Pranking the MySpace Presidential Campaign Trail
Mike Gravel is the Democratic presidential candidate most hungry for your friendship. Chris Dodd comes close; he's so desperate, he'll thank you for being his friend. "Thanks for the add," Chris'll say, dropping off a photograph of himself looking like a guy from a hemorrhoid ad before disappearing deep into the Connecticut night. But Dennis Kucinich, he'll take the time to get to know you. If you say, "Hey, Kuch, guess what televisions shows I like, you old Mayor of Cleveland from 1978-1979, you. I like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report," guess what Kuch will do? He'll write you a note that says, "Rock on, man, wooo! Daily Show and Colbert!" Because Kuch is down, as the kids say. He know what time it is.
And how do I know this? How am I so intimately acquainted with the social habits of these esteemed wannabe leaders of the United States of America? The same way people in this generation know anything about anyone: MySpace.
Several months back, while engaging in one of my 376 daily log-ins to the social-networking website to see the weirdest places my friends have slept/how long it takes them to get ready for school, I noticed a new feature called "Impact: Prez Focus," blatantly hyping various presidential candidates. Every time I refreshed the page, there was a different candidate, poised and ready for me to get to know them in all sorts of wacky Internet ways. I can't say I was surprised by this cyber-stumping. That slew of pay-attention-America-this-MySpace-is-a-relevant-force articles was so early 2006. Duh: MySpace is an easy way to reach millions. Duh, I say!
But I couldn't help but wonder just who was running these pages and how effectively they were running them. I couldn't imagine Barack Obama up late at night, dimly lit by a desk lamp, cleaning his giant ears with four Q-tips taped together and leaving a comment for Jessica, the thirteen-year-old from Phoenix who just dropped by to tell him she's saving her hymen for Zac Efron. So I decided to get some answers by setting up a fake MySpace page and getting friendly with the candidates. I named my MySpace identity Roderick McClain because I already had a gmail account set up under that name, which I use for purposes that I cannot get into here (kiddie porn). For Roderick's picture, I used a photograph of my roommate, Monty, figuring that in the event the FBI monitored this bizarre web experiment and decided Roderick had gone too far, they'd haul Monty off to Gitmo instead of me.
Now all I had to do was build Roderick McClain's personality. I wanted him to be everyman, but not too everyman. Political, but not too political. Clever, but not too clever. Because I wanted the candidates to want Roderick. I wanted them to see in him a possible vote, but not one that was guaranteed — a young man looking for answers, looking for leaders, a young man out there in MySpace land yearning to be swayed. I made Roderick's profile headline "Be the change," because any Democrats worth their weight in liberal guilt can't resist a Gandhi quote.
Kuch, Gravel and Dodd fell fast. They all accepted my friendship the day I proposed the union (Gravel in under an hour). Bill Richardson took me on the following day, as did Hillary. Yet with only five candidates in tow, I was already regretting my project. Because if you thought your friends bulletining their weekly DJ nights was annoying (Patrick), you haven't hung with the candidates. News of debates, television appearances, blogs, vlogs and polls flooded my page. I couldn't read one before another appeared, exclamation points abounding like some sort of hysterical politico shriekfest. Hillary was the absolute worst. So I decided to tell her so. And here's what you need to know about Hillary's MySpace persona: She won't allow you to message her, but she will allow you to leave comments. And she doesn't remove them.
"Hi, Hillary," Rod posted on her page. "You are leading the pack for me in terms of who's my favorite candidate. And I know you are running a campaign and everything, but I have to say, the bulletins are getting to be a bit much. Every day it's a bulletin about this with Hillary, a bulletin about that with Hillary, check out Hillary on this debate, look at the size of the swordfish Hillary caught. Enough. I ran for treasurer at the University of Colorado at Denver, and you know how many bulletins I sent out? One. I didn't win, but whatever. Who wants to annoy people? So anyway, don't mean to be rude, just think you might not be up on your MySpace etiquette, and I don't want you to annoy potential voters. Hugs, Rod."
This comment remains on her page to this day. Initially, I was proud of this fact, like I had impressed Hillary — or at least her Wesleyan-bound intern — enough to keep my whimsical comment afloat. But when I noticed that the guy who merely wrote "Hillary is a dyke" 200 times had similar staying power, I realized that perhaps this site was not as well-monitored as I thought. So Rod commented again.
"Sweet Jesus, Hillary, it's like you hear me but you don't listen. How many bulletins are on my MySpace page right at this moment from you? Great question, Hillary. The answer is three. 'Watch President Bill Clinton in Action,' 'Reviews Are In: Hillary Rocked the Wednesday Debate,' 'Check out Hillary flying a kite near some Hispanic children.' Enough, already. It's getting out of control."
No response, no deletion. Clearly, it was time to change tactics.
"So, like, when's Chelsea coming out to show a little support? I haven't seen her in forever. Is she seeing anyone these days? Would she like to be seeing someone? Say, a swarthy, liberal intellectual in the fine burg of Denver, Colorado? Tell her I have soft hands."
Again, no response. Fuck you, Hillary, I thought. No one is steering your MySpace ship. And that's a shame, because I really think Chelsea and Rod would have made a great couple. If she agreed to get her braces put back on, that is.
Emboldened by my Hillary experimentation (I wonder how many unfortunate '70s Yalies have uttered that exact line), I began messaging and commenting without fear of comeuppance or retribution. I was starting to think of the candidates the same way I do those creeps who leave comments about free gift cards for Macy's on your page, or the whores who solicit you to hit up their websites, where they post the naked pictures that MySpace won't allow them to show. For shame, you MySpace abusers, no one wants to see your naked pictures — and I'm especially looking at you, Chris Dodd. Although nude pics of John Edwards? Kind of curious...
To Dennis Kucinich: "Thanks for the add, Kuch! You definitely kick some A! And I love that you were the only candidate to vote against the war in Iran. They all act like the fact that they supported the war in Iran never happened. Keep keeping it real, and you def have my vote."
Bill Richardson: "So, George Lopez? Funny or not funny? Oh! Ditto Mencia."
Chris Dodd: "The stern glower that you left me as a comment falls somewhere betwixt inspiring and terrifying. It's inspirifying. Like someone made a wax copy of you, then photographed it, and then sent those photos to people around the world. P.S. Did you know that 'Chris' almost sounds like 'Christ'?"
Mike Gravel: "Sooo, thanks for the add and all, but I'm not going to lie: I have no idea who you are. I assume that you are the man who invented gravel and you used that wealth to springboard into politics, but I really have no idea. But that's what this whole MySpace thing is about, right? Meeting new people, learning more about them? So hit me back, son. Let me know a bit more about yourself and why I should vote for you. If your response is in haiku form — traditional construction — I guarantee a vote. Peace out."
In response, a volunteer named Deborah informed me that while the man did not invent gravel, he filibustered the draft during Vietnam and stopped underground nuclear testing in Alaska — like that wasn't going to happen anyway. But at least Gravel wrote back; none of my other candidate friends responded. Even worse, two weeks into my experiment, John Edwards, Joe Biden and Barack Obama had not even added me to their list of friends! I mean, here was Obama, with some googolplex friends, and he couldn't even take on the Rod? The guy who loves the Dave Matthews Band, microbrews and kayaking? So I wrote the three holdouts, offering them one more chance.
John Edwards: "Hey, man. How come I can't get an add as a friend? Is it the smell? I'm working on that. But even those of us who stink need a good president. There, I said it."
P.S.: Send nude pics.
Joe Biden: "Hey, yo, Biden, what's up with the no add, man? I've been waiting for two weeks to get down with the Biden MySpace friendship, to no response. I saw you give a speech once to a class of graduating Northwestern Law School students. It was really political and, like, screamy. So let me get your friendship, player. I'll put you in my top eight. What is the point of having a MySpace page if you're going to leave fools like the Rod straight hanging?"
Barack Obama: "Hey, man, I've been waiting on a pseudo MySpace friendship for over two weeks now. I know I'm not as hot or as vapid as the Obama Girl, but come on: Accept the friendship, man. Every vote counts, Obama. Every vote counts. Except in Florida."
Even after these heartfelt entreaties, Biden and Edwards did not accept my friend requests. They are now dead to me. But finally, Obama took me on as a comrade, so I sent him the following as a thank-you: "I just wanted to say how excited I am that you're running for president. I think having a Muslim in office right now sends the exact right message to the rest of the world: America has changed; we're not the same country that you hate so much. But I really don't know all that much about the Muslim religion, so I just want to make sure you're not, like, extremist Muslim or anything. You know, like terrorist Muslim fundamentalists and stuff that you see on CNN. You've never been associated with any sects like that as a Muslim, have you? Anyway, probably a stupid question, but just wanted to check."
No response. Come on, Obama, I saw you on Conan once, and you were great! I thought you were supposed to have a sense of humor!
If these candidates have no clue as to the proper etiquette necessary to maintain healthy MySpace relationships, how can they hope to lead America into the future? I was despairing of ever finding a candidate I could get behind until, several days after his last message, Gravel posted a kick-ass comment on my page:
A vote for Gravel
Is a vote for the people
The man's got my vote. C'mon, he invented gravel.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Westword's biggest stories.