV was already playing fewer music videos, on the path to what it is today. (I am not entirely sure what it is today, in some ways. I watch music videos on YouTube.) But MTV and Rock the Vote -- still a new effort at that point -- aired the first Rock the Vote town meeting with Bill Clinton and, even though I was already kind of into politics, it felt like an unprecedented moment. Bill Clinton, who was at that point behind in the polls, spoke directly to a young generation that felt, as most generations do at that age, I think, disenfranchised and disenchanted with politics.
And then Bill Clinton answered the "boxers or briefs" question and people lit up talking about this guy. He played the saxophone and a lot of young people were sold on this candidate who wanted to talk to them, who was willing to show that he was also a person, a person with hobbies and underpants.
President Obama is not a perfect president. There are things that I want to hold him accountable for (drone attacks) and things I want to swoon over (the way he has been talking about rape lately) (which, uh, is a weird thing over which to swoon, I know, but look at the other sound bites) -- but I have never been disappointed in the way the POTUS and his team have brought the White House into the digital age. Obama acknowledges that a lot of people (and, you know, voters) are online and speaks to people where they live.
Which is, I think, why he recently did an interview with ladymag Glamour, for which he is taking a bunch of heat from traditional political journalism outlets. It doesn't help that press conferences have been few and far between the past two months.
In fact, one charming reviewer has managed to insult both the President's media strategy AND the 12 million readers of Glamour magazine in one short blog entry! "Can’t wait to see what he thinks of the new fall collection. Next month, the Cosmo interview!"
Listen, I'm not a real big fan of ladymags. I can't wear any of the clothes and the sex tips are kind of 101. But ladybrains are, in fact, capable of handling serious topics. Hell, George W. Bush gave Glamour an interview some years back so it isn't even like this is voyaging where no president has gone before!
This is about elitism. Ladymags aren't given any respect when it comes to hard-hitting journalism. Granted, there's a lot of fluff there. No argument from me on that. But if I wanted to reach a broad audience of women, I'd do it through a publication aimed at them. And if we as a nation can accept that Playboy really does have good articles (and they DO, actually), why can't we accept that ladymags might as well? Oh, wait, it's because it's a product for women. I forgot! Silly ladybrains can't handle anything serious like politics!
Obama is once again talking to people where they live -- Bill Clinton won that damn election in part because he went on MTV and motivated young voters to get out and elect him. And now Obama is making the same effort with women.
That is BRILLIANT. There are, as some of you may have noticed, a lot of freaking women in the U.S. who are potential voters. A lot of them read Glamour magazine. And, yeah, I'm not saying all women are alike, because obviously there are also conservative women who really do believe the Romney line, but even as a non-ladymag-reader, I'm impressed as hell that Obama sat down to talk to Glamour.
He's not stopping there either. Whether you love or hate Reddit.com, I think it's kind of indisputable that it's got a large readership and a very active community. There's a feature there called IAmA (I am a), where participants basically interview someone in an "ask me anything" (AMA) or "ask me almost anything" (AMAA) thread. On August 29th, Obama opened up his own AMA thread on reddit, breaking the site for a good hour and a half.
Obama budgeted half an hour of time for the Q & A -- he answered a pretty wide variety of questions before he had to get back to D.C. for dinner with his family.
Y'all, our president went on REDDIT. Our PRESIDENT. Didn't just give an interview but did a Q & A on a popular website, thereby demonstrating that he is, in fact, actually in touch with where and how a bunch of people in the U.S. are communicating. I can't tell you when the last time I read a traditional political journalism rag was. But I sure as shit clicked over to that Reddit thread because I knew it would be stuff that was relevant and of interest to me.
Somewhere in the White House, there is a social-media-savvy campaign worker getting a million pats on the back. At least I hope there is.
I'm sure the mainstream media is going to goggle in horror that the President lowered himself to go on the Interwebs (we all know the Internet is for porn porn porn). There was similar backlash when Bill Clinton told us about his drawers (briefs, usually, he said and then moved on). George W. Bush campaigned in part on the idea of bringing dignity back to the White House, like the White House had never before been the seat of sexual scandal.
Presidents have sex. Sometimes with people they aren't married to. (Hi, Marilyn Monroe!) Presidents also do other scandalous stuff, like sell arms to Iran and make plans to assassinate Castro and, well, Watergate. My point is not that these things are okay but that "dignity" and "the president" are often not on speaking terms. If talking to women in a ladymag is on par with delaying the release of hostages in Tehran until after an election, that's a game of golf I don't think any of us can win.
Unlike Emily, who is kind of new to it, I have been angry for a long time. And one of the things that has consistently made me angry is the snobbery of the high brow when confronted with popular culture. It's hard times out there for mainstream journalism. The lack of access to the POTUS has to burn when he's been talking to everyone from ESPN to Entertainment Tonight. It's got to burn even worse when Obama's talking to Glamour -- because everyone knows all those silly women talk about is fashion. I hope that burn lingers.
It's been a long time since I've bought a physical magazine other than MAKE. But when November issue of Glamour comes out? I'll be putting down my hard-earned dollars to read what my prez has to say to me.