Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Cue Symbolic Racism

Well, all that talk about Obama being "presumptuous" (read: "uppity") for doing things like giving speeches in other countries (as McCain did a few months ago) or meeting with the Fed. chief (as many senators do) must not have been paying off. So now Team McCain is employing the tried-and-true method of tying the black man in question to promiscuous white women. (h/t TPM and Dday.) Note the new ad -- ostensibly about economic conditions -- that blends Obama's face with those of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton:

This is the same sort of thing that sunk Harold Ford's senate campaign in 2006. And, not surprisingly, McCain has hired the creator of the "Harold, call me" ad.

Let's call this for what it is.


Anonymous said...

I guess when I watched that video, I didn't think "oversexed white women or bimbos." Britney and Paris appeared just as the word "celebrity" was used. My take on the message was that Obama was as empty as vacuous as Britney and Paris. When I see Britney and Paris on tabloids at the checkout counter, I don't think "oversexed bimbo." I think -- there's nothing there but the empty flash. Could this not be what was being conveyed?

Maybe I'm naive on this. I have not seen the Harold Ford videos, though. But this DOES seem to attack Obama for being all style and no subtance, right? Can you not see that angle?

Seth said...

I can certainly see that angle. But if they're trying to suggest that Obama is a vapid celebrity by showing images of other vapid celebrities, there are other images they could use. Tom Cruise, Richard Gere, Barbra Streisand, hell, even Tom Arnold would do. They made a very conscious decision to use young, attractive, promiscuous blonde women in this ad. "Vapid celebrity" isn't the only label they're trying to pin on Obama.

Anonymous said...

I would agree that they made a conscious decision to use Britney and Paris. But can you think of two bigger glamor stars? Is anyone else on as many tabloids and knows as well by the tabloid-following crowd? I have no dog in this race, but if I asked you to name the two most well-known tabloid celebrities, would you have guessed someone other than Paris and Britney?

If they were going to select a male, I suspect it would have been Tom Cruise. Richard Gere doesn't have that star power, or Sean Penn.

Remember -- the ad is targeting independents, and trying to make them see Obama as similar to two glam celebrities. Would you have picked any two others if you were trying to select celebrities people would be turned off by (or see as pathetic)?

I'm not arguing that no one in that ad room had a racial angle too. But I just don't see how it is *obvious* that symbolic racism is driving this.

Anonymous said...

Whether it matters or not, the symbolic racism angle you're arguing wasn't even mentioned in the Yahoo! news story on the stubject:

Seth said...

Let me ask this another way: What is McCain overtly trying to say about Obama? That he's stupid? I doubt it. The intended message is probably more something like, "Sure, he's popular, but his ideas are bad." Blending Obama's face with Britney and Paris doesn't seem very consistent with that message. So what message is it consistent with?

Meanwhile, attacking a candidate for being unreasonably popular seems pretty damned stupid. It's like the candidate for high school class president who complains that it's just a big popularity contest. Duh.

Anonymous said...

And, ahem, this ad comes from the party that puts Chuck Norris on any dias they can throw up in less than an hour, and touts Arnold Swartzeneggar among its stars.

Anonymous said...

We'll see, I suppose, if the ad is effective. But in terms of what McCain is overtly trying to say in the ad is something like this. "America likes its celebrities. We can't get enough of seeing and reading about certain people -- like Britney, Paris, and, yes, Obama. They're plastered across countless tabloid covers. But do you REALLY want a celebrity like that running the country?" So, in my mind, the ad is trying to associate Obama with empty fad celebrities that draw our attention, for whatever reason. But the danger is that we might wake up, no longer be interested in that celebrity (like so many who have graced tabloids in the past but fade away completeley), but realize that person is ensconced in the presidency for the next 4 years!

How effective you think the ad is in conveying all of this is up for debate. You're probably right in that a better ad could have been created. But I guess I initially wrote in because I simply disagreed with you very quick assessment that this was first and foremost about race. I just don't think that's true. It's not that I'm arguing the McCain and Co. are ABOVE putting together that kind of ad. I just think you're reaching a bit here.

Anonymous said...

There's an interesting discussion of this at, of all places, Gawker, where a commenter says someone in the McCain camp is an old Vernon Reid fan.

Seth said...

Is Burnin' Vernon an Obama fan? This could get interesting.