Viral Video Turns Senator Into a Silent Comedy Star
By ASHLEY PARKERMARCH 16, 2014
Footage that Senator Mitch McConnell’s campaign posted online for others to use in ads has inspired spoofs. The campaign website compiled a few.
WASHINGTON — When Senator Mitch McConnell’s re-election campaign released two-and-a-half minutes of video footage featuring him wordlessly smiling, it was most likely hoping to provide a friendly “super PAC’ with high-quality images of Mr. McConnell to use in ads.
Instead, the campaign got a viral video sensation that exploded on the Internet last week, and even spawned its own term — “McConnelling.”
The phenomenon started on Tuesday when the campaign put out a web video filled with genial images of Mr. McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and minority leader: Mr. McConnell smiling at the camera; Mr. McConnell smiling at his wife; Mr. McConnell walking with voters and, of course, smiling.
Because campaigns are legally prohibited from coordinating with super PACs, they are increasingly publishing what is known as B-roll footage of their candidates, which is available for public consumption, including for use by friendly outside groups. But in the age of memes and GIFs and viral videos, the McConnell web ad proved to be yet another cautionary or quirky tale (depending on one’s perspective) of what can happen when the online world decides to subvert even the most carefully crafted of messages.
Mr. McConnell is perhaps known as much for his dour and jowly appearance as for his political acumen — one campaign ad recently compared his visage to that of a turtle — and the Internet rallied to make him an online star. Videos that edited his smiling face into famous sitcoms from the 1980s and 1990s began popping up, with Mr. McConnell making cameos in the opening credits of everything from “The Cosby Show” to “Full House” to “Who’s the Boss?” (In “Full House,” the credits helpfully explain that Mr. McConnell will be appearing as “Uncle Mitchy.”)
“The video may have become the laughingstock of the Internet, but it does do an adequate job of highlighting why so few Kentuckians have any personal affinity toward McConnell,” said Matt Canter, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “His awkwardness and out-of-touch demeanor comes shining through.”
The McConnell campaign embraced the unexpected star turn. It compiled the spoof videos on its website, urging supporters to vote for their “favorite parody with guest star Mitch McConnell,” and sent out an email asking people who had enjoyed the “absolutely hysterical” video mash-ups to “please consider chipping in a few bucks to our campaign so we can keep Mitch rolling to victory.”
“Mitch McConnell has always embraced humor in his campaigns, and #McConnelling is a perfect example,” Allison Moore, a spokeswoman for the campaign, said in an email statement. “We look for many different ways to interact with voters, and this video has been successful beyond our wildest dreams.”
Josh Holmes, a senior adviser to the McConnell campaign, was equally enthusiastic. “We loved it,” he said. “Any time you can bring people into your campaign from outside of politics with humor it’s a good thing.”
Mr. McConnell’s Republican primary opponent, Matt Bevin, also got in on the fun. Mr. Bevin, a Tea Party candidate who is hoping to portray Mr. McConnell as insufficiently conservative, released a web video that took the original McConnell footage and offered a subtitled “translation” of what Mr. McConnell was really saying.
“I hate those Tea Party conservatives,” the captions begin, before going on to have Mr. McConnell call the Wall Street bailout “the Senate’s finest hour” and promise to “crush” the “crazy conservatives.”
But McConnelling really took off only after Jon Stewart featured the video on “The Daily Show.”
“There are no words. Seriously!” Mr. Stewart said. “The entire ad is two-and-a-half minutes — there’s no words! It’s just Mitch McConnell and that music.”
After explaining that the McConnell campaign had most likely produced the video for a pro-McConnell super PAC to use, Mr. Stewart decided to “have fun with it,” setting the footage of a grinning Mr. McConnell to a series of songs — Salt-n-Pepa’s “Whatta Man,” Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sounds of Silence” and Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back,” among others.
“Here’s the secret,” Mr. Stewart said, nearly doubled over with laughter. “It works with every song that has the word ‘eyes’ in it.” The comedian then urged members of his audience to play the game he was calling “hashtag McConnelling,” and to set the video to their own favorite tunes.
And then, like all good Internet phenomena, McConnelling may have finally jumped the shark. On Friday, a video appeared that combined an already viral sensation — Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble” crossed with a screeching goat — with the McConnell web ad.
“We’ve combined #McConnelling with the screaming goats, which means we’re done here,” tweeted Chris Moody, a political reporter for Yahoo News. “Good week, Internet.”
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/17/us/po ... s&_r=0