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Best buy

Election 2008 | Huge fundraising aside, culture-makers have granted Obama icon status for free

Issue: "Not over till it's over," Nov. 1, 2008

Voters weary of political advertising on television may want to avoid DISH Network's Channel 73: It's all Obama, all the time. The Democratic candidate's campaign bought all the satellite station's airtime through Nov. 4 and broadcasts a continual loop of Obama campaign ads and biographical videos.

That's not the campaign's only big buy: The Obama camp has also purchased 30 minutes of prime time spots on CBS, NBC, and Fox networks for nearly $1 million each. (Federal law requires networks to sell airtime to political candidates at reduced rates.) The Oct. 29 mega-ad could collide with a possible Game 6 of the World Series, but Major League Baseball made a mega-concession: They'll delay the game's start by 15 minutes if necessary.

Obama's huge fundraising success allows the candidate to saturate airways and websites with a throng of commercials, but Obama doesn't live on political advertising alone: Culture-makers have granted the candidate icon status for free.

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Obama's image pops up in popular video games. Rap and reggae artists flood concerts and MTV with pro-Obama songs. Snoop Dogg showed up on Larry King Live to endorse the candidate. While Sen. John McCain draws nods from celebrities like country singer Hank Williams Jr. and actor Jon Voight, Obama draws powerhouse artists like Stevie Wonder, Sheryl Crowe, and a slate of top-tier Hollywood actors.

When Rolling Stone retired its oversize format for a standard size magazine, editors designed back-to-back political covers: The latest oversized edition features a cartoon image of a crazed McCain with the headline, "Make Believe Maverick." The first standard-size issue featured a smiling Obama, and editor Jan Wenner wrote inside: "Like the man we are featuring on the cover for the third time in seven months . . . we embrace the idea of change."

Dick Crepeau, a professor of American cultural history at the University of Central Florida, called Obama's pop cultural dominance "stunning."

"It's very, very calculatingly done, and they've done it very well," he told The Dallas Morning News. But Crepeau warned that icon status can backfire once a candidate takes office: "If you have this phenomenon where people see in a candidate what they most want to see, then I think the potential for disillusionment goes up exponentially."

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.

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