Auto-Tune the News: A Retrospective

Originally published as part of the Digestable newsletter

Let’s take a little trip back to the year 2009. I was in high school, iPhones were still all curvy looking, and T-Pain’s auto-tune was revolutionizing music and pop culture. Enter Auto-Tune the News, a video series by The Gregory Brothers that edits C-SPAN, Katie Couric, and other TV news sources into funny T-Pain style music videos. There are a lot of ways we could think about Auto-Tune the News as a historical document. We could talk about how it reflects the TV news ecosystem that has been replaced in large part by social media. We could talk about how Senator Bølverk’s exposed man nipple served as an awakening moment for my pre-coming-out gay brain. We should also take a second to cringe at the idea of four white folks using Black culture as a medium for satire. My goal here is to show how the video series, as a product of its time, can help us understand what to expect from the return of Biden politics to the white house. Note: going forward, hyperlinks will lead to different timestamps in Auto-Tune the News videos and I encourage you to listen along as you read!

My high school crush, Senator Bøloverk

So yes, today seeing a white guy in a baseball cap and shades singing “shawt-y” elicits a sharp inhale and a swift cancellation, but as far as 2009 mainstream media was concerned we had a Black president and race was over. Sure the world was still stuck in a financial recession despite Bush bailing out the banks but we had Obama and a democratic majority in both houses of congress. Hope was in the air and we could smell it!

Despite the promising prospects of this administration, when we look at the issues Auto-Tune the News emphasizes as important in 2009, not much has changed. Federal marijuana decriminalization/legalization is looking more possible than it was 10 years ago and there’s certainly wide recognition of racial inequity within drug criminalization and policing, but I’m doubtful democrats will be unified enough to move anything forward. That seems to be what happened with Obama’s promises of climate and health care legislation. Even with the congressional majority, democrats weren’t able to unify around climate action and ended up loosening environmental regulations to “compromise” with republicans on the climate change bill. Of course, this didn’t work and if you’re looking to dive deeper into everything future “climate czar” John Kerry did wrong, I’d recommend the New Yorker’s forensic report on the Waxman-Markey bill. Healthcare, Obama’s other goal did go through, but the ACA fell short of its ambitions and for some reason the way forward is still up for debate among democrats.

As another way to compare Biden season 1 to Biden season 2, let’s do a roll call of the politicians that show up in Auto-Tune the News:

It’s unnerving how similar the political climate of Auto-Tune the News is to today because things in the real world are a lot worse. Again, Biden is coming into office during a health/financial/climate crisis and seeing “small business” bailouts and the creation of jobs jobs jobs and jobs as the way to solve it. Also the supreme court is fucked and even if dems win Georgia the senate will be in a stalemate. Shit’s scary.
None of this is to discount the victories of progressive movements over the past decade. If anything, looking at how little has changed shows us just how much pushing and hand holding Biden will need. If the ice was thin in 2009, it’s now very very very thin.

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