Mitt Romney: Too hot for a cool medium?


August 27, 2012  –  Mitt Romney: Too hot for a cool medium?  –  By John Doyle

          The GOP presidential wannabe tries too hard on TV, & that never works

With less mainstream TV coverage unfolding, it is all the more vital for the candidates to get face time on TV with those 66 per cent of Americans looking for info and impressions. In the end, you can have your Twitter. It’s TV that gets people elected. 

Thing is, being on TV isn’t enough. It’s what you do on it. Television can destroy. And television has, maybe, already destroyed Mitt Romney. Not through any bias, but through the dynamic of the medium’s delivery of the message. (Of course, Republicans will inevitably assert bias, and do it with the same fervour with which some of them assert their outlandish opinions on how women actually get knocked up.) For enlightenment we turn, as we must, to our old friend Marshall McLuhan. 

In McLuhan terms, on TV Barack Obama is still cool while Romney is relentlessly hot. Hot is bad. TV is a cool medium. Yep, by McLuhan’s definition – and he was correct in so much – hot is very, very bad.


See, for all his hard-plastic handsomeness, regular features, bright smile and wealth, Romney on TV never appears fully at ease in his own skin. He grins but gives the impression of being utterly humourless, and the constantly flashing smile makes viewers wonder what the heck he’s smiling about. There’s the suggestion of innate smugness, a trait that is simply off-putting on TV, though politicians often mistake smugness for self-confidence and poise. In Romney’s case, it’s a matter of intensity and exertion to impress. That exertion creates the heat of energy and, when seen on TV, it makes people uneasy. Guy’s trying too hard. And if he’s that rich and successful, why is he coming across like a slightly desperate, grinning huckster?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Barack Obama on TV is a classic example of McLuhan’s definition of TV as a cool medium. Cool media benefit a candidate who is utterly relaxed. Cool media require effortless completion by the audience. The viewer can project a great deal onto certain people on TV, people who understand its “cool” quality. People on TV, in their relationship with TV cameras send a message. In Obama’s case, the message is that he’s confident, unruffled, at ease with himself, and has nothing to hide. He doesn’t generate the heat of trying.

There is no tide of “hope” and “change” to help him raise this time. There’s disappointment and despair about the economy. But on TV he’s serene and thoughtful, not defensive or desperate. That’s key.

This is not to say that Romney is totally toast. The deluge of TV attack ads aimed at Obama can undermine his campaign in a way that no amount of his serenity on TV can defeat. It is a fact that 66 per cent of Americans say television is their main source of news and it probably includes the maelstrom of poison and malice that is the attack-ad war. That deluge is neither hot nor cool but as destructive as Isaac, and who smote U.S. politics with that?


The best article on Obama’s “coolness” advantage is this one from the last presidential election: Obama: truly cool, in a McLuhanesque sense JOHN DOYLE,  February 25, 2008

Barack Obama scares the bejeepers out of some elements of the U.S. media, particularly the ranting right-wing TV pundits with their talking points and caveman approach to political debate. This is particularly true of the Fox News Channel, which changed the tenor of U.S. politics by taking an aggressively cynical, browbeating tack in covering anything or anyone who seemed to challenge the Bush administration. Right now, Fox News seems mesmerized by the Obama campaign, and afraid to attack him.


“Politics will eventually be replaced by imagery. The politician will be only too happy to abdicate in favor of his image, because the image will be much more powerful than he could ever be”. – Marshall McLuhan

“The hidden ground of American politics is now a simultaneous information environment that extends to the entire planet. This situation is structured and patterned for role playing rather than for goals or policies. In effect, this means that both political parties and policies have little relevance in a world that expects a total-service environment. This charismatic image has replaced the goals and the parties and the policies.” – Marshall McLuhan, 1976

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