For all the talk by political pundits about how this election will be decided on important issues like the economy or health care, you’d be hard pressed to find evidence that candidates actually have anything substantive to say on those issues if you looked solely at the ads they pay for. Examples are the easiest (and most entertaining) way to illustrate this, so take a look at a 30-second ad paid for by the Obama for America campaign, available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rgjTYFE2aYc&feature=share&list=PL7D1934B46A0575CE.
Here is what the advertisement tells the viewers: Brian from Ohio was an autoworker who got laid off and was worried about how he would support his son and wife. President Obama restructured the auto industry, thereby providing Brian with a job that he is extremely grateful to have. The story is simple and given to viewers with the minimum amount of detail possible, perhaps so that the message is digested just as simply. There are no details about what kind of a plan Obama implemented, what kinds of jobs were saved, whether new jobs were created or not, how much this plan cost the taxpayers, or how the gains of this plan will be guarded in the future. Nope. All the viewers learn is that, “Under the President’s auto rescue, the industry restructured saving over 1 million jobs.” Presumably, the ad creators were satisfied that this sentence gave voters all the information they needed about Obama’s policy, so they devoted the rest of the ad to a voice-over by Brian. The ad clearly wants viewers to give equal importance to policies implemented in the auto industry, and the story of a solitary and politically biased autoworker.
The story of Brian is further bolstered by pretty pictures, perhaps to distract viewers from the lack of information, and the ad packs quite the visual punch for a 30-second video. There is the young all-American boy playing baseball in his backyard, the beautiful smiling wife, a shot of homemade coffee (no Starbucks for us normal folks, am I right?) being poured into a travel mug, Brian driving to work wearing a baseball cap (no fancy elitist headgear here, no sir!), and finally a shot of overjoyed Obama surrounded by faceless but fawning autoworkers. Light is used somewhat shamelessly to evoke emotion. The flashbacks are all bathed in a golden light; Brian talks about losing his job as he is surrounded by darkness, and thereafter heads back to work as the sun rises.
The most disappointing part of this ad is made conspicuous by its absence: the future. No plans for the future are presented, or even referred to. Somewhere, a group of people decided that a good use of money and skills would be to create ads that ask people to determine what the next four years would look like based on inconcrete facts about the past and no plans for the future. This is hardly a problem that affects a single candidate in this election – blatant emotional appeals are everywhere and facts are sadly underrepresented in the election media – and this doesn’t seem to be the best way to decide who one should vote for.