Rango’s ‘Victory Lab’

Okay, so Rango doesn’t actually have a Victory Lab. But I’ve recently enjoyed watching Rango, and finished reading Victory Lab.

Rango was actually a lot more fun than I expected. It’s a rich, well put together film. The visuals are beautiful; and although it might ostensibly appear aimed at children because it’s filled with talking animals, the story’s a good one. There’s nice character development (a key moment as a self-absorbed thespian commits to the real world), that ripples out into the real world (saving a small town). Worth watching if you’re after something fun.

Victory Lab I was less impressed by. The topic’s a fascinating one; how political campaigns use data and different communication and campaigning methods to influence potential voters. The flaw is in Issenberg’s approach, who takes what I think is a reasonably common journalistic approach, to ‘play the person’, rather than the topic. What that means is that the book does a great job of telling little personal vignettes about the characters Issenberg thinks are important; a direct mail marketer, a data analyst, and other political consultants. But that comes at a very real cost; the book is a superficial account of a few people, but barely even scratches the surface of the issue it’s ostensibly about.

When it comes to actually understanding how the strategy of campaigning has changed, we’re left with little more than a few snippets. There’s no really detailed discussion of the theory and ideas; the closest Issenberg comes is to setting out some of the social psychology underlying work on shaming rather than encouraging votes (based on work he mentions, it seems that works better than encouraging in some cases). But that’s at best a few half pages in the midst of an entire book.

So overall, I’d say Victory Lab is okay as a light read, if you’re not really after the substance. But if you want a meaningful understanding of the key ideas, then this isn’t the book for you.

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