Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Politics of Julia: Obama's Info Graphic Assault

"Do it to Julia!"
-- George Orwell, 1984 (yeah, it's kind of a low blow)
If you have been anywhere near the political blogosphere lately you have heard about "Julia." Julia is the title character in Team Obama's Life-of-Julia "interactive infographic" which introduces you to the title character through 12 stages of her life (age 3 to 67) and shows in info-graphic style how she benefits from the Obama administration's policies (each slide contrasts them to purported Romney policies).

Let's take a look!

The Infographic
The device itself isn't especially interactive: all you do is click from one slide to the next. Beyond a faint "jiggle" as the frames change there is no motion or sound or anything else. Here are some of the slides themselves:
The Life of Julia    a.k.a., how NOT to live
Julia Age 3: Her dress matches the flower-pot ... Romney Blue
Wonder what got her injured? Extreme study habits?
Women achieve equal pay for equal work in 2035 ... and she's reading a newspaper!? This is the only slide where you ever see her left hand.
Age 25: She changed her hair color for graduation. Also: The American flag is on the wrong side of the podium (it goes on the speaker's right). It took her eight years to graduate. Did she get an MD?
Age 27: No--she got a Web-Design degree. What was she doing in college between 18 and 25? Also: Family values: she waits to sleep around until after college ... maybe. Finally? There's something different about this slide. What is it? We'll come back to it later.
Age 31: She's back to her original hair color for the baby!

Age 37: This slide contains the only other person ever appearing in the infographic. Are there any whiter names than Julia and Zachary?
Age 67: She volunteers at a community garden because in the end times the supply chains have collapsed. Her right hand is hiding a mini-gun
I left out her starting a web-design business with government loan.

What Do People Think?
This depends largely on who you ask. Let's "ask" a few people.

Team Obama
It tells a plain and clear story about how Obama's planning makes life better for Julia. It makes a strong and powerful case that throughout her life her experience is improved by various government programs she takes advantage of. The message: Obama is good for women.

The Republicans
"Who the hell is 'Julia' and why am I paying for her whole life?" Republicans are, in fact, fairly het-up about Julia. If you want a measure of its success, look at the amount of electronic ink split going after it. Now, most of this is spent on mockery. The Heritage Foundation takes a stab at an actual rebuttal in infographic form. Let's take a look at a few slides.
Uh ... yeah. My three year old cries himself to sleep every night about the national debt ... guys!?
I'm totally confused here. Will THE STATE actually pursue / pay for her health care "if she needs it" (uh, no: Let Her Die). Alternatively, are her parents rich enough to pay for college AND her insurance? Because tax credits on her 40 Semester hours comes to zero dollars unless I missed a decimal or something.
Free Markets, Free People? What--is she reading The New Frontiersman? Give her an iPad 5, Heritage Foundation ... EMPOWER HER!
Well, at least they got the flag on the right side. On the other hand, Julia is free-loading off her parents ...
While I am sure Julia supports religious freedom, if she is Catholic should she be buying birth control at all? And if she's not Catholic? I'm sure she views it as a plus that she has to pay for it herself. Just like she paid her way through college ... right?
Suffice it to say that at the end of The Heritage Foundation's slide show she has a healthy nest egg because the tax code incentivized savings and there is no mention of a community garden (socialism!).

In any event, the Republicans have decided that:
  1. Julia needs WAY too much help from the government. Isn't that insulting?
  2. Julia gets WAY too much help from the government. Isn't that expensive?
  3. Julia isn't married but has a kid. Maybe she's slut--why does she need all that birth control or something?
The Washington Post
The Obama campaign could have chosen to fight Romney with real specifics — such as saying that Julia could retire as scheduled, without fear of an increase in her retirement age — but instead it chose to compare a version of Romney’s proposals with a potentially unrealistic outcome.
What Does It Mean?
 Let's take this in two parts. The first is: what is the message Team Obama wants you to hear. The second is "What is the white-space? What is left out? What is the message behind the message?" These are somewhat different things with Julia.

The Text
The major message here is about security. Each point shows the reader, a woman, how Obama's policies make her and her son secure. Yes: at one point she can start a business--and she gets equal pay--but in every other case it's about a safety net. Women are said to be more risk averse than men (there are some suggestions that women would make better across-the-board financial fund managers for this reason) and I would say the voting-message here finds that the center of the bulls-eye. Julia still has to go to school and work hard to get ahead--but her health care, savings, and services (schools) are taken care of by the policies. Where she uses the government for her personal economy? It's about fairness (equal pay and a loan to start her business with).

Consider this: Julia is, without question, marketing to women. What about the messages makes it not marketing to men? The birth-control issue is the obvious one--but health concerns, school quality concerns, and fairness of pay concerns are traditionally more women's issues than male ones. Also: a community garden? Most people on the "guy" scale are not looking forward to twilight years of community gardening (alternate timeline: 'Winston' uses his Obama-Provided X-Box Live account to play Call of Duty 54 in the old-folks home!)

If you want a Republican perspective, here are some selected quotes from "What Women Want" (Republican women) on the Republican candidates:
Gingrich“His strong core makes me feel secure.” She also explained that “he doesn’t care what others think.”
Ron PaulIn fact, she says she likes the fact that Paul is “consistent across all his views.” When asked why she feels this way, she said, “He’s less susceptible to special interests.” This, she said, makes her feel that she can “rely on him.” She thinks that his positions are not just empty rhetoric; as a result, she can “connect with him.”
Mitt RomneyCarolyn started off by saying she liked Romney’s “business background.” She explained, “When you know that your candidate has that pride in America and the American system, it gives me faith, and I feel protected.”
The Sub-Text
On the other hand, there is some interesting subtext. Let's look at two things:
  1. After school you never see her left hand. You do see her right hand when she's pregnant. If you are looking for a wedding ring? It's mysterious. To be sure, Julia is probably statistically married. However, Team Obama is hedging: Romney's gender gap is most starkly a marriage gap. Julia may or may not be married. May or may not be a lesbian. The infographic avoids any person other than her son--and he, only in one scene. She even goes to the doctor alone.
  2. Let's go back to those slides I talked about. They have reverse colors.Romney's (bad) alternative is dark blue in every slide but two. In these two the background is dark blue--the world is Romney. These slides are on the issues of: Birth Control and Retirement Age. Both of these are the major "scare points." If you think Romney might make it hard to get birth control (insane: making it Santorum-illegal. Not insane: defending Planned Parenthood) or mess with the retirement age that, for two important voting blocs (and retirees have, demographically, more women than men), is scary. This is not accidental.
The Other Shoe Dropping: Nano-Targeting
If you are anywhere near electronic marketing you've heard of "Micro-Targeting" which is the idea of getting your message to a small number of the right people rather than a massive, costly, wasteful shot-gun approach. The current campaigns--but especially the Obama campaign are using data-mining techniques to "nano-target" demographics--especially? Unmarried women--for their message. When a message vehicle like Julia becomes effective, it becomes hugely amplified if they can spend the money to ensure that large portions of their target market views it.

This is harder than you might think--but the theory is that the pay-off will be huge. The take-away here is that if you look at Julia and go ... eh? There are (in theory) a large, valuable pool of people (single women) to whom this speaks. If, in fact, it does "speak" then know this: Team Obama has exactly the right megaphone to broadcast it with.

What Do I Think?
Of course the big deal here is that so long as Team Obama can keep the media and Team Romney talking about women ... they win. Romney is not likely to "win over" single women on his platform of social values. He could on the economy, yes--but that is not a "women" discussion (as he has said) it's a "jobs" discussion, which is to say: everyone. Julia is brilliant in that it has captured mind-share and conversation. People who'd never have heard of it have seen it because of the conservative dust-up about it. The specific points are either brilliant (one person I know said "brutal") and compelling for Obama--or else paint a picture of a frighteningly expensive welfare state--but considering that The Heritage Foundation's rebuttal was (to be kind) weak, I think it is clear that Team Obama has hit the mark with this.

If the conversation for the next few months revolves around a hyper-targeted Julia? That's not good news for Romney.

Rating: B

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