'Star Wars' Strategy: Celebrity and Politics Combine Forces

In the week before the Indiana and North Carolina Democratic primaries, supporters of Barack Obama unleashed a force they hoped would prove strong enough to take away Hillary Clinton's momentum.

Their weapon: an Internet parody. The Empire Strikes Barack

Obama's latest dismissals of Clinton's gas-tax holiday and Clinton's insinuations of his elitism are brought to battle in a montage of "Star Wars" lightsaber battles and news conference sound-bites.

While unlikely to help the Obama campaign dramatically change what look to be tight races in those states, the YouTube video does demonstrate how political campaigns have learned that crossing into media coverage where celebrities normally roam means as much as a meet-and-greet on the campaign trail.

Robert Thompson, professor of media and popular culture at Syracuse University in New York and director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television, thinks appearances in media outside of the news cycle are helpful for aspiring presidents.

"The presidential candidates are trying to put together a constituency of voters that will help put them over the top," Thompson said. "It's almost like the old whistle-stops where the presidential candidates got off at every stop and kissed a few babies. The modern day equivalent of the whistle-stop campaign is you do the stops on television."

Of course, politicians in the media are nothing new. Richard Nixon was on "Laugh-In" in the 70's. Bill Clinton played sax for Arsenio Hall. Last election, candidate Howard Dean demonstrated the power of Internet organizing with his campaign.

But today we see impersonators of the candidates pummeling each other on the "WWE" on the night before the Pennsylvania primary. We watch Obama adding Oprah Winfrey and the Obama Girl to his endorsements, and Clinton popping up on "The Tyra Banks Show" for a heart-to-heart. All three candidates have visited late-night shows and "Saturday Night Live" for some self-depreciating comedy.

On April 9, John McCain, Clinton and Obama joined a host of "real celebrities" on the celebrity-making show, "American Idol." The candidates pre-taped requests asking the audience to donate during the charity episode. Other participating entertainers included Mariah Carey, Bono, Miley Cyrus and Snoop Dogg.

Even presidents can join the fray. President George Bush appeared on "Deal or No Deal" in April to wish an Iraq War veteran good luck and laugh at his own low approval ratings.

"I think 20 or 30 years ago, when the line between news reporting and entertainment was much more clear, the response would have been more negative if politicians were routinely placing themselves in that venue," said Becca Cragin, assistant professor of popular culture at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

But today, even the candidates' spouses and children are part of the blending of celebrity and politics.

In April, Cindy McCain interviewed with "Access Hollywood." Topics included her husband's alleged infidelity, her victory over an addiction to pain-killers, and how the most romantic thing her husband does on a regular basis is look at her with adoring puppy-dog eyes.

"They realize it's a different type of interview," said Rob Silverstein, executive producer of "Access Hollywood."

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