Campaign Ad Breakdown: President zero
- 21 September 2011
- From the section Magazine
The US presidential election is still more than a year away, but the campaigning is in full flow. In the first of a new series, Campaign Ad Breakdown looks at an early salvo from Republican contender Rick Perry.
In Barack Obama's America, as envisioned by Mr Perry's advert-making team, not only have the jobs and prosperity disappeared, but the people have, too. Americans, goes the narrative, have had it that bad with Mr Obama in the White House.
The Texas governor's presidential campaign on Wednesday released a video advert that plays like a trailer for a Hollywood action film in which only the Texas governor can save an America doomed to an eternity of economic doldrums.
This is the man who says he once shot a coyote with a pistol - while on a jog.
As depicted in the video, created by Lucas Baiano, a 23-year-old who made a similar Michael Bay-style video for withdrawn contender Tim Pawlenty, Mr Obama is no mere incompetent manager out of his depth in a devastated economy, but a malicious force bent on destruction. Think Lex Luthor, Magneto or Megatron behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office.
The web video opens with scenes of empty city streets, shown in washed-out colour to suggest America's vitality has suffocated under the burdens of Mr Obama's healthcare overhaul, economic stimulus package, consumer protection regulations and green jobs initiatives.
Decepticons raise taxes
Many of the images are recognisably of New York, as if to blame America's sorrow on one of its most liberal bastions. We see boarded-up houses and factories, graffiti and vacant lots, empty barber chairs.
The camera lingers a few frames on an image of New York's Times Square. One of America's most crowded junctions is shown eerily devoid of pedestrians, as though the film crew arrived at 05:00 before the morning rush. A subway car (curiously, the model depicted is one not in regular service since the 1990s) runs empty, because Mr Obama's pernicious policies have left would-be morning commuters out of a job.
In the background one hears a mechanical hum and a reverberating beep (the Decepticons, coming to raise your taxes?). Mr Obama is heard saying, in remarks recorded at a May 2010 rally: "Despite all the naysayers who were predicting failure, our economy's growing again... We are headed in the right direction."
"This is a good example of editing together images and sounds and general ideas to convey a sense of anxiety," John Tintori, a professor of film at New York University, says of the bleak visual imagery, the ominous background bleeps and hums and the quick-cut edits.
"The piece reminds me very much of the movie that they show to the Warren Beatty character in The Parallax View."
Mr Perry's America
Then, in a clever bit of editing, Mr Obama is heard apparently claiming ownership of the economy: "I love these folks who... say this is Obama's economy. That's fine. Give it to me." (At a July 2009 rally, he actually said he loved "these folks who helped get us in this mess and then suddenly say, 'Well, this is Obama's economy'. That's fine. Give it to me").
Following are a dizzying series of rapid-fire cuts from newscasts of the August unemployment figures, which showed zero job growth. Thunderous, overdriven action music builds, then cuts out as Mr Obama is heard declaring, "I'm just getting started".
With the crumbling economy firmly linked in the viewer's mind to Mr Obama's actions - rather than the mortgage lending collapse of 2007-2008, debt crises in Europe, budget cuts in the US that have drained money from the economy, or political dysfunction in Washington - the frame fades to a calming black.
What follows is a vision of Mr Perry's America: Sweeping green fields, bustling job sites full of hale and hearty men in denim and hardhats, horses at a gallop, children who play with toy war planes, and flags - lots of American flags rippling and undulating in the refreshing breeze of low taxes and minimal government regulation.
Meanwhile, across the screen words in all-capital letters shimmer in gold: "In 2012... America will discover... a new name for leadership... an American who served for freedom... a president who will lead a nation."
As the hero music blares in the background - the kind sounded when the astronauts in Bay's Armageddon destroy the asteroid - we hear applause lines from Mr Perry's campaign announcement in South Carolina last month.
"A great country requires a better direction," he says. "A renewed nation needs a new president... The United States of America really is the last great hope of mankind."
Mr Perry also unleashes what has become a standard conservative attack against Mr Obama: "We don't need a president who apologises for America."
As a piece of evocative propaganda, the video is "unbelievably well made", says Larry Engel, an award-winning documentary filmmaker and professor of film at American University's school of communications.
"It sets up in a very clear way - exciting and well-photographed, with beautiful music - a dichotomy or conflict between one way of thinking, one way of living, and another," he says.
"This very simple before-and-after display reinforces Obama's otherness. He's not an American, he's not one of us."
The video portends a 2012 presidential campaign as an action-packed showdown between the forces of prosperity and depression.
And with Mr Obama poised to raise as much as $1bn (£634.20m) in campaign cash, and a recent Supreme Court ruling allowing virtually unlimited political spending by corporate and union interests, the 2012 campaign could cost as much as an intergalactic war.