Why the Obama documentary works

Matt K. Lewis | Senior Contributor

By now, you’ve probably seen the new Obama documentary, “The Road We’ve Traveled.” Here’s why it works: The best propaganda is that which appears to be neutral. Most political videos have a certain indefinable look and feel that screams “I’m political!” Like Christian rock used to be, it’s impossible to see a political ad and not know immediately that someone has ulterior motives.

This documentary, however, looks like something that might have been made by the History Channel.

Like him or not, Tom Hanks has become something of a national treasure, and his voice lends credibility. The still photos (and other media-savvy techniques) add to the ambiance. Despite the fact that this is, in fact, a paid political ad (and that it includes some incorrect information) the film seems more like edutainment than a political ad — which is precisely why it works.

It would be naive to think that one film can make a difference in a long campaign. But culture is more important than politics, and, on the margins, this sort of thing moves the needle. At the very least, this is a clear signal the Obama folks — at least, whoever was responsible for crafting this video — have a keen sense of how to tap into popular culture and how to use images and words to influence attitudes.

If this is a hint of what is to come — if this sort of message is repeated — then this will be a very sophisticated media campaign.

We should expect nothing less.

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