Maragaret Dorsey speaks on music and media

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Despite it being the middle of exam week for many, some students found the time to listen to Margaret Dorsey, Assistant Professor of Communication at the University of Houston-Victoria, Wednesday evening. Dorsey’s talk, rather intriguingly titled “Music, Corporations, and Votes: Tex-Mex Music as a Marketing Strategy,” focused on the successes and failures of political attempts to create “grass-roots publics.”

Dorsey’s major case in point was a pachanga (akin to a festival with live music, food, drink, and speeches) organized by the DNC back in October 2000 as a way to appeal to the locals and garner support for the national election in the battleground county of Hidalgo. Presumably the idea behind the pachanga was to bring together many potential voters in a setting with which they were comfortable; however, Dorsey argued, the event was a total failure due to four different ways of “segmentation” that effectively severed any ties before they were formed.

The organizers behind the pachanga erred by failing to appreciate local practices. For instance, in Hidalgo county and surrounding area, most people work on Saturday afternoons, nevertheless the pachanga was scheduled for such a time. Then again it felt close to 104 degrees outside, where the few who were able to come were forced to stand, having no place to sit.

Dorsey felt that the organizers also had internal oversights, the most prominent being the fact that Joe Lieberman, VP candidate, was an orthodox Jew. All that the organizers noticed was that Lieberman had this large block of time open on Saturday, so they scheduled the pachanga for then. It was much later when someone pointed out that the only reason that time had been open was because of Lieberman’s religion.

From the get-go, the tension that the pachanga was supposed to overcome between the two cultures was increased. While the locals were forced to stand in the heat, a very nice, shaded section of bleachers was protected by armed guards for the use of VIPs who had come to listen to political speeches. Furthermore, a gazebo in the park that also could have provided some much-needed shade to many was used solely by cameramen and their equipment, because it afforded the best view of the activities.

Finally, Margaret Dorsey pointed out, there was definitely a disjoint in the evaluations of the pachanga by the DNC representatives and by the locals who attended. The DNC considered the event a success, claiming the attendance of about a thousand people. Dorsey said, “When I talked to locals, they were like, ‘no, there were not a thousand people…there were three-hundred.’ I counted–I literally counted–and there were at most 365 people. The DNC cared more about media feeds than actual voters.”

Dorsey’s analysis continued on to compare this failure to the success that George W. Bush and Karl Rove have met with on the same task. When Bush ran for governor, for instance, he was the first Republican since 1865 who won the border counties, with the help of Tejano icons.

“The success is from connecting to local customs,” said Dorsey.

After her talk, Margaret Dorsey entertained questions, during which time she brought up a phrase that she felt summarized the locals’ reaction to the DNC’s attempt of politicizing the pachanga: “The feet speak…people just walked away, and local organizers just had to have noticed.”

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