The power of the split screen

Israel Galarza

Israel Galarza III

In 1960, presidential debates were covered on television for the first time. The memorable series of debates broadcasted on countless American televisions featured Democratic nominee John F. Kennedy and Republican nominee Richard M. Nixon going head to head in a series of landmark debates that are still discussed today.

Fast forward to 2016: the power of television production is still cherished by some presidential candidates and dismissed by others. More specifically, the power of the split screen.

The split screen is a simple, yet highly effective, production technique that has been utilized since the early days of television programming. It allows for two or more separate images to be displayed at the same time, giving the audience a view of each candidate’s reactions while the other is speaking. These reactions captured on TV are just as important and talked about as the answers each candidate actually provides.

Looking back at that historical 1960 presidential election for some context, it was clear that Kennedy clearly understood the power that television possesses more than his adversary, Nixon. Anyone who has had the chance to watch the historic reels of the debates can identify a calm, collective and cool Kennedy outshining the snarling, growling and less connected Nixon all the way to the Oval Office.

These non-verbal observations proved to be very influential to viewers, as many Americans voted for the poised Kennedy over the unprepared Nixon.

After tuning in to the first presidential debate last week featuring Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump, the same idea reigns supreme. The power of the split screen can shape the American people’s mainstream perceptions on any presidential candidate. Some choose to accept this fact, while others choose to ignore it.

With a historic 70 million Americans tuned in last week, the split screen production allowed the audience to witness each candidate’s strong reactions toward one another as they spoke. Their reactions have been highlighted by the media the same amount as the actual dialogue provided.

Trump’s expressions have been described by political analysts as cheeky, dismissive, and disrespectful, while others have described Clinton’s expressions as the more stable and prepared of the two. Whether these observations are facts or not, they were formed with the assistance of the split screen.

The power of the split screen was again on full display during Tuesday’s vice presidential debate featuring Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. As they did for the first debate, the production team opted for heavy split screen production in an effort to capture the reactions of each man as they took turns defending their respective running mates on a variety of topics.

Pence was seen several times during Tuesday night’s debate containing his frustration, while Kaine spoke on topics of terrorism and immigration. On the same token, Kaine was seen holding back his own frustration when Pence defended candidate Trump’s ideology on nuclear weapons and foreign policy. Believe it or not, this was all by design; the reactions of candidates have garnered as much attention as the answers provided by each politician.

Nevertheless, as we inch closer and closer to the conclusion of this historic election season, we must pay attention to the power of the media. With things coming down to the wire, any factor at play is worth noting. Even the power of the split screen.

Israel Galarza III is a columnist, contact him at [email protected].