Sunday, October 14, 2012

Obama's Embarrassing Big Bird Ad

VOICEOVER: “Bernie Madoff. Ken Lay. Dennis Kozlowski. Criminals. Gluttons of greed. And the evil genius who towered over them? One man has the guts to speak his name.”

MITT ROMNEY: “Big Bird.” “Big Bird.” “Big Bird.”

BIG BIRD: “It’s me. Big Bird.”

VOICEOVER: Big. “Yellow. A menace to our economy. Mitt Romney knows it’s not Wall Street you have to worry about, it’s Sesame Street.”

MITT ROMNEY: “I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS.”

VOICEOVER: “Mitt Romney. Taking on our enemies, no matter where they nest.”

I haven't spent any time at all on this blog discussing the current Presidential election. If I thought it mattered, I might. However, I was utterly amazed by the above ad. And I was not amazed in a good way.

My criticisms of this ad have nothing to do with my opposition to Obama. I equally oppose Romney. I am viewing this ad purely from the perspective of an expert in rhetoric.

I had heard about this ad before I saw it for the first time on Saturday Night Live. In fact, though I knew of the ad's existence, I still thought for a moment it was an SNL spoof of the ad. But it was not. It was in fact the actual ad. I could not believe the incredibly bad judgment by the people who designed the ad, the people who approved the ad, and Obama himself (who does say at the beginning "I approve this message") to release this thing.

I would first like to note that the ad trivializes the scandals highlighted at the beginning of the commercial by equating them with Sesame Street.

Second, there is a false equivalence. Wanting to cut spending on PBS literally has nothing to do with illegal activities by a handful of people who worked on Wall Street. I won't go into the issues surrounding regulations, etc., as that has nothing to do with this analysis. I am viewing the commercial entirely from the perspective of effectiveness. The fact that pretty much any idiot on earth could see that there is a false equivalence undermines the effectiveness of the ad.

Third, there is a bit of a postmodern juxtaposition followed by a bait-and-switch. After listing all of the people involved in scandals on Wall Street, the ad says "And the evil genius who towered over them?" and then cuts first to a window with a vague Big Bird shadow, then to Mitt Romney. The cuts are so fast, and the shadow so clear, the implication is that Romney is in fact the "evil genius who towered over them." For a moment you are shocked by the accusation that Romney was somehow involved -- but then, you get the bait-and-switch, with the ad focusing on Big Bird.

In the end, the ad is a complete disaster. Ranging from the trivialization of crimes to the creation of false equivalents, this has to be the worst political commercial of all time, from the perspective of effectiveness for the candidate.

I am sure someone in the Obama campaign thought they would trivialize Romney with this ad. But all they really did was trivialize themselves. If this is all they have to offer as a reason to vote for Obama after 4 years, he doesn't deserve to be reelected. Maybe he doesn't even want to be.
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