If there’s a moment that’s managed to encompass Jeb Bush’s awkward, stalled-out campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, it’s “Macbook Pro, baby.” In July, Bush’s campaign uploaded to YouTube a 45-second, theoretically humanizing video of the candidate expressing his technology preferences. iPhone or Blackberry? Throwback Thursday or Follow Friday? Laptop or iPad? “Macbook Pro, baby,” Jeb responds. The video is a bit stilted and goofy, in the manner of all campaign ads ever, but it’s otherwise fairly unremarkable: A silly attempt to humanize a candidate.
That same day, video editor and comedian Vic Berger IV uploaded his own six-second edit of the campaign video. Berger cuts out the establishing questions and leaves only three of Bush’s answers: “iPhone. Macbook Pro, baby. Apple Watch.” He ends with a closeup of the candidate giving an awkward, tight smile. Removing the space and pauses, Berger distills the otherwise harmless video down to six seconds of pure embarrassment. Looping on vine, the awkwardness overwhelms you. It’s impossible to look at Jeb Bush anymore without hearing “Macbook Pro, baby.”
The campaign’s original YouTube video has around 30,000 views and 150 comments. Berger’s Vine has 6.1 million loops and nearly 3,000 comments.
It was maybe the worst of a series of Vines that Elspeth Reeve at The New Republic wrote “showed how Bush can’t quite bring himself to put his whole heart in the humiliating campaign bullshit.” Berger has a similar feeling. “Getting in close to the face can imply something,” he told me when emailed to I ask him why he ends so many of his Vines with closeups of Bush’s face. “I think it strips away at the subject’s public image and brings more of the human side out.”
“Jeb’s original videos where I took the footage from are pretty bad on their own,” Berger says, “but by condensing them to six seconds and having some awkward closeups at certain points, it just makes it even more painfully funny to watch.”
Now that we’ve suddenly found ourselves in presidential primary season, and in the thick of an exhausting run of debates, no platform has proven more indispensable than Vine. Twitter is still the campaign reporters’ platform of choice for communicating news and quotes; some of the campaigns are attempting to use YouTube and Facebook in interesting ways. But only Vine can really capture the soul of the current election: Odd, abrupt, and depressingly entertaining.
Take Berger’s peer Todd Dracula, who mined Tuesday’s debate for TheStreet, creating a breathtaking tableau of stumbles, missed beats, overaggressive assertion, and general can’t-watch awkwardness:
Generally used as a way for teenagers to circulate goofy videos of themselves playing pranks or horsing around, Vine is beloved by political journalists for many of the same reasons it’s beloved by teens: It’s easy, lightweight, and frictionless. Uploading a video to YouTube is a relatively arduous process, hardly worth it for a handful of seconds of footage. Vine’s brevity and expedited production process makes it easy to highlight things that might otherwise be overlooked or inconsequential — like, say, a woman reading Claudia Rankine’s Citizen during a Trump rally.
It’s perfect for highlighting slightly odd or awkward phrases that would otherwise be too short or inconsequential to notice. Hillary Clinton inadvertently became a meme this summer when a mostly unwatched Snapchat video she made went viral on Vine.
Vine makes sharing dumb moments (of which every presidential campaign has many) easier. But what makes Vine so compelling for 2016 is that it’s, well, weird. In the past, other platforms have reacted to over-memed moments like “binders full of women” with hacky parody Twitter accounts and bad Facebook-shareable image memes, Vine allows — and maybe demands — something weirder.
This joke about Trump’s facial expressions, based on the N64 game Super Mario 64, for instance, could only work on Vine. You can’t really make a parody account of Trump’s forehead. (Well, you could. But it wouldn’t be funny.)
That’s not to say that conventional gaffes, jokes, and memes aren’t omnipresent on Vine. But video editors like Berger and Dracula are doing something weirder. Their Vines are stilted; they isolate not just obvious missteps but more subtle awkward (and very human moments), finding the humor and weirdness in guaranteed repetition, thanks to Vine’s automatic looping. That they resemble the stilted rhythms of stoner-comedy duo Tim & Eric is no coincidence. Berger works with Tim Heidecker, and Dracula counts both the show and Berger himself as influences.
Just because they’re editing down external footage doesn’t mean their Vines are “factual.” They don’t just isolate six seconds of news footage and put it online. Their remix styles are somewhere in between lightly edited reality and surreal fiction. They edit clips to heighten what candidates are doing and saying, but not necessarily misrepresent them. Berger’s “Macbook Pro, baby!” Vine might not be exactingly faithful to reality — but it somehow feels more true to life than the campaign video.
Partly this is because both Berger and Dracula seek out those moments. “For the most part, I’m looking for human moments when people are being natural,” Dracula told me over email. “It’s really just a process of feeling it out and trusting my instinct.” As Berger puts it, “I’m focusing more on the awkwardness and pandering of the candidates rather than if they approve of gay marriage or not.”
For this reason, Jeb Bush has been one of Berger’s most frequent targets. At one point, Berger challenged the campaign and claimed that if the above Vine got one million views, he would get a Jeb Bush neck tattoo. (Last Thursday, CNN and Berger revealed this as a hoax. “It wore me out having to pretend that I had this tattoo on my neck,” he says. “At one point, I had a big bandage by my front door in case the local news station stopped by to interview me that I was going to use to cover up my neck.”)
Bush is not Berger’s only target, obviously. “I definitely don’t have an agenda and I don’t think my work comes across as trying to ruin the Republicans,” he says. “I mean, I do work with footage of Democrats, but there is a noticeable difference in the amount of material coming from the right versus the left.”
Dracula — a registered Democrat — agrees. “I’m just not excited about any one party or candidate. I’m not supporting a candidate at the moment,” he says. “Honestly, making these videos is allowing me to enjoy this election in a way that I wouldn’t otherwise.”