Pawlenty of Courage

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.


  1. McChris Said,

    January 25, 2011 @ 6:20 pm

    There are a couple of details in this that I find particularly bizarre. First, around 0:56, it cuts to a smiling man standing in front of an ambulance. The ambulance reads “Dismal.” Unless there’s a community named “Dismal” somewhere, the producers had custom graphics made for the vehicle. Is this supposed to be a comment on the Obama administration? The other thing is around 0:53 when the governor says “Settling the west wasn’t easy.” It’s a shot of a Hollywood western on an obsolete CRT TV. For me, it really calls more attention to the mediated-ness of the clip, although it’s consistent with the movie-trailer graphics at the end. I imagine he’s trying to situate the myth of Pawlenty within broader Hollywood myths.

    You didn’t mention the clip’s use of imagery from the civil-rights era like the Mexico City Olympics or MLK. This is the first thing that stuck out at me, since Republicans today don’t have a good record on race relations. I can see MLK as a sort of patriotic icon today, but I think a lot of conservatives and moderates might still chafe at Tommie Smith’s black-power fist at the medal ceremony, so it’s an interesting choice, at least. I think it’s weird for Pawlenty to claim the legacy of civil rights, especially when he later praises the imperialist project in the western US.

  2. Chuck Said,

    January 25, 2011 @ 8:32 pm

    Yeah, I originally had a quick comment about the Civil Rights stuff, but the entry was rushed. That was weird to me, especially given the Republicans’ record on race in recent years. The connection to settling the west was also *very* odd, and yes, I found myself thinking about Hollywood Westerns (and how they mediate the “settling” of the west). There are definitely ideologically incoherent aspects that I overlooked, but I think your phrasing about how Pawlenty situates himself within those Hollywoodized or hypermediated myths is fascinating. I am still not entirely sure that it’s completely serious, but then again, those myths (especially in their mediated versions) have a lot of power with some audiences.

  3. Chuck Said,

    January 25, 2011 @ 8:33 pm

    The Mexico City Olympics imagery is especially strange, btw.

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