Going viral

by Eszter Hargittai on February 3, 2008

This video was posted on YouTube just yesterday and has already been watched over 150,000 times.* There’s also a site for a ringtone.

It’s impossible to know at this point how such viral campaigns might influence outcomes, but it’s certainly interesting to watch how people are taking advantage of new tools to disseminate material of this sort. It would be a stretch to suggest anyone can do this easily since this video is filled with celebrities, which likely helped it get coverage on ABC yesterday [source]. Nonetheless, having it available online certainly helps in spreading it widely. I’d be curious to know how most people linking to it found it, but many don’t seem to be pointing to sources, which makes this difficult to decipher.

[*] Note that YouTube’s numbers are confusing as depending on when I click on the link I either get around 153,000 or 84,000 views.

[thanks to Discourse.net]

{ 1 trackback }

out the backroom window › PubDef, etc.
02.04.08 at 9:23 pm



joejoejoe 02.03.08 at 9:59 pm

I saw it at about 8:50 AM yesterday on Daily Kos (see link). I forwarded it to two people on YouTube since and told one person about it on the phone.


drew 02.03.08 at 10:11 pm

YouTube is almost undoubtedly distributed across a number of servers. My guess about the disparity in counts is that it comes from some nodes not having checked and added the most recent numbers from its peers or a master server.


Sage Ross 02.03.08 at 10:24 pm

I got an email through the Connecticut branch of the Obama campaign, which sent me to the YouTube video. I emailed my parents and a friend, and let my sister know via GoogleTalk.


Sage Ross 02.03.08 at 10:28 pm

On the YouTube stats: there are several different uploads of the video; one has over 150,000 views, one has over 80,000, one has over 25,000, and there are probably another 30,000 or so views spread out among the other instances of it.


joejoejoe 02.03.08 at 10:39 pm

Eszter – I did a search on YouTube yesterday AM right when I saw the link (aprox. 8:50 EST in US) to see if there was a “most popular” version that I could rate up and help it go viral and IIRC the # of views of the most popular version on YouTube was aprox. 8,500 yesterday morning.


denise 02.03.08 at 10:48 pm

I watched it here, realized I don’t know anyone whose vote would swing on a spoken word performance from Scarlett Johansen or the sleazy boyfriend from “Six Feet Under”, and will promptly forget about it.


Eszter 02.03.08 at 10:59 pm

Sage, I know there are several versions, that’s almost always the case. I got two conflicting numbers on the same URL, that part was confusing. (But yes, of course, total number of views is usually more than any one video’s numbers would tell you. Of course, this tells us little about number of distinct viewers.)

JoeJoeJoe, it’s interesting to know that the numbers were that low yesterday morning, thanks. Oh, and I always find it intriguing when people are passing Web sites along via voice and wonder how many of those result in actual page visits.


Kieran Healy 02.03.08 at 11:20 pm

Somewhere, Bob the Builder is beaming.


Jon H 02.04.08 at 12:11 am

Scarlett Johansen’s presence is a turnoff, because I’m sure she’s just there because, even though nobody thinks of her as a singer, she has an album coming out. And, she’s hawt.


Charles S 02.04.08 at 12:54 am

Not being that fond of celebrities, and finding the overlay of the speech and the celebrities talking/singing to be hard to understand, I like this version better, which is just a singer/guitarist (Michael Campion) playing the song unaccompanied.


Mitch Guthman 02.04.08 at 1:43 am

We seem to be well past mere political advertising and moving into the realm of “cult of personality”. Kind of creeps me out. I’m really voting for a president, not a messiah.


Seth Edenbaum 02.04.08 at 2:26 am

Politics in a democracy more than any other form of government is a popularity contest. There are advantages and disadvantages to that, but it’s not a good idea to generalize based on your own biases; better to understand yours and others’ both.

The video is a signal of the new biracial hip. Bill Clinton, Toni Morrison’s “first black president” may have helped pave he way for Barack Obama: the second first black president, and the first real one. That’s nice to know.
That Bill Clinton is now playing to the politics of white trash Bubba to further his wife’s cause is interesting as a matter of psychology. It’s nice to know it backfired. Not so nice to know that “O-bomba” is a Clintonite neoliberal.


kvn 02.04.08 at 2:43 am

It’s corny.


Chuck 02.04.08 at 3:18 am

I saw it on DailyKos at around 9 AM and then read up on it on the ABC News site and blogged it myself (and my blog entry has been blogged at least once since then). The video has been posted at least twice on YouTube by different users, so I’m guessing the numbers will be a little confusing.

There is an interesting “response” that must have been produced at around the same time but also emphasizes the gospel-inflected style of many of Obama’s speeches.


wolfgang 02.04.08 at 3:57 am

If enough people see this schmaltz it might actually be the only thing that can stop Obama 8-)


Bruce Baugh 02.04.08 at 6:37 am

Wolfgang, my own feeling – and I’ve heard the same from several friends – is that the schmaltz is very much part of its appeal. Look at most political advertising the last few campaigns. Much of it is dour fear- and hate-mongering. Most of the rest is very jingoistic patriotism. Very little of it is really personal. Here we’ve got people looking both serious and happy on individual, human scale. Sure, these are professionals who’ve practiced their looks, but even so, here’s a kind of motley group of folks talking about very individual reactions. It feels a lot more…I don’t want to say “real”, but I will perhaps settle on “relevant” to anything in my own experience. It’s not authentic in the sense of lacking craft or artifice, but it is aiming for parts of life that have been pretty well excluded from political presentations in the US for a while now.

It would be relatively hard to segue from this to “…and that’s why we need to slaughter hundreds of thousands more Arabs” or something else popular in the commentariat’s chattering, and I like that. It sets some expectations that if roused could lead to very constructive pressures on politics the next term.


abb1 02.04.08 at 7:18 am

…the second first black president, and the first real one

Not sure he would be more real than Bubba, though. He is not a descendant of American slaves, it’s just that his father happened to be from Kenya; what’s the significance of that?


joel turnipseed 02.04.08 at 7:46 am

FWIW, Moveon.org sent out a mass e-mail today at around 4:30 CST–so my guess is that by tomorrow millions will have seen it.

But then: Obama was the only major political figure to buy big space for the Super Bowl… surprising that he would go unchallenged there with such a big audience at stake, but we’ll see how it does for him on Tuesday.


Nick 02.04.08 at 8:39 am

Hm, bootylicious babes and lots of chiselled stubble on display.
Now remind me – who’s the dude in the suit and tie who keeps interrupting them?


GreatZamfir 02.04.08 at 9:25 am

He is not a descendant of American slaves, it’s just that his father happened to be from Kenya; what’s the significance of that?

It has at least the same significance as a Chinese or Arab or otherwise non-European-American president, and it is probably more significant. Perhaps not as much as a slave descendant, but a long way towards it.


MR. Bill 02.04.08 at 11:38 am

I want to second Bruce Baugh at 14. This is a remarkably sweet, not angry or fearful political advert. Compared to most of what I’ve seen so far, it is positive, and more likely to motivate young voters and the suppressed left in the US.
A lot of the opposition to Obama is purely racist, at least, in my corner of rural Georgia. There are a lot of folks hungry for the lies about Obama’s church(“It’s a bunch of radical racists”), religion (“he’s a Moslem, a plant who will destroy the country”), History (“He went to a madrassa”, “He has no experience”)and who are impervious to any factual presentation.
This won’t help them, but it works for some of us.


Martin G. 02.04.08 at 2:28 pm

I got it off a Twitter friend, which makes it a Web 2.0 grand slam: A tweet that links to a YouTube video which links to a netroots campaign, and which I am now commenting about on a blog.


Jon H 02.04.08 at 3:05 pm

abb1 wrote: ” He is not a descendant of American slaves, it’s just that his father happened to be from Kenya; what’s the significance of that?”

Would that detail show up if a cop ran his license plate number? Or would the cop see just another black dude?


Kris 02.04.08 at 3:27 pm

For those of us who are not up on what today’s kids are listening to… can someone tell me who all appears in the video? So the first guy is from the Black Eyed Peas and then there is Scarlett Johansen, but who are the rest?

I like the video. It’s a little cheesy, but it makes me happy.


mq 02.04.08 at 3:58 pm

Obama 08: A cool black friend for every American youth!


abb1 02.04.08 at 4:01 pm

Jon (21),

African-American men seemed to understand it right away. Years ago, in the middle of the Whitewater investigation, one heard the first murmurs: white skin notwithstanding, this is our first black President. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children’s lifetime. After all, Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas. And when virtually all the African-American Clinton appointees began, one by one, to disappear, when the President’s body, his privacy, his unpoliced sexuality became the focus of the persecution, when he was metaphorically seized and bodysearched, who could gainsay these black men who knew whereof they spoke? The message was clear “No matter how smart you are, how hard you work, how much coin you earn for us, we will put you in your place or put you out of the place you have somehow, albeit with our permission, achieved. You will be fired from your job, sent away in disgrace, and–who knows?–maybe sentenced and jailed to boot. In short, unless you do as we say (i.e., assimilate at once), your expletives belong to us.”

That’s what this is all about, not the skin color.


Western Dave 02.04.08 at 4:37 pm

There is already a wikipedia entry that lists all the participants.


Bill Gardner 02.04.08 at 4:39 pm

The video shows that there is music in Obama’s words. I doubt you could do anything similarly compelling with a speech from any other candidate. The understated, (ostensibly) underproduced quality of the music and the video also highlight what’s new (rhetorically) about him –> hitting the gospel notes, without shouting them.

Those aren’t reasons to vote for him, of course (although I will). It’s why I have been humming “Yes, we can” all morning.


Jon H 02.04.08 at 4:52 pm

“That’s what this is all about, not the skin color.”

Clinton isn’t descended from slaves either.


abb1 02.04.08 at 5:49 pm

You’re right, Jon: being a descendant of slaves isn’t exactly the point. But neither is having dark skin and curly hair, it seems even more superficial.


zunguzungu 02.04.08 at 5:54 pm

Does anyone know what the non-English languages are spoken in this video? I caught “Si podemos” (yes we can in spanish) and si se puede (it is possible) but a young woman says something in languages I didn’t catch at about 1:09 and 1:45. Either hebrew or arabic maybe?


Seth Edenbaum 02.04.08 at 6:15 pm

Abb sometimes I’m reminded how clueless you are about this country you don’t live in. It’s the mirror image of American ignorance of life outside the border.

“Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children’s lifetime.”

But Obama is electable. More so, I’m willing to bet than HRC. Amusing that no one has brought up the subject the Vice Presidency. With Bill as the other man? There are whole levels of conflict , even only of image, that no one’s discussed. Obama can pick Edwards for example (and he should)
Also it’s annoying that even the smart liberal white pundit class seem so oblivious to the implications of Obama’s rise. Obama is seen and respected as a player. HRC and Bubba are seen as cynical and defensive, even using racial rhetoric and to willing to play dirty to get what they want. “Serious” political intellectuals are always harping on MoDo for her cheap psychologizing. I’d be more impressed by their criticisms if I didn’t already know that it’s not the cheapness that offends them as much as much as the arguments from psychology itself instead of “reason.”

I’ll vote for Obama because it’s time for a black president. Considering how close Obama and HRC on policy, the issues themselves are secondary. I’m voting for the black man on principle alone. I’m also voting against this:

“It’s not easy, and I couldn’t do it if I didn’t passionately believe it was the right thing to do. You know… I have so many opportunities from this country. I just don’t want to see us fall backwards.

Watch the video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmyrGBw5jFg
Hillary wasn’t crying out of exhaustion, she was crying for us. It was one of the most offensive political displays I’ve seen in my lifetime. And no one caught it.


Katherine 02.04.08 at 6:19 pm

So you’re only black and subject to racism if you are descended from slaves? Wow, we in the UK can put away most of our worries about racial discrimination then, ignore the police stop-and-search figures, repeal the Race Relations Act and spontaneously the BNP will disappear.

Because race-based disadvantage only exists if you are a descendent of slaves. Super!


abb1 02.04.08 at 7:12 pm

“Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children’s lifetime.”

But Obama is electable.

What are you talking about, Seth? Read Morrison’s phrase in quotation marks again. Yes, Bubba was a ‘black’ president (and yes, I suppose this includes his cynicism) and a dark-skin guy elected might very well turn out to be ‘white’ president. That is what Morrison is saying. Is this so complicated?


Nell 02.04.08 at 7:13 pm

@kris #24: I’ll admit to a similar “who are all these kids on my lawn?” reaction, but don’t tell me you didn’t recognize Kareem Abdul-Jabbar…?


Susan 02.04.08 at 7:17 pm

Is this really “viral”? It mostly seems to be getting passed between already-pro-Obama folks. I’d describe it more as echo chamber, almost the opposite of viral.


abb1 02.04.08 at 7:33 pm

Wow, we in the UK can put away most of our worries about racial discrimination then…

I think you may want to concentrate more on powerless people of all different races, including, say, Eastern Europeans. Middle class blacks can probably take care of themselves.


Seth Edenbaum 02.04.08 at 7:51 pm

You got me on that one Abb. Better a black white man than an oreo. Still, that was in the past. Toni Morrison has endorsed Obama and the black pols who are endorsing HRC are tied to the old machine. Times have changed.
And Clinton’s playing to white insecurities is disgusting.


Jon H 02.04.08 at 8:11 pm

abb1, it’s also possible Toni Morrison was talking out of her ass back in 1998.


abb1 02.04.08 at 8:30 pm

What about Chris Rock? This appears to be before the 1996 election:

I like Clinton. You know why I like Clinton? Because he’s got real problems. No, he don’t got President problems, he’s got real problems, like you and me: he’s running out of money, his wife’s a pain in the ass, all his friends are gonig to jail.. I know Bill Clinton. I am Bill Clinton! And they’re always trying to get Clinton. It’s almost as if we have a black President! They second-guess everything he does. Really, you would think he’s black!


Seth Edenbaum 02.04.08 at 9:24 pm

abb, once again: the rules have changed. No, Toni Morrison was not “talking out her ass.” Clinton played the game like a black republican. He was Elvis, proud of his black roots, and that’s how he won: as a gamer and a huckster not a policy wonk. But now he’s being outflanked by a real black man, who is now thought of, in this country, as a black man, whatever you may want to believe.
If anything HRC’s pretensions to intellectual and moral superiority are a limitation. They’re seen rightly by many outside the “reality based” community of liberal rationalists, as bullshit.


abb1 02.04.08 at 9:42 pm

Who said anything about HRC here? Fine, whatever.


fred lapides 02.04.08 at 9:45 pm

the video was very helpful in at long last finding out exactly what positions might be taken by Sen Obama: yes we can. That tells me a lot I need to know, right?
ps: I might vote for him but such ads are pure bullshit.


soru 02.04.08 at 10:00 pm

Sensible statement:

in america, for well-known historical reasons, there is a long-standing and significant correlation between economic class and skin colour.

Mostly-sensible statement:

in post-1960s america, economic class is probably more significant than skin colour itself

Not-so-sensible statement:

in america, you can usefully use the words ‘black’ and ‘white’ to refer to economic classes, and people won’t get that confused with the skin colours of the same name.


john in california 02.04.08 at 11:34 pm

The has everything that entertainment politics requires.
1. emotionally uplifting
2. star studded
3. totally vacous
This ad says everything – good and bad- about Obama. If he gets the nomination and the presidency it will be with much of the nation on his side without his committing to anything.


rootlesscosmo 02.04.08 at 11:48 pm

Was anybody else reminded of Willie Nelson and chorus doing “We Guard the American Border” in Mamet’s brilliant Wag the Dog?


Jon H 02.05.08 at 12:49 am

“: I might vote for him but such ads are pure bullshit.”

Hey, no kidding.

If only there were some medium that were well-suited to long-form explication of policy positions using, say, words.


KCinDC 02.05.08 at 2:56 am

What, you mean “I like Ike” wasn’t a policy paper?


Tom T. 02.05.08 at 4:29 am

Just for some perspective, bear in mind that the video of the cat flushing the toilet has received nearly four million views. Obama has a ways to go yet.


Luke 02.05.08 at 5:35 am

I saw this Saturday afternoon. By this afternoon, I’d gotten 25 different emails/Ims/texts about it. Then again, my circle is densely populated by the sort of people who go to Small East Coast Liberal Arts College.

I love the video–not because I love the celebrities, as I find them annoying–but because, as said above, it makes me feel proud and hopeful in a way that most of my political life has lacked. It might be cheap and easy uplift, but it’s better than being conned into a war, or getting a union buster to try and game a good temp answer why you helped arrange the worst foreign policy debacle since Vietnam.

As a Communications wonk, I’m fascinated by two things. First, that the part that traces the historic arc of ‘Yes We Can,’ though semi-chronological, skips the Civil War (unless we count abolitionists and slaves as an acceptable stand-in) and it lacks that other great touchstone of modern American liberalism, FDR. Of course, I can’t find a sexy way to encapsulate either the Great Depression at the right number of syllables. Meh. Second, I get the Greek chorus bit, but given what Obama’s trying to be, wouldn’t the celebs have been better off going to random Obama office and picking up, say, 50 people represent the sheer diversity that’s rallied to his banner?

Part of me looks at the whole thing and sort of jeers ‘It’s not exactly “Do They Know it’s Christmas?'” and yet…it pushes my buttons like a Hallmark Card or a Ron Howard movie…

Oh, and It’s Hebrew at 1:09 and 1:44, as well as Spanish. For the glory of globalization, I’d have gone ahead and tapped Tony Shalub or Shohreh Aghdashloo to round out the token slots.


thompsaj 02.05.08 at 9:40 am

you knew Obama would pick up Common Sense because they’re both south side.


Katherine 02.05.08 at 10:45 am

@ 37 – I think you may want to concentrate more on powerless people of all different races, including, say, Eastern Europeans. Middle class blacks can probably take care of themselves.

Yes, abb, because of course worrying about racial discrimination means entirely ignoring other discriminated against groups. Sigh.

Anyway, what the hell has that got to do with whether Obama is black or not? Clearly he is – what with, y’know, actually being black. I was merely pointing out that being a descendent of slaves is not a prerequisite for being subject to racial discrimination.


abb1 02.05.08 at 11:18 am

Katherine, Seth said that Clinton was a fake ‘black president’ while Obama would be a real one. What I meant to say in my reply is that there’s gotta be more to being an American black than having dark skin. I understand now I that didn’t express it well, sorry – certainly not the first time, and not the last.

But if you still disagree with the premise, then we can try to examine this further. Clarence Thomas, for example, is a real black, descendant of slaves, individual who (I’m sure) experienced discrimination – and yet somehow I get the impression that most of the blacks wouldn’t call him a ‘real black supreme court judge’. How do you account for that? Who decides, how is it determined who is a real black and who isn’t?


Katherine 02.05.08 at 11:31 am

I think I have a basic problem with this “real black” versus, what “fake black” dichotomy. I understand that issue of being descending from slaves is of particular importance in the US, but from the outside it seems odd that Obama is being somehow criticised for not being black enough to be counted as authentically black. It’s as if he is being held responsible for the fact that his father’s father’s father wasn’t abused enough, which is preposterous.

It seems like a very odd thing for the Democrats to be doing, or allowing to happen – a realistic possibility for a President being told he hasn’t suffered enough. Apart from anything else, as someone else said above, does anyone really think that racists stop and take a family history before they discriminate?


abb1 02.05.08 at 1:02 pm

First of all, he is not “being held responsible”; all ‘not being black enough’ means is that he has no strong claim to being considered an integral part of the African-American culture, ethos. This might be a negative in the primaries (or might not be), but I suspect it would be a rather valuable asset for the general election.

And second, discrimination that exists today is only a part of the story, and I don’t think it’s even a major part. There is a long history to the ‘American blacks’ phenomenon, it’s complicated, it’s different in the north and in the south and he, simply, is not a part of it.

I used to work with dark-skinned recent immigrants from India, and they were nothing like dark-skinned Americans, nothing in common whatsoever. So what?


Ben 02.05.08 at 2:31 pm

It’s up to 2,497,197 aggregate views, across the eight YouTube uploads!



s.e. 02.05.08 at 2:59 pm

“Katherine, Seth said that Clinton was a fake ‘black president’ while Obama would be a real one. What I meant to say in my reply is that there’s gotta be more to being an American black than having dark skin.”

Jesus F Christ Abb sometimes you are as thick as others say. Did I say that Clinton was a “fake” black man? i don’t think so, but I’m too bored to look back up the thread. My point was clear: Clinton comes from “poor white trash.” That old term is used to refer to whites who live in economic and social proximity to poor blacks. That proximity historically has resulted both in tension and friendship. Clinton played to the latter and that’s what Toni Morrison was referring to. Her rhetoric was a bit silly but here point was valid.
But times have changed. This is theater, you idiot. Clinton was seen as more respectful to the black community and to black politics than Clarence Thomas. But Obama has moved into his territory and Clinton’s not taking it well. Simple Abb. Really fucking simple.


abb1 02.05.08 at 3:38 pm

I see Obama trying to move into that territory – very slowly and carefully and ready to retreat at any moment. His “we can all get along” mantra doesn’t even impress me – hey, it doesn’t even impress Paul Krugman! – let alone people in the Bronx. So, you’ve been captivated by the fad, so, fine, enjoy it while it lasts.


Andrea 02.05.08 at 4:15 pm

I found it because one of my internet friends emailed it to our email chat group.


Jon H 02.05.08 at 5:37 pm

“I used to work with dark-skinned recent immigrants from India, and they were nothing like dark-skinned Americans, nothing in common whatsoever. So what?”

Uh, it’s culture.

Obama grew up as a black kid in America. Not in India. You’re talking like Obama is himself from Kenya, grew up out of the country, and has no experience of what it means to be black in the US. Which is not the case.


abb1 02.05.08 at 6:00 pm


s.e. 02.05.08 at 6:17 pm

“So, you’ve been captivated by the fad, so, fine, enjoy it while it lasts”

I’m not captivated by anything about the politics of this country Abb [Obama on Israeli expansionism? At least as bad as everyone else and probably worse] I’m making an observation about the current response to Obama in the black community, and the divisions between the old school leadership and the younger generation. I could be wrong, who knows? But you’re spouting ideas based on old reports and preconceptions, and arguing for the sake of defending those, and what else, your own honor?
It’s not about where Obama went to school it’s about how he’s perceived. I don’t have to like the man much to pay attention.


abb1 02.05.08 at 6:48 pm

What I’m seeing in the news is him being endorsed by a bunch of Kennedys and people like Alec Baldwin. A lot of excitement among various rich paleolibs and college students. Also those (mostly politicians) hurrying to join the more popular team. Nothing’s wrong with any of that, of course. FWIW, I heard Jesse Jackson recently trying to endorse him in the most un-enthusiastic way possible and volunteering that his wife likes Clinton more.

I just don’t get the same impression you do, sorry.


Elaine 02.06.08 at 12:22 am

I saw it as a post from one of my Facebook contacts. The video is feed from YouTube, but embedded in the Facebook interface.


Marc 02.06.08 at 12:41 am

The man is inspiring, and the intensely sour comments by abb1 indicate only that he doesn’t get it. I guess that he’s still hoping that the revolution will come if we accentuate the contradictions.


Seth Edenbaum 02.06.08 at 3:56 am

“The man is inspiring”
Oh jezuz…
He’s auditioning for a job as our employee idiot, not our savior.


Seth Edenbaum 02.06.08 at 5:03 am

Abb kiddo, read this.
The rest of you too.


abb1 02.06.08 at 7:26 am

Seth, I got the impression that he only won the black vote in deep south – Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas. That’s a very specific and very different variety of black culture, church-going, god-fearing, authority-respecting, bowtie-wearing folks. It’s not very significant, I don’t think.

Otherwise – Idaho??? Alaska??? Friggin Kansas??? It is incredible. I dunno, maybe Clinton-hatred out there is much stronger than we realize.


wolfgang 02.06.08 at 1:56 pm

to follow up on my comment #15: it seems that the song did the job (at least for now) …


seth edenbaum 02.06.08 at 7:34 pm

“Seth, I got the impression”

from where?


abb1 02.07.08 at 8:25 am

Never mind, I was probably wrong. It’s just that I hate stupid identity politics.


Bro. Bartleby 02.08.08 at 8:39 pm

I can picture Joseph Goebbels watching and smiling and saying, “Very interesting … where is Leni? She must see this!”

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