November 16, 2020
From Just Say No

i don’t believe in electoral politics, but i believe in the power of propaganda– or what we in the bullshit business call “narrative.”

during her initial run for office a few years back, this u.s. politician AOC ‘went viral’ with a very good campaign video. now that she’s running for re-election she has a new, also very good video.  i’d probably get kicked off noblogs if i embedded it but you can view it here.

in a twitter thread, austrian antifascist researcher Natascha Strobl provided incisive analysis of elements that make this 30-second blast so suasive. while i personally feel voting constitutes self-harm, i still recognize master-craft *~narrative~* when i see it.

shoutout to @_plafta for providing context and nuance for some of the german idiom…  any fuckups are mine

Let’s take a closer look at this video. Why does it work so well on us? What clicks in this video? The whole thing has three levels: content, communication and aesthetics. There’s a lot of skill behind all three aspects and they all work together. Let’s take a look at that.

1. The opening.

The opening is so strong because it gives us an immediate account of the situation in one sentence. Boom, we have three simultaneous crises: A, B, C. Right into the meat of it, very hard, without fluff, boring concepts or talking about yourself.

This is a political start, because people are busy and not stupid. AOC sets the record straight right at the beginning, names it and structures it. The on-the-ground analysis is clear: ok, here we are.

If you want to go somewhere you have to be clear where you are. That sounds so banal, but this step is the most important. It has to be named and discussed: where do we stand, right now? She makes it clear with just a few words and you can follow her immediately. No infantilization, no academization.

2. Urgency.

Next, she adds the time dimension. It is not new (the past is recalled); existing problems (present) have escalated due to the crises, but what if these broken systems do not persist (future prospects)?

In two sentences, she feeds the analysis with a time dimension and takes us mentally from the past to the future. The words themselves, but also the short, precise analyses and the overall dynamic awaken urgency in us. Now, here, immediately.

These are not abstract topics that are floating somewhere as political evergreens, but concrete problems that MUST be addressed here now because they are escalating. It inspires us to be active, with 4 sentences.

3. Systemic problems.

With this established, she takes up the current debates around BLM and generalizes them to all 3 crises – they are systemic (not “systematic”) crises. It’s not about little things, it’s about the whole damn system. She goes big.

She doesn’t get lost in minutiae, but opens the subjects up. It’s not about making a lot of small suggestions, which are certainly all good and correct, but to provide a more foundational orientation. What’s actually going on?

But these are not empty phrases, they’re based in the reality of the situation. A, B, C are our problems and they have a common cause. We go from the concrete to the meta-level (and immediately back again) and from the past to the future.

4. AOC.

She introduces herself verbally only in the middle of the clip. The first half is just the analysis. Now it comes and brings the meta level back to concrete with three policy proposals that correspond to the three crises:

Medicare For All (health), job guarantee (unemployment), an end to mass incarceration (racism). With this she tells us: The crises are clear, the causes are clear and the solutions are clear. Those in power just don’t want to do it; it is a political struggle.

With these large and systemic solutions, which are taken for granted, we move away from “marketplace of ideas”, “consensus”, “we’ll convince the opponent” type of stuff. The solutions are clear. The political question is whether they will be implemented.

5. Movement.

Linguistically, she immediately goes from the introductory level to the level of a movement. It has presented itself, but it is about all of us, about the movement that seeks precisely these solutions. Furthermore, these solutions are not abstract ideas, but are practiced on a daily basis:

Delivering food during the pandemic, passing laws and rebelling against corrupt capital interests in Washington. With the last two examples she means herself, but she frames it as part of a movement, a movement to which she links her political office.

She is the emissary of a larger movement and she would like to be re-elected as that. So she definitely does not see herself as a “party” politician. This is not about what’s best for the Democratic party, or whether they can work well with Republicans.

Humility combined with confident assumption of this leadership role then fits. I am part of the movement, but I also represent this movement in a special role in Washington. One of us. But also one for us. There is the message.

6. Aesthetics.

You could probably write a whole essay about this: TV-series-style cinematography. Fast cuts and camera movements. Dynamics. Urgency. What to do. Now. Go out there. Organize.

There are striking images like the empty and closed playgrounds, but she doesn’t overwhelm us with pictures of the sick or dead, nor with the video of the murder of George Floyd. Instead we see the protests. This motivates us instead of paralyzing us.

7. Super 8.

Whenever there is talk of racism, the picture jumps into a (fake) Super 8 film. That suggests the past, since the problem has existed for so long. It also creates intimacy, because Super 8 was used for home videos.

Racism and murders and police attacks have been around for so long, and happen very close to us, in our homes and neighborhoods. You can just catch them randomly on a home video. An exciting trick.

I’ll save myself any further rewatching of the picture, because it gets to be too much and there are other, more skilled people. But the video is really great. And the most important thing: hope. Another world is possible. Not complicated and abstract, but thanks to and through all of us.

on Twitter

on Facebook