Saturday, November 6, 2010

308 / Political Advertising

I really liked Jerry Brown's TV ad featuring flip flopping sound bites from Meg Whitman and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Click on the link if you don't know what I'm talking about.

Willie Brown, former Speaker of the California State Assembly, and former Mayor of San Francisco, said that this was "the best political ad I've seen in years."

One reason I particularly liked it: the ad was a kind of political "deconstruction" of political advertising itself. It pointed out, implicitly, how deceptive political advertising really is. The "sound bites" used and repeated by Whitman were used by her because they had "worked" for Schwarzenegger. These words were supposed to operate like an incantatory spell, and the result of hearing these words, exactly as both Schwarzenegger and Whitman phrased them, was supposed to sway the voters who heard their message.

That technique, using carefully prepared slogans, repeated endlessly, does sway voters (just as it sells consumer goods). Politics has turned into advertising because advertising does "work." And we all recognize the truth of this. In fact, a good deal of political coverage, nowadays, is about the ads, or about whether the candidates will have enough money to run their ads, and not about either policy or substance. Focus groups and polls tell the advertising professionals what will "motivate" the voters, and these scientifically prepared statements and slogans will then be repeated, and reiterated, and will become, defacto, what the campaign is all about.

Since we "make" the world we most immediately inhabit, basing our actions, largely, upon the words we use to guide us, this kind of political "discourse" will ultimately destroy all opportunity for genuine change. Brown's ad, in a very real way, was an attempt to "break the spell."

Looking at the results of the election, I think it worked!

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