What does president Obama have in common with The Flight of the Conchords? I’ll spare you the impossible puzzling: you already read the answer. ‘Cheaper sneakers’. Check Obama’s Vox interview at 29 minutes 45, and our New Zealanders’ song at 1 minute 30. Now, before you go wild on the far-fetchedness of suggesting a liaison between these two fragments: I’m not trying to convince you that Obama is a fan, nor am I revealing that Bret and Jemaine are the true rulers of the planet.
Imagine you could label the soundbite ‘cheaper sneakers’ and trace it wherever it is spoken or heard, written or read and repeated or not. You would be able to see it move between videos, to people, to texts and vice versa. You’d see it reproduce in brains and come out of new minds all the time, rippling ever onwards through society, back and forth between the digital world and the other one. Now and then it would probably even appear out of nowhere. I imagine that if you could follow it, you would see it travel through the noosphere in much the same way as bacteria or viruses travel through the biological world. If you could track down ‘cheaper sneakers’ and study it’s behaviour wherever it goes, you would probably call the fragment alive.
Why has this co-occurence triggered me? Why ‘cheaper sneakers’? Why not ‘the dance floor’ or ‘I have a dream job’? What makes this one so special? Well, whether it happens quickly or in slow motion, the song of The Flight of the Conchords perpetually bounces around in my head. The instant Barack mentioned the sneakers, it surfaced to my awareness. It sounds catchy, doesn’t it? Cheaper… sneakers… . It’s got groove. But most of the power of this catchy combination of words comes from what it symbolizes. A field of tension between the rich and the poor. It is the product of hard, unfair work done in Bangladesh, that’s comforting our feet. A spiritual friction. I knew I would write this article the instant I heard him mention it.
‘Cheaper sneakers’ is a dimension of thoughts encapsulated in an appealing sound and an image. The fact that Obama used it in this Vox interview indicates its enormous political power. Mark my words: you will hear it more often in the context of the equalizing economy. It is turning into a discursive weapon that can be used to silence political opponents.
Now: are politicians using these words or are the words using the politicians? If politicians depend on the composition of strong soundbites for their power, how much in control are they, really, of the course of mankind? What is that force inside these words that pushes them into our brains? If the words big people herd live double lives, how much influence do these people truly have?
Being able to measure the movements of soundbites through the digital and analogous worlds would, I don’t doubt it, provide us humans with a spectacularly humbling view upon ourselves. And who knows, with the increasing registration of absolutely everything, perhaps one day we will do such measurements. I think it would be fun to see.