"You don't want to get me in trouble, do you?" Obama Girl coyly whispers into the phone with a laugh and maybe a wink.
If I didn't know any better, I'd think she's trying to flirt with me. I had asked her if I could possibly get a hint about the new video she is working on, and the response was perhaps her most genuine of the entire interview.
Amber Lee Ettinger, better known as Obama Girl, rose to pseduocelebrity status last summer after her video, "I've Got a Crush on Obama," was a smashing hit on YouTube. Since then, Ms. Ettinger has starred in numerous sequels, all released through BarelyPolitical.com. The original video has almost reached eight million hits on YouTube alone and E! recently named Ms. Ettinger the "#1 Hottest Woman on the Web."
So it's probably pretty obvious why I expressed interest in interviewing her. She's the trailblazer of a new generation of Internet campaigning. And because our state will host the Primary of All Primaries on Tuesday. She's also a Pa. native, originally from Hazleton. Yeah, all that.
What I didn't realize is that she's strengthening our democracy with every hip thrust. Obama Girl reaches and energizes a politically apathetic YouTube generation like no candidate can.
The constant question surrounding the interview was whether I was speaking to Obama Girl, the Senator's sexiest surrogate or Amber Lee, the model and political opportunist who was an undecided voter when she agreed to this project. It was only after the first video was shot that she actually learned about Obama.
The two entities obviously share a tangential relationship, and Ms. Ettinger goes to great lengths to portray herself as an extension of her fictional counterpart. She praises Obama for his charisma and "the way he excites people."
Obama Girl seems to be excited in a different way, as evidenced by lines such as "You can Barack me tonight."
In contrast, Amber Lee seems Puritanical. When I asked what her ideal date with Obama would be, she cleverly replied, "Talking politics," adding, "But I don't really want to go on a date with him. He's married."
She also seems comically naive about the sexuality of her videos, saying, "I always tell people that I felt like a dork shooting the video . Everyone wears bikinis."
Amber Lee admits that she failed to vote for any candidate in the primary but added that she would be "the first in line to vote on November 2," a line that she has probably used before.
It then occurred to me that the apparent disconnect between the on-camera Obama Girl and the off-camera Amber Lee is crucial to the appeal of both personalities.
The popularity of Obama Girl and the reason that she has been credited with helping to bring new voters into the democratic process lies in her off-screen neutrality toward her political activism and her own sexuality.
If she were a hyperpolitical radical espousing propaganda, then she would be seen as political animal first and entertainer second. The result wouldn't be pretty: a 21st century version of Jane Fonda, Charlton Heston or Barbara Streisand. And maybe 20,000 YouTube hits.
And furthermore, if she were seen as overtly and self-consciously sexy in a Madonna-esque way, the Obama campaign would be forced to condemn her and she would probably star, bikini-clad and all, in a Republican attack ad this fall.
Her popularity depends on her using the Britney Spears defense: "I'm just out there having fun. If people think it's sexy, then that's fine."
Does this phenomenon shed light on the shallowness of our culture?
Perhaps, but that's for others to debate. Compared to the economic crisis and the quagmire in the Middle East, can the triviality of Obama Girl be overstated? Probably not.
But we can be certain that if Obama Girl, through her booty-shaking and hip-swaying, has encouraged one potential voter to research the candidates more thoroughly, then she has contributed positively to our democracy.
Vaughn Stewart is a College freshman fron Anniston, AL, and a blogger for The Spin.Comments powered by Disqus
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