I’m endlessly fascinated by what people still choose to put in the frame even when everything is totally planned and scripted. Case in point: the 2020 Democratic National Convention’s roll call on Tuesday, where 57 states and territories each got a moment in the spotlight to officially cast their votes for the party’s presidential nominee.
What I feel confident guessing is that each state had some time to work on their little video. The state parties quite likely had at least a few days to weigh what would be the most picturesque background to represent their state; they had time to do several takes if they so chose. I bet, generally speaking, a lot of people had to sign off on some of these, deepening my befuddlement as to how many of the segments still managed to feel deeply bizarre, pretty phoned in, or both.
I give you: a definitive ranking of every state’s roll call video, from my favorites to the ones that made me feel like I was huffing gas.
Hawaii: She’s not really looking at the camera, but she’s a civil rights activist with a very calming presence, so she gets a pass. Plus, a setting so beautiful that it looks fake! Well done.
Alaska: Cute older guy speaking on the banks of some good old fashioned Alaska wilderness. Credit for immediately mentioning climate change!
New Mexico: One of the few states to center Indigenous people. And those mountains, wow.
Iowa: Nice midwestern folk in a cornfield. No need to reinvent the wheel, give the people what they want! Plus a very on-trend prairie dress.
Arizona: She’s in the desert, look at that big cactus! Nicely done.
Guam: You know what, I’m a sucker for the matching shirts.
Puerto Rico: Gorgeous blue watery background. Done in Spanish!
Vermont: Still always nice to see my dad, even though we haven’t been in touch much lately.
Alabama: The speaker in front of the iconic Edmund Pettus Bridge, honoring the late civil rights leader John Lewis. Nicely lit in blue, would get a “well done” if not for the fact that on the stream I watched, you could still hear people mic’d up and quietly talking over her. Editing is your friend!
Wisconsin: Always gonna grade on a curve with Wisconsin, even though the lieutenant governor flubbed Biden’s name, which is actually Good. I make the rules in this house!
Democrats Abroad: Honestly cheating, as even public bathrooms in Europe are more picturesque than most of the shit we built.
Colorado: These seem like real people. Nice rock formation! Solid.
Wyoming: This one featured the parents of Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student who was murdered in one of the most brutal hate crimes in recent memory.
Oklahoma: I’m running out of steam here. Good acknowledgment of the Tulsa Massacre.
Washington: I believe the only state to mention refugees in their video?
Minnesota: [Mean girl in the hall voice] WELL, WELL, WELL. WHO DO WE HAVE HERE?? (A good bridge in the background, though, interesting choice to make it totally out of focus.)
Maryland: Huge points for centering young people of color. And yet the framing with the big Frederick Douglass head doesn’t quite work?
North Dakota: Apparently a nice-looking state, who knew??
Illinois: I like that building. Harsh light but nice enough.
Massachusetts: She looks happy to be there, which is a real start! But why are these people filming at night?? Has that pulling an all-nighter at the college library when the big paper is due tomorrow feel to it.
Northern Mariana Islands: A ton of people in this one, but I’ll forgive it because I like the colors.
Georgia: Obama Hope-style street art. Fine!
Oregon: Another colorful street art one, far more visually appealing than most states chose! Plus, a land acknowledgment.
Mississippi: Good energy in this one, but an unfortunate reminder that college lecture halls are deeply ugly.
Idaho: If the rest of the country was inclined to think there’s not much to see in Idaho, this video did nothing to disabuse them of that notion.
Louisiana: Just fine, art is good.
Missouri: Look, it’s the Arch! Deeply overrated imo.
District of Columbia: Feels pretty phoned in.
Maine: iconic red barn, even if it’s underutilized.
Connecticut: Ah, the…..firefighter state. Whatever!
South Carolina: Oh great, just what this night was missing, a Jim Clyburn shoutout.
Arkansas: A stunt involving food trucks, I see what you did there! But too many people standing in that bizarre staggering formation that whoever produced these segments is clearly very fond of.
California: A nice cowabunga background, but Barbara Lee and Hilda Solis look pretty uncomfortable being on camera. It’s not easy, I don’t envy them! (Especially the part about reigning enthusiasm for Joe Biden.) They also sound like they’re shouting, get them mic’d up right!
Kentucky: One of the better personal stories, which felt few and far between. At yet—I’ve heard Kentucky is a pretty state, but this looks like it was made during office hours.
Virginia: Man, remember one million years ago, when Trump attacked Khizr Khan and his Gold Star family? We thought it couldn’t get much worse than that. How naive we were.
Nebraska: Credit for enlisting a woman who works in a meatpacking plant. The middle of the country has ivy-covered buildings too, I guess.
Montana: I’m on the fence with this one. On one hand, love the cows, big sky. On the other, the wind is roaring. Maybe come back tomorrow and try again, idk I’m not a director!!
New Hampshire: I guess that’s probably an iconic building and yet, here we are in the dark.
New Jersey: lots of hand gesturing in this one.
West Virginia: Looks like they barely got this guy out of his office and down the hall to stand in front of some public art.
New York: thank God it wasn’t Cuomo, is all I have to say. Love the verite feel of hearing the guy behind the guy say “Go!”
Utah: Credit for talking about mail-in voting! Otherwise, middle of the pack.
Texas: Nice enough!
North Carolina: I can’t quite put my finger on why, but the staging of this struck me as odd.
Michigan: Is this an ad for a car dealership? Again, under the lights! Why!!
South Dakota: This one featured a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. Can’t help but remember how the last administration Biden was a part of handled an existential battle over Indigenous land rights led by peaceful protesters there.
Kansas: You know what, I respect how little they gave a fuck about this. The guy seems like he did one take, the camera is too low, the setting is “field.” He’s not even centered in the shot. This is about the amount of effort I’d be willing to invest in this dumbass convention, too.
Tennessee: Can’t wait for this woman’s inevitable national political campaign. Get it, she’s wearing white, like the suffragettes.
Florida: Who watched this, took in the guy’s multiple beats of silence at the beginning, and said, OK great, send it off! But pretty funny that whoever was in charge of making this picked soulless high rise condos as the background and also….one of those big novelty chairs. Supremely odd!
Pennsylvania: Scranton is a part of The Joe Biden Story, and so we naturally have this guy standing in the dark outside Biden’s childhood home. Boo!!!!
Virgin Islands: Docking serious points here for mentioning Alexander Hamilton.
Delaware: We get it, Biden loves the trains, he’s Uncle Joe wearing the aviators on the Amtrak. I understand, and yet lol that them choosing to do this in a not-exactly-picturesque train station.
Indiana: I groaned out loud seeing that rat’s face again. This is the best Indiana apparently has to offer: something that looks like an industrial park or a lower key version of the light-up tunnel at the Minneapolis airport. BEGONE!
Nevada: Watching this live, I was laser-focused on figuring out if the people in the background with the Las Vegas sign were real. They didn’t move even an inch, leading me to conclude it was a static background. Weird choice but OK!
American Samoa: An American protectorate that’s basically a U.S. military base. And yet this visual struck me as a deeply weird choice! A friendly, approachable couple flanked by masked up troops like they were hostages. An unintentionally fitting metaphor for American foreign policy!
Ohio: Loved this publicity for Ohio guy, shouting in a field, bisected by a wind turbine. The first guy didn’t even have the sign to say he was from Ohio. This one should’ve been filmed as one of those mad-guy phone videos that white dudes love to make in parking lots. The second guy did an even more explicit car ad! Inspiring.
Rhode Island: Where to begin. This comes off as some boss who dragged a chef out of the back of his restaurant to stand on the beach holding a platter of…..calamari?? Calling Rhode Island the “calamari comeback state” made me feel like I was on ether.
Last and definitely least: Whatever producer allowed for this lingering shot of Biden looking particularly starry-eyed. The future is bright!