Monday, April 20, 2009

¿Quién Es la Política Más Linda del Mundo? Japanese Municipal Assemblyperson Yuri Fujikawa, That’s Quien!

I thank you all for taking to heart my exhortations and catapulting Japanese municipal assemblyperson Yuri Fujikawa to victory in the 20 Minutos online contest for “the most beautiful politician in the world”. Of course my natural modesty compels me to share some of the glory with the Japanese mass media—just because I’m a blogger doesn’t mean that I cannot give them credit where it is due—who took up the issue in print and on air, so much so that it became the subject of a 20 Minutos report just before the final results came in.

So the media (20 Minutos) begat news (the contest), the media (Japanese print and air) begat news (on media-sponsored contest), and the media (20 Minutos) begat news (on media reports on the media-sponsored contest). This cycle was completed when 20 Minutos announced the results of the contest—which in turn caused Japan to beget yet more news. There has always been an auto-generative side to the media, through sponsorship and even outright ownership of a wide variety of events and endeavors. Online contests provide a cheap and quick way to attract public attention. I wonder if Sankei, the most Internet-friendly among the major media outlets and not coincidentally giving the 20 Minutos contest the most attention, will take a cue from this.

The current example also highlights the difficulties of running online popularity contests.

One recurring stunt on The Colbert Report has the eponymous host of the comedy show encouraging viewers to vote in his name or some reasonable facsimile thereof—Stephen Colbeagle the Eagle being one such—for online naming contests including, and I am not making this up, a bridge in Hungary. Now, I suspect that the producers of the show get together with the sponsors of the contests beforehand to figure what to do if the Colbert entries wind up winning, as they usually do. That way, the show avoids trouble while the sponsors get a lot of free publicity.

But what if the attention is unwanted? To give a hypothetical example, if a marine park held a name-the-baby-dolphin contest, Greenpeace and PETA could hold a campaign to write in, say, “Free Me” and have a reasonable chance of succeeding. This will be just fine with animal-rights activists, but won’t exactly be what the marine park had hoped for.

Of course you could argue even from a value-neutral perspective that there is nothing wrong with this. To use the same example, if the public attention that the marine park receives as the result of the Greenpeace-PETA write-in campaign works against it in the court of public opinion instead of rebounding against the campaigning organizations, then maybe the marine park should admit that they do have a point. And so it goes.

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