Saturday, June 13, 2009

Early Television's Role in Politics, 1960

Humor me, kind readers, with one last post on the demise of analog TV--DD is fascinated by technological changes through history. Clip from Sept. 28, 1960 Ypsilanti Daily Press.

Here's a cartoon about the famous Nixon-Kennedy debate, the first presidential debate broadcast on TV. Incumbent VP Nixon, whom cartoonists had been drawing for the past 4 years, is recognizable. But look at newcomer Kennedy. If you didn't know it was him you'd never recognize him.

Nixon was ill at the time with a bum knee and was 20 pounds underweight. He had been relentlessly campaigning despite his aides telling him to rest up before the debate. He did not. He also refused to wear makeup, but covered his 5-o'clock shadow with a thick layer of pancake makeup that became streaked with sweat during the debate. He appeared ashen in contrast to Kennedy's youthful, fresh appearance.

70 million Americans watched this debate and concluded by a large margin that the charismatic Kennedy certainly looked and delivered better. (Those who listened to it on the radio, however, thought Nixon had won). How might the election results have been different had the debate been conducted just in print and over radio?

Note the large size of the TV in the cartoon, possibly signifying the large impression that still-pretty-novel TV had on society. Also note the caption at top, "T-V for Victory," a reference to the famous WWII BBC-created grassroots protest campaign. The phrase was still as familiar to the postwar readers of this cartoon as a phrase like "shock and awe" is to a modern reader.

The Obama election campaign's skillful use of multiple types of computer-based media has its roots in this first example of how screen technologies can influence political elections.

Interesting analysis of the debaters' appearances here; but judge for yourself:

1 comment :

Dusty D said...

Here are some interesting comments on the Youtube video for your consideration:

A: Did Nixon really lose this debate on his looks because he really doesn't look that bad. He looks a little whiter without make-up and I know he had just gotten out of the hospital but was it really his looks that hurt him as most history books say. I'm starting to doubt this.

B: The importance of Nixon's appearance in the debates has been exagerrated over time. The key in the debate was JFK's polished look and the fact that he held his own with Nixon. Before the debate, Kennedy was seen by many as too inexperienced and too "green" for the Presidency. His debate performance put a lot of those fears to rest. But Kennedy won the election b/c of LBJ and Texas, not b/c of these debates or Nixon's appearance.

A: Thank You. That makes sense.  Why can't our high school history books just say this.

B: It's part of the JFK mythology; the charismatic symbol of hope defeats the corrupt villain. Most history books value good stories above accuracy, especially when the media plays along. We're already seeing the same thing with Howard Dean's screeching yell being blamed for his loss to Kerry in 2004. Scream or no scream, Dean was finished once he lost Iowa.