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Chris Kelly Headshot

Mitt Romney: The DIVX Candidate

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Flickr: irina slutsky
Flickr: irina slutsky

What are we going to tell our children when they ask about Mitt Romney? What was that all about? What was he doing in our lives? Who invited him to the party? Who thought he'd make a good president, or even a good candidate for president? It's like trying to explain Colin Farrell. No one wanted to see him in the movies, but there he was, suddenly, in all of them. And for years, too.

Mitt Romney has run for president twice, and political cartoonists still have to draw him wearing a button that says "Romney." How do we explain that to future generations? He's such a human nullity he dilutes your recollections of otherwise interesting things that happened around him. You can barely remember who beat him in 2008, or who upstaged him at his own convention. It's like when your cellphone gets wet and you put it in rice to suck the moisture out.

We've had dull candidates before, and doomed-loser, place-holder, ego-trip candidates, and rich candidates who never did anything in their lives except acquire an unpleasant air of entitlement, but Mitt Romney makes Steve Forbes look like Pat Tillman.

He's not even an interesting bore. His name conjures nothing. He's going to be gone in a month and pundits still won't have come up with a simile to explain what he was like.

He was sort of like Huey Lewis and the News, but not exactly. He looked like Huey Lewis. But that doesn't really work. Some people liked Huey Lewis and the News.

He was sort of like Aaron Brown. Remember when someone at CNN decided we were going to watch Aaron Brown and like it, and they wouldn't let it go for five years? Did he win a contest? Did he eventually die or something?

He was sort of like John Kerry, except John Kerry won all of his elections except one, and Mitt Romney has lost all of his elections except one.

(Or maybe John Kerry lost two. I forget. Colin Ferrell was perfectly acceptable in Minority Report, but nobody saw it for Colin Ferrell.)

But here's what Mitt was really like:

Mitt was a product no consumer wanted but that an entire industry wanted the consumer to want.

Mitt was like DIVX.

In the late '90s, when people were getting tired of VHS tapes, the studios saw an opening to come up with a replacement, their dream format. They didn't consult consumers, or video stores, or even the companies that designed consumer electronics. They consulted a law firm. And the law firm of Ziffren, Brittenham, Branca and Fischer gave them DIVX.

It was perfect. For the studios. Here's how it worked:

With VHS tapes, you went to a store and either rented one or bought one, brought it home and watched it.

With the miracle of DIVX, you went to one store only, Circuit City, and set up a DIVX account. Then you bought a disc for four dollars. This disc had a special code that allowed you to watch it for 48 hours. You also bought a DIVX player, because this disc wouldn't play in regular DVD players. This player cost about twice as much as a DVD player. You took this machine home and plugged it in to your phone. If you wanted to watch the movie again, after 48 hours, you contacted Circuit City and gave them another two dollars. If you wanted to watch it after that, you paid again. This was charged to your DIVX account, and monitored by the DIVX player, that periodically used your phone to report you to Circuit City.

What's not to love?

It lost 100 million dollars and more or less took Circuit City down with it. Because, in marketing terms, it had the same customer value proposition as a classified ad reading "Send me your dollar and I'll keep it."

No one wanted DIVX. It was just a wish list from the studios. But you can see why they tried it. "I get everything and you get nothing" isn't much of an proposition, but it's worth a shot.

Mitt Romney was the same offer, in political terms. That's why you can't remember the argument for his presidency, or even what he looks like, or the sound of his voice. It didn't exist.

Mitt Romney wasn't a candidate. He was a roll of the dice on the chance that you were sick of VHS and the only other option was reading.

Now go plug this box into your phone.

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