As long-time readers of this blog likely know, I’ve been fascinated by online political campaign ads for some time, especially those that mix popular culture and politics, such as Phil De Vellis’s “Vote Different.” Although many of these ads are straightforward mashups, many others gradually began to use other forms of citation in order to comment on the campaign or the candidates. Now, with the 2012 Presidential campaign (especially the Republican primary) kicking into gear, it will be interesting to see how these strategies evolve. With that in mind, I have become fascinated by the Tim Pawlenty “Courage to Stand” ad that I’ve seen linked all over the left blogosphere.
Most liberal bloggers, including Digby and Josh Marshall have expressed bemusement at the video’s apparently clumsy or self-aggrandizing use of action film codes (the video plays like a slightly edgier version of Bill Pullman’s speech in Independence Day), a reaction that is tempting given that Pawlenty often comes across as blander than white bread. Digby, in particular, seems to imply that the ad is meant to correct against Pawlenty’s “wimpy” image, while Marshall assumes that the ad is indicative of an over-sized ego. Plus, the ad is kind of corny.
But, as a commenter at TPM points out, the ad avoids some of the worst excesses of Tea Party politics, as well as references to 9/11, and to “Second Amendment Remedies.” Yes, the ad seems to be promoting Pawlenty as ready to be a lead in a Michael Bay film, but I think the tone of the video is just irreverent enough that it might not be taking itself completely seriously. I was amused when Hillary Clinton compared herself to Tony Soprano,* so I don’t think that Pawlenty’s ad is necessarily as excessive as it seems. It is worth noting that the ad hasn’t exactly burned the internet on fire and that most of the people I’ve seen linking to it are liberal bloggers who are making fun of the ad (although that could be a symptom of what I’m reading). It’s also worth noting that the ad–like most movie trailers–is way too noisy, making it difficult to link the imagery implied in the ad with Pawlenty in any genuine way, especially given all of the historical precedents of American success that he cites (The 1980 US Olympic hockey team? Neil Armstrong walking on the moon?). For the most part, I found myself tracking action film cliches–helicopter shot of national monuments, check; shaky camera, check–rather than taking notice of any of the verbal claims about Pawlenty. So, in terms of any real attempt to brand him as a candidate, I’m not sure that the ad actually worked. It simply seemed like a lot of visual and verbal noise.
* And, yes, the fact that a Sopranos joke played a role in a prominent political campaign ad shows just how old this genre of campaign ads actually is.