Monday, October 18, 2010

RoboCalls: Part Man, Part Machine, All Calls (or, I Like My Politics Like I Like My Mountain Dew: "American-Style")

Remember how dull everything had been, for the longest time, in the leadup to this civic election? The summer months of silence, the early autumn of broad platitudes and campaign re-announcements? Well, forget that noise! This civic campaign is going to be remembered for its last few weeks, and its last few weeks are being so exaggeratedly snippy that we're all going to be laughing and shaking our heads about it for years and years to come.

It was just about a week ago that both major candidates for Mayor started to go a bit crazy, gave up on playing nice, and straight-up just started accusing each other of being the most contemptible money-grubbing little lying weasels. The Katz campaign bought up some specialized machines to phone folks all over the city, threatening -- you would swear that I make this kind of thing up if we weren't all familiar with it at this point -- threatening that seniors and low-income families are going to lose their houses as a direct result of a potential Wasylycia-Leis victory.

(The Katz campaign also made a point of not apologizing when the caller ID on their robocalls gave some woman's home phone number instead and she got thousands of angry, seemingly random phone messages that day. Small wonder that the picture of her in that article shows her making a Card Crusher face.)

Team Katz justified the threats by rationalizing that an earlier announcement from the Manitoba Government Employees Union was probably supposed to be taken as a threat that a Katz victory would leave people stranded without an ambulance, which... I mean, c'mon, that only happened once this past month. (It's not like there's a Twitter feed specifically to announce every time that the city runs out of ambulances, or anything.) And who is it assumed that unions are probably supporting? Except for the couple supporting Katz -- and you don't even need to ask him about them, he blurts them out at frequent intervals -- the assumption is that most union support would default to the NDP candidate. (Well, "former" NDP candidate, anyway; didn't you know there are no party politics in City Hall?) There you go, provocation, clearly everything is square now.

But I guess that explanation wasn't really expected to stick, because the day after that Katz accused the Wasylycia-Leis campaign of bullying seniors into believing that they'll lose their CUPE pensions if they vote against Judy. Her response was to disavow any knowledge of CUPE's volunteer calls and claim that CUPE doesn't officially support her campaign, which... sounds suspect at best when their approved guideline phone-script happens to match her talking points exactly. (Yo, politics ain't that complicated.)

But this still wasn't quite the offsetting minor that Katz's camp had hoped for, trying as they were to equate their prerecorded automated Mayor-voiced mass-call with an unrecorded, unsourced insinuation allegedly made to one woman who asked not to be named. What to do next? If you were thinking "accuse the Wasylycialites of flooding the city with imported union workers", bam! Perfect score, well done.

The mayoral race has been nothing but awkward and savage since then, including international attention for a parody commercial made back in August when the Mayor hoofed a kid right in the face, but the even stranger dimension around the whole thing is that this isn't even the nastiest race in town.

Kowalson and Orkilow are tearing it up in River Heights, putting on a veritable clinic of just the worst possible bullshit. My only wish is that I could rig it so that their election never happens, and that the two of them would both spend the entire next term just campaigning like this and dragging each other through newer and darker mud every couple of days. Then, if nothing is solved after four years, they fight with knives. You know, like gentlemen.

And you know what the absolute best part is? There's still almost a week and a half left! Were you thinking that everybody involved has hit their peak of being completely terrible? Naw, son. Nine days is a long time to sit and be polite after you've had a taste of the mud-slinging, the Astroturf-organizing, the union-importing and the senior-threatening and the dead-councillor-invoking and all the glorious lunacy that only really crops up come election time.

What are we in for these next nine days, then? Well, humour me a bit of theoretical prognosticating here. An anonymous benefactor, noting my very public interest at the time, elected to email me a full copy of the original Sam Katz robocall -- so, extrapolating the Mayor's initial forays into the "American Style" through the functional relation of desperation over time, I've put together a compilation that may help to predict the overall tone this election may take in its final days.

How close will these guesses actually be? We're about to find out! October 27th -- so close, and yet so very, very far away. Stay tuned!

For the curious, some completely extraneous technical notes on the video:

-- Katz's original robocall does not resemble his actual speaking voice in the slightest, so you can probably tell that I was having a heck of a time trying to find a proper balance between the two of them for each clip. (You can probably also tell that I am not a professional voice actor, by any stretch of the imagination.)

-- My apologies if the volume levels bounce around a bit for you, even despite my best efforts; I hadn't actually considered how antiquated and massively underpowered my computer is for sound editing until it started choking on Audacity, which is just, I mean, what the hell. One day I will have a permanent job and be able to buy myself a Mac, or something, and then I will use it exclusively for autotuning politicians in Garageband. Because I am so lame. The lamest.

-- Anybody who remembers the 1990 animated special Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue knows that singing in character is difficult to pull off properly (thanks for coming, Garfield), so I'm actually disproportionately pleased with how that penultimate clip came off. Keeping it short helped, of course. I hadn't played guitar in quite a while -- and it shows! -- but I assume that Katz hasn't, either, so it works out just as well with a pile of mistakes in it. Seems more authentic that way, I'm hoping.

-- The clipping in the third-to-last clip was unfortunate, but unavoidable, and I liked the delivery behind it enough that I finally just caved and left it in. Pretend he's just complaining into the phone really hard.

-- There are a lot of ways to mispronounce "Wasylycia-Leis". I did my best to bust out a different one each time, but I don't know how well I succeeded. Alas.

-- The rap sample is Cymande's "The Message", from 1972, and I probably didn't need to tell you that at all because it's one of the most sampled tracks in the history of ever. Still classic, though!

-- I stole the image from myself, and now the royalty payments have me completely confused.

-- ...What's she building in there?


Anonymous said...


Now we just need a Judy mashup ... with her incoherent ramblings it would be a riot!

James Hope Howard said...

Yeah, but YouTube only allows a fifteen-minute upper limit on their videos, so it wouldn't be that well written a piece if we can only fit in three or four of her sentences.

The View from Seven said...

LOL -- great video!

Fortunately things haven't descended to the level they got to in the 2008 U.S. race. Check out some of these comments from regarding middle-of-the-night robocalls as dirty political tricks:

"At 4:59 AM on Feb. 19th I received a phone call that had a recorded message from Hillary Clinton campaigning to a group of poeple in Upper New York state."

"got a call from 616-980-2604 at 1:00am with a person giving some sort of political speech"

"Received a call from 616-980-2604 at 4:53 am this morning. There was a recorded voice giving a political speech and all I could think about was that it was the ghost of Hubert Humphrey giving a speech about the current stat of US politics"

Anonymous said...

I think I'm in love with you.

The View from Seven said...

Which "you"? James? Katz? Me? Anonymous #1? ;-)

alternagirl said...

You are my hero James Howard.

James Hope Howard said...

Hey, thanks! That's very kind of you to say.