What do politicians do best when it comes to running for office? Well, usually, it's making the other guy look bad. They highlight all the failures of their opponent while speaking in vague terms about what they will do if elected to the office they seek. A lot of "we needs" will be thrown at you in the upcoming year, and Republican candidate Rick Perry, who is considered the frontrunner to take on President Barack Obama, is offering the "We need to get America working again" angle to his political aspirations. But that's not all. Rick Perry is playing an image and word association game using the powerful tool of online video.
The Rick Perry Political Ad "Proven Leadership"
His recent ad, "Proven Leadership," is being discussed for the production value and for calling Barack Obama, "President Zero." What I'd like to discuss are the other messages that are being relayed in the video. The unspoken, but clear-as-a-bell messages that are often more powerful than the words. Image association can be even more powerful than statements and rhetoric.
First, the video ad:
Whoa. I wonder when this Rick Perry movie will come out.
Here's what I see from this video at first glance: this guy is dead serious about making a run for President. We've got a video that looks made of money. You can practically see the imprint of Benjamin Franklin's face on every frame of this video, probably because they had to key it out in After Effects. And all those cuts of the man and the military and those sweeping pronouncements! Are we sure this guy isn't already President?
Now I'm ready to study this video more closely. What happens in the first half of the video? The video is talking about Barack Obama and what a failure he is. His name is associated with the word "zero"," that's easy to see, along with that old campaign artwork taking the "O" in Obama and turning it into the zero. Zero is seen 5 times on screen, along with the words "Nothing" and "Down Grade" and what's this? Some sort of Asian writing? Barack Obama associates with Asians! That's worse than Acorn!
Key to the Barack Obama Segment: Showing A World of Emptiness
What strikes me the most about the Barack Obama section of this video is the desolation. The very first picture of the ad is an empty street in LA, and a parking meter with a bag over it. Don't underestimate that bag: that's the image of frustration, inaccessibility, and a place you can't park your car. We see a former billboard in the next shot, accentuated by the rolling clouds in the sky. Times Square looks like I Am Legend just happened. There's a subway car, pristine as the day it was forged, happily zipping along with no people in it, but the scary part is...what zombie is patrolling this train? Whose brains did he eat to commandeer this vehicle, and what part of Brooklyn will he terrorize next?
Then there's a factory where it looks like no one has worked since Eisenhower was in office. The first word association with Obama is a backwards "Closed," as we see his blurry image behind the window of a diner or something. Not only that, but it's raining. Another empty street. That's when you hear the air raid sirens. And in case you didn't know that those were air raid sirens, or you were asking to yourself, "Those sound a lot like air raid sirens," they confirm it with the image of an air raid siren. Lightning. Now back to desolation: another sorry street with leaves on it. A barber shop the customers and the barbers have abandoned, presumably to go about their business in Mexico or El Salvador or wherever it's fiscally viable to cut hair nowadays. There's a boarded-up store, but you know what has me hopping mad? The sign in the window says: No Public Restrooms.
Boarded-up houses. Empty swings blowing around. And then we see the face of Barack Obama again. Well, not entirely. His face is kind of cut off and he seems distant. I wonder if the guy shooting the footage knows that. A full aisle of unpurchased Hallmark cards, because who could celebrate birthdays with Obama in office? Empty tables. Broken-down buses with graffiti all over them. A flag desperately waving in the wind, attached to some abandoned building. And finally, Barack Obama's poster, which signified hope and change, deteriorates.
All of those images are in the first twenty seconds, before the rapid "zero" montage. No jobs, no confidence, no hope, and no change. But wait, what is this? The cavalry!
Key to the Rick Perry Segment: A World Where Flags Wave and the Statue of Liberty Stands Tall
I propose a drinking game, although it might be terribly irresponsible of me to suggest it. These are young, impressionable minds here, after all. If you choose to participate, I'll give you some time to recover, and then you can finish reading this article if Rick Perry hasn't been elected by then. You must drink every time the American flag or the Statue of Liberty, even a model of the Statue of Liberty, shows up. The challenge of this game is that you have to finish the drink before the ad quick cuts to another image. If you miss, you have to take another drink, and start over again.
Disclaimer: Don't ever, ever try this drinking game. Oh, you went ahead and did it anyway? Tell me, how did dying feel? The images as Rick Perry enters the screen:
Horses come flying into the picture, running through shallow water. They mean business. The sun shows up in LA (finally!). Lots of sunny farmland. People applauding. Perry handshaking. The streets are filled with life again. A soldier salutes the Texas governor. There are 12 different shots of the American flag, and 4 of the Statue of Liberty. Again, I hope you didn't partake in that drinking game.
It all ends with, "Perry, Zombie Killer." Or rather, "Perry, President." It doesn't even say "Perry for President." It's making a statement by not placing the preposition there.
The association with Perry, of course, is in stark contrast to Obama. Obama is associated with rainy days and desolation and V for Vendetta. Perry is associated with sunshine, filled streets, and American icons. Everything except Reagan is in this segment.
Why the Rick Perry Ad Is Effective
We fully expect to hear negative comments about Barack Obama. We fully expect to hear Rick Perry spout out "it's time" to do stuff that Barack Obama hasn't done. That's not the part of the ad that is all that memorable, really. What's memorable is that this ad perfectly conveys associative images with a cinematic quality. The opening shots of a dystopian America while Obama speaks are the images that will burn themselves in your brain long after the empty promises enter through one ear and exit out the other. The entrance of Perry into the picture is "a breath of fresh air." Check out all those sunny landscapes.
Then all those quick cuts--in the Obama section, it's used in a disruptive manner. Garish, interrupting images, scary statistics, and his image always is cut off or distorted. The first one is kind of blurry, the next time, it's out of frame. Then there's an image with static. The last Obama shot you see in this segment is an image with an out-of-whack vertical hold. It conveys dishonesty and disconnection, all quick-cut with air raid sirens blaring. Everything about this says, "Stay away," or, "Seek the nearest bomb shelter."
When it's Perry, it's very exciting. Images of certainty and hope. Images start being really cool: check out the kid with his model airplane, as several jets fly off in the sky. Check out the quick cut to the rear-view mirror, the rack focus, and all the cars that are back on the road. There's this faux-Hallelujah Chorus type of music playing. It doesn't even matter what he's saying (I think it's something about how he killed 437 million Balrogs in World of Warcraft), because the image association is so strong.
When you are trying to make a statement, the words can get lost. The images are what stay. That's why the Rick Perry ad is really well made. Political ads may have not one iota of influence on you, but the overall of what Perry's ad says is, "I'm here to compete, and I'm in it for the long haul." That's what those of you who are not easily manipulated are going to get from the ad, whether you like him or not. It certainly throws down the gauntlet to his other Republican hopefuls. This guy hasn't even won the nomination yet and he's already showing "I'm the guy who's going to beat Obama." This should be an interesting election year. Let's hope video is used so dramatically for the duration.