Slick trickery

    Rick Perry may be a soporific and semi-coherent debater, but he sure looks awesome in his political ads.Now that the debaters are on hiatus – they won’t meet again until Oct. 11 – let’s briefly visit the world of advertising, where candidates can be rendered letter perfect with just the right blend of aural and visual imagery. This is why admakers get paid the big bucks; presumably, Perry is generously compensating Lucas Baiano, the maestro whose “Proven Leadership” ad makes Perry look like the action star of a Michael Bay-Jerry Bruckheimer summer blockbuster.This ad, which lately has been circulating online, is a movable feast for the eye and the emotions. All political ads aspire to achieve those aims, of course; we’ve seen them by the thousands, ever since the ’60s. “Proven Leadership” is merely one of the more blatant examples of the genre – if only because it moves so fast that the average viewer can’t possibly process its innuendos and untruths. As Daniel Boorstin, one of the pioneer analysts of Madison Avenue, remarked years ago, advertising “has meant a reshaping of our very concept of truth.”The Perry ad runs for nearly two minutes. I watched it frame by frame. The first half depicts Obama’s Armageddon America; the second half depicts Perry’s morning-in-America. Let’s deconstruct the content.Obama’s America, in perpetual gray: Tattered billboard, cloudy sky, empty Times Square, empty subway car, abandoned factory, empty street, rainy sky, leaf-strewn empty street, empty barber shop, boarded up suburbia, empty child’s swing set swaying in the rain, empty greeting card aisle, empty lunchroom (did everyone die or something? what is this, a scene from Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion?), abandoned buses, a narrator intoning “President Zero,” a quick text announcement that “U.S. Poverty Rate Hits All-Time High,” a quick flurry of scary imagery that includes the Chinese – all of this, with a portentous musical track that appears to have been lifted from a Freddy Krueger movie…But then, a momentary pause…And the heart soars! The color palette is now yellow and blue. Now we see: the hoofs of a horse galloping through crystalline waters, a big American flag, the rural heartland, the Statue of Liberty’s torch, a child with an American flag, people applauding and cheering and working, the flag again, the Statue of Liberty again, the heartland again (this time with cows), a quick flash of the words “An American” as Perry salutes a soldier, a quick Perry voice-over (“We don’t need a president who apologizes for America…I believe in America”), the Statue of Liberty again, a Statue of Liberty replica, the flag again, a church, the flag again (as a kid chalks its likeness), a kid wielding a toy plane as warplanes zoom overheard – all of this, with a zesty militarist sound track that appears to have been lifted from a kick-ass feel-good cinematic summer thrill ride.Hey, it’s Perry’s money. Given the way he keeps winging it in the debates, as if he’s still earning Cs and Ds at Texas A & M, why shouldn’t he pony up for the slickest propaganda big bucks can buy? Plus, it’s a great way to hoodwink the electorate. For instance, that line in the ad, “U.S. Poverty Rate Hits All-Time High”? The typical ad viewer wouldn’t know that the line is a blatant lie. In truth, the U.S. Census Bureau says that the poverty rate in 2010 was the highest since 1993 – and was actually 7.3 percent lower than the Bureau recorded in 1959.And as for the Perry voice-over that accompanies his saluting and sound-track drumbeating (“We don’t need a president who apologizes for America”), well, that tired right-wing canard has long been deep-sixed by the fact-checking watchdogs. Conservatives like to quote Obama when he says that America has made mistakes, but they typically omit the speech passages where he says (for instance) that “America has been an enormous force for good in the world.” Nor has Obama been alone in admitting America’s mistakes; the president who said he was “sorry for the humiliation suffered by Iraqi prisoners” was George W. Bush, back in 2004.But political ads are designed to circumvent such linear empiricism; the admakers understand that emotions typically trump the intellect. Which is why those two words flashed on the screen – “An American” – are designed to stir conservative juices by contrasting the chisel-jawed white guy with the unAmerican alien who presides over Dystopia.And yet, slick trickery can only get you so far. If political ads are supposedly so effective in papering over a candidate’s faults, how come so many panicky Republicans are still looking elsewhere, pining impossibly for the perfection that Perry (as a mere mortal) seems incapable of delivering? In this era of the litmus test, copious flag footage just isn’t good enough.——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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