Hilary Soprano: Ill-Conceived Media VIrus

The Hilary Clinton campaign’s Soprano’s satire is such an extremely ill-conceived effort at viral media that it demands comment, here. I believe that Bill and Hilary’s self-presentation as Tony and Carmela Soprano – however tongue-in-cheek – will mark the critical turning point in Hilary’s campaign. From a semiotic perspective, she has just “offed” herself.

As most visitors to this site will know, a media virus is a unit of media communication that gets attention by either breaking a rule of media, or standing out as a unique media combination. (The Rodney King tape got attention less because a guy was getting beaten by cops, than for the very fact that this scene was captured on videotape. The initial story was the camcorder.) A media virus uses this opportunity to release its code. (In the Rodney King tape, it was the racially charged event of a black guy getting beaten by white cops.) If the code successfully nests itself in the confused code of the audience, it will replicate rapidly until an honest conversation is provoked in the greater culture.

Making use of the story of the week – the Sopranos finale – was a clever enough attempt to exploit the first feature of media viruses. The fact that Hilarys’ campaign used the scene as a way of announcing its campaign song is a story in itself. Media loves stories about media, and so the clip spread from the Internet to CNN and the rest of mainstream TV.

What the campaign failed to take into account is the specific role that the Sopranos might play in establishing a new semiotic for the Clintons. What sort of symmetry might exist between the Clintons and this mob family? What actually happens in the Soprano’s scene?

Hilary Clinton put herself in the role of Tony Soprano. He is a sociopath and a killer, willing to do anything for power. Why would a candidate present herself in such a role? In this scene in particular, we experience the world of the Sopranos – maybe for the first time – in Tony’s point of view. And it’s not pleasant. What on the surface could be any of our lives, is revealed to be a paranoid and existential hell. Death could come at any moment, from any side. In the original scene, all we can think about is, where will the bullets come from?

Hilary and Bill Clinton have just made sure we equate Hilary’s ambitions and life with that of Tony Soprano (or, worse, Carmela – a woman who suffered her husband’s affairs in order to maintain the right to spend the capital he accumulates. Sound familiar?)

At best, the campaign understood all of this, and thought by playing it out in the open they could somehow neutralize the associations Americans already had about these two. But they did the reverse. Honestly, I didn’t think about Bill and Hilary this way until I watched the clip. And at that point, all the reservations that other people had about the couple became really clear to me.

No, this has nothing to do with policy. It’s pure symbolism. Representation. And – at least for the next few election cycles – that’s what will elect and disqualify candidates. Hilary Soprano. That’s not a media virus you want to messing around with.