It's easy to make fun of reality shows, considering the glut of them. As easy as it might be to make fun of the idea of a new one involving MySpace, it's difficult to deny that the Internet is really coming into its own in the political sense.
MySpace, which is owned by media giant News Corp. (NYSE: NWS ) , is launching the reality show with TV producer Mark Burnett (the guy behind Survivor and The Apprentice, no less). No network has made a commitment yet, but considering MySpace's parentage, it's not difficult to imagine it showing up on Fox -- unless Fox has a hard time with that whole third-party thing. At any rate, it's being pitched to several different networks.
The idea of yet another reality show may not be particularly interesting, but the fact that it will be trolling for independent presidential candidates is. The program will be called Independent, and it involves a $1 million cash prize, which must go toward a bid for the White House or a donation to a political action committee or cause. Would-be contestants will submit videos to apply, and contestants will woo supporters, rebut protesters, participate in an online town hall, and set up "campaign headquarters" on MySpace.
I'm a card-carrying independent, so I find this fascinating, given the common criticism that many individuals simply don't have the money or the connections to successfully run for office, not to mention the two dominant parties leave a lot to be desired for some of us. And when fellow Fool Shruti Basavaraj and I interviewed Wired editor Chris Anderson about his book, The Long Tail, one of our questions pertained to the idea of a long tail in politics, certainly a related concept here.
Of course, the magnitude of searching for someone to run for president isn't the same as Donald Trump looking for an apprentice. And it's easy to see how this could just become a sensationalistic spiral into silliness. Just last night, in fact, I was reminiscing about the hilarious portrayal of an election in the old British Blackadder show, which featured a representative of the Standing in the Back Dressed Stupidly and Looking Stupid party.
And speaking of silliness, I have a difficult time taking much that happens on MySpace very seriously. Rick Munarriz recently wrote a thought-provoking article about MySpace and politics and pointed out how easy it is for MySpace users to stuff ballot boxes, since they can log in under many online identities. Ultimately, though, it does make sense to use popular Internet sites as platforms to get young people thinking about politics and process.
This is certainly timely. Just yesterday, Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO ) announced that it will feature presidential debates. Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG ) YouTube helps get the word out, as many candidates are using it to make their presences known and start up dialogues with wired voters; of course, it can be a double-edged sword, too. Take the anti-Hillary ad that showed up on YouTube not long ago -- it racked up millions of views, probably not in small part because it integrated Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) famous 1984 ad campaign into a big slam against the candidate.
Whether wanna-be political candidates can establish the same "can't-miss-an-episode" fever that a program like American Idol enjoys should be quite an enlightening experiment. (Maybe Sanjaya should take a swing at politics?) However, it's certainly interesting to contemplate the political possibilities the Internet might hold -- not to mention the potential benefits for the biggest, most popular Internet companies out there.
Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.