Thanks to C-SPAN, you can watch presidential convention history in supercut form.
C-SPAN launched in 1979. And pretty much ever since, it has been recording footage of, among other political affairs, the ever-more-predictable proceedings of national party conventions. In the video above, the channel chops its historical footage, creating a supercut of every single presidential nomination acceptance since 1984. And not just the acceptance speech, mind you, but the acceptance itself: the precise moment when each nominee, from 1984 to 2008, moved from "presumptive" to "declared," accepting his party's endorsement for the presidency.
As Mashable notes, "The video isn't just political history, but [a] time capsule of technology as well." Not only do the cut videos show television evolving as a medium on a four-year cycle, with color and clarity improving over time; they also offer a time-lapse evolution of TV as an entertainment medium. Even the wonderfully wonky C-SPAN takes part in that process, its chyrons growing brighter and jazzier with each passing convention.
What comes through even more clearly, though, is cut video's cheeky ability to present politics from new perspectives. We're used to seeing acceptance speeches as speeches, the "I accept your nominations" acting as the culminations of their rhetoric. But C-SPAN's back-to-back, cut-to-cut angle brings an element of side-to-side to history's party nominees. Comparison shopping, with candidates as the goods. As Motherboard's Brian Merchant puts it, "It's striking how each of the ten-second snippets showcased here so deeply embody each of the candidates' political styles."
And, totally: Dole is emphatic. Reagan is affable. Gore is monotonal. Clinton can't resist adding dramatic pauses and nods and lip-bites and words to his seconds-long oration.
In his cover story this month, James Fallows observed that "the easiest way to judge 'victory' in many debates is to watch with the sound turned off, so you can assess the candidates' ease, tenseness, humor, and other traits signaled by their body language." The video here takes that idea for a drive, but in reverse: It separates not sound from image, but moments from context. It reveals candidates' essential personas not through sight, but through a process of separation and synthesis. All the pageantry of the political process comes down to ten little words -- a few more, if the politician in question can't resist embellishing a bit.
There is something remarkable and a tad disconcerting about that split-second accuracy, about the way these iconic politicians' iconic personas reveal themselves so cleanly in the space of a few seconds. Inestimable time, attention, and money are expended on the business of defining politicians in the public mind. Here are the results of that process, laid bare and mashed together and revealing exactly what we already knew.