Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Celebrities = Evil

Currently, Talking Points Memo is covering the release of the latest anti-Obama ad from the McCain campaign. The new effort sticks with the line that Obama is "the biggest celebrity in the world" that was used in the much-discussed recent ad that spliced in clips of Paris Hilton and Brittney Spears.

Greg Sargent at TPM notes:

As I reported here the other day, the McCain team was devoting a third of its ad budget to the first celeb ad. That, combined with the fact that they're sticking with the "celeb" theme, suggests that internal polling shows it may be working.

The "celeb" epithet is all about cheapening the mass political support for Obama and redefining the Obama movement as one that's less about politics and issues and more about cult of personality. By asking whether this "celebrity" is prepared to help your family, the McCain team is trying to get people to see whatever temptation they may have to support Obama as somehow fundamentally misguided and not rooted in what's really important.

Sargent's first observation is dead-on. The McCain campaign obviously likes what it sees from this attack strategy. It is interjecting the Obama-as-celebrity theme into a second news cycle, funding the crap out of previous efforts, and hitting the airwaves with related talking points like retired generals fresh from Rumsfeld's yacht.

The second observation, that the "epithet" is about "redefining the Obama movement as one that's less about politics and issues and more about cult of personality," is somehow both oversimplifies and overestimates that thought that goes into the new ads.

It is an overestimation in that this isn't about redefining Obama's movement as a cult of personality unattached to issues or politics, it's about loading the word "celebrity" as a powerful epithet. When the ad leads with "Is the biggest celebrity in the world ready to help your family," it's about both painting celebrities as uncaring, out-of-touch, and phony at their core as much as it is about labeling Obama as a celebrity.

I don't think it's so much about snapping up would-be Obama supporters tempted to join the popular crowd as much as it is about bludgeoning Obama and the enthusiasm around his campaign as unAmerican insofar as celebrities and fame are seen as corrosive to traditional culture whereever the "real" American "heartland" is. It is about finding a way to derogatorally refer to Obama and his campaign, a way to ridicule and minimize, a way for McCain surrogates and supporters to "go negative" without being flagged for out-and-out racism. The first 'celebrity' ad, the one with Hilton and Spears, pushed that envelope in a way that allowed the McCain campaign to test what they can and cannot get away with.

Because of that, we may also be oversimplifying the intent of the new effort in another way.

This and subsequent ads from McCain's celebrity-as-epithet series don't need to have images of blonde women to conjure up the same memes, associations, and emotions because the style and theme of the campaign will be constant.

Here, the McCain campaign has set another trap for Obama and his supporters. When the left called the McCain team out for the images of white women in the last ad, it backfired (as demonstrated by McCain's decision to press on) with a counter attack related to inappropriate use of the race card. With this new ad, the McCain campaign is hitting on the same themes and associations, this time using a white woman narrator to mash together a fearful drum beat, chants of Obama, and images of the candidate's face with an overall emphasis on the word celebrity. If Obama supporters go after the McCain campaign on the narrator and on the racial overtones that remain in the celebrity meme, they'll again open themselves up to charges of 'playing the race card.' Indeed, it sounds ridiculous to suggest the McCain campaign bar the use of female voices in their attack ads. On the other hand, the Obama campaign must find a way to castrate the power of 'celebrity' as an epithet or the McCain campaign will continue to stockpile different ways to use the term like Obama is Y2K.

The first link at the top of the post can get you to the video. I'd rather not embed it because I'd like to see it as little as possible.


Veems223 said...

This seems relevant.

Leigh C. said...

Celebrities ain't evil. They just suck.