Been a long time between posts, sorry. Thought I'd make up for it looking at two ads today. The ads are pretty different but both are thematically the same (after watching them you may think I'm crazy for saying that). Both ads play upon voter anger at "broken" government.
The more traditional of the two ads. Wonder why the guy is wearing a t-shirt? Shhhhh.... don't tell anyone but Charlie Baker was a CEO at a big time health insurance company. This ad was kinda strange to me. What's the deal with basketball? I don't get it. Again, I'm all for doing something different, but it just feels fake to me.
People hate CEO's and politicians so we'll put him in a t-shirt and show him playing basketball with his son. People will love that! He's just like you, get it? Awesome.
I think Robert McKay in his arrogant but seminal book, "Story" said something like a baseball hat is not character -- meaning just putting a character in a baseball cap does not tell you anything about the character's character. What the character does tells you something about who he (or she) is. It's about action, not what they're wearing.
It seems to me like Baker is trying to run away who he is from and his story. The guy went to Harvard, he was a CEO of a health insurance company, that's the elephant in the room, better to embrace it and own your story, than let the other guys tell their story.
The ad is fine in terms of shots and the way what it is made, but it just feels phony.
This next ad goes in a different direction:
Well this is one way to go. Not sure what's in the water down in Alabama, but they sure are going for it down there. So where to start? On the positive side, I think it's actually well filmed, I like the shaky cam, documentary feel. I think the reveal is also nicely handled.
The ad is actually playing on the same anger at government as the Baker ad, though obviously going in a way different direction. I think where the Bake ad feels phony this ad at least feels honest in its emotional center. They're definitely going high concept for political ads.
I can almost see the consultants in the room coming up with concept:
"We revolted over a tea tax for christsakes."
"Hey, what if that was the ad..."
"No, no what if he was talking with Sam Adams, George Washington, telling them about what's going on..."
High fives all around....
Look, I find this ad scary, and not intellectually honest, but I think that misses the point of it. I do wonder who they're aiming the ad at? If they get 100% of their base vote, do they get any of the independents you usually need to win a general election? I mean come on, "Gather your armies?" Seems like a pretty radical message even for Alabama. [Ed Note: Seems Barber is in a Republican runoff, so this message is directed at his base. I guess you have to win the election in front of you, but there is tacking to the right, and there is damn the torpedos full speed to the right. Reading his responses to questions about the ad, he's also trying to play it coy which undermines the authenticity of the feeling the ad is designed to manipulate.]
My partner Dan loved the ad and talked about how honest it was. I think it's a little too honest. There's the text of an ad or campaign and the subtext. This ad seems to confuse to the two (or maybe it is not a confusion, maybe it is deliberate). All that anger and fear of government could be the subtext, but to be so on the nose with it feels a little like drinking from a fire hose.
I think when I looked at the Tim James ad (also from Alabama) I said if Tea Party and the radical right learned how to package their anger into a cooler more thoughtful package, they would be a dangerous force. This ad tells me they still haven't figured that out yet, which is good those of us who love this country.
It reminds me a little of the story of the Scorpion and the Frog.
Another theme is that the Tea Party is trying to own the symbolism of the American Revolution. Again, I feel like this ad is so on the nose in that attempt.
Marc Ambinder recently wrote an article titled, "Has the Tea Party done anything good for the GOP?"
The GOP hoped to channel all that anger into their party structure, but like the frog, they lost site of one key fact -- the they are scorpions after all.