Friday, February 15, 2008

Political Spectacle

A failure, this, and suggestive of the stupid insularity and arrogance of cocaculture producing clerks. The conception is recycled niche product - targeted to 14-17 year old boys, who can't vote, and young men with adolescent sensibilities, who don't. Every note it strikes is wrong for the purpose: the slavish, empty, sarcastic mimicry of mimicry pitiably straining to sell itself as "ideas and innovation", the ostentatious avowal of the commodity nature of the product-candidate for sale (explicitly the analogue of a robotic appliance certain to be obsolete in less than four years), the unabashed nerd-machiste misogyny, the careless and giggling, infantile sadistic aggravation of real anxieties about dictatorship with this peculiar cocaculture pomosity which openly offers ersatz solutions, escape into the world of computer assisted fantasy, flight into the playstation. Beyond that, what appears to be a truly religious belief that irrational pseudosity is so strong, irony so ubiquitously corrosive and conquering, and audiences so manipulable, that one could sell a Presidential candidate with the screaming insinuation that only an elite and exclusive minority would ever "buy" him, and thus a vote for him makes he who casts it a rebel, committing an act of self-distinction and self-description through commodity consumption. Thus the ad reveals its designer's cocksure convinction that they can fool a huge audience into all doing the same thing - whether is it buying a pair of sports shoes or touching the name on a voting machine screen - by convincing them precisely that only insiders are doing this and that doing that thing will make each of them unique. Vote for Obama - like Apple, he's sure to come in a distant third. Because irrationalism and irony is imperial, the makers seem to believe, no audience will be troubled by or contemptuous of an image meant to represent Iconoclasm which is an exact and faithful replica of an iconic advertisement which itself exploited through faithful fetish exhibition - not undermining, much less smashing - well known, sacred icons. The ad seems to assume that this message cheerfully and smugly promising failure of the purported quest, this content, which requires audience rationality to decipher, cannot be problematic for the brand image cultivation underway here, as rationality is entirely abolished, and the only task undertaken by this ad is to associate Obama with a superior, if less widely used, product than the market leader, a product whose image is associated with California billionaires in casual clothes. In the elite nerd newmedia subculture from whence this ad springs, this utter absence of signification on which the ad wagers, this pure faith in the endlessly manipulable, sense-vacated, history-vacated, rinsed and re-usable images deployable at the whim and will of the video artist, can indeed be widely observed; but that subculture, being irrational in this way, being as it is so sure of the wisdom of the neoNietzscheanism to which it is devoted, remains in deep denial of the very exclusivity and eliteness it prides itself on. The result is a display of delusional self-confidence, and the ad provides a wry self portrait of its makers - in the grey herd which somehow engenders the macho blonde babe of boy's dreams to smash mommy, and "conversation", in the face with Nietzsche's hammer. In the subculture which sprouts this bit of doggedly derivative, comically arrogant advertising art, one can hold two contradictory ideas about the culture's own status - minority and majority, counter-culture and dominant culture - in one's heads simultaneously without getting a headache. This is the culture of the billionaire bohemian, after all.

In this promotional misfire, the exhaustion of this aesthetic and style is revealed as its usually veiled malice, manipulativeness and mendacity rise to the surface.

The later, successful Obama campaign retrieved What If? from the cybergeek fantasyland of the pseudo-imaginitive postmodern echochamber of the branding hard sell. It was all about disseminating a feeling of relief. Not Oz but Kansas. Not aggression but negotiation. Not anxiety but reassurance. Not cliché pseudo-worlds from the playstation, settings and pretext of tiring and pseudo-risky (success is assured) gestes and daring, but slightly updated small townscapes, with greenery, picket fences, schools, workplaces.

And look at this - the first image is a book. A relic from the gutenberg galaxy, from the lost rational past.

This stuff is corny to be sure, but at this point it is less corny - or appears so at least for not seeming deluded about its own corniness - than VoteDifferent. Its use of the style arsenal of "the digital age", though no less minutely controlled than in VoteDifferent, is on the surface very understated: the faux "hand held" quality of the footage, as if Obama's speech and audience are filmed by another member of the audience, ceding smoothly to a series of stills with titles - you are permitted a pause in bg motion to absorb this as information, as language with content. But the stills also work to suggest a shortage of video to complete the piece, as well as to allow a pause for the sake of a pause, a rest, a moment to digest - the pace unhurried - and additionally to evoke the reliability of a certain kind of documentary which traditionally involves narrative, sense, and information. The editing of the piece subtly seeks to replicate not a deliberate alienating and self referential joltiness but the ever so slight, residual joltiness one would find in a competent non-professional product when working with footage not expressly shot to be cut together. It's a very subdued effect but it also helps to instill this sense of calm and relief, this sense of communication, that the maker of this piece and its audience are striving for a clear line of interaction, that the maker is not trying to nauseate or confuse but to be as frank as possible, patiently and sincerely. The assemblage, which is the result of a professional editor aiming "insincerely" for just a touch of seemingly inadvertant roughness, simulates the result of an enthused amateur trying for maximum smoothness but falling just a hair short because of imperfect materials and limited resources.

Now this one is interesting (an amateur campaign ad) because it is a faux history channel documentary about the rise of President Barack Obama. The audio plus stills suggest something already sealed in amber, something further back in time, something "historic", something, unlike our present unfolding history, not recorded constantly on video - something from an earlier age but also something whose historic significance was not fully perceived as it happened. Its message is fait accompli. We are reminiscing. Reminiscing very affectionately with the photo album about our President who ended the nightmare, also our First Black President. We enjoy those old recordings of his voice...(and like the voice of so many of our cherished Figures, Bobby Kennedy, MLK but also Roosevelt, this one has to be matched to stills, as if there were no video. As a voice matched to stills, Obama's speeches remind us that we have nothing to fear but fear itself.) This, then, is hindsight. The implied perspective from which these images and sounds are delivered is the future, long after Barack Obama's glorious presidency has ended and delivered us all the prosperity promised. An homage from the future to the present as glorious and memorable past, as "historic" moment unaware in the moment of its momentousness. Now we have insta-ersatz-historic-moment-ness. In the digital age of the society of the spectacle we don't have to wait for history to deliver its verdict. We are made aware that we will always remember where we were when President Obama was elected as we will always remember the instant of hearing the allies had landed at Normandy, or that John Lennon and JFK were shot; we can feel that full intensity and nostalgia immediately, brought to us by this message from the future, when that relief now promised has long set in, when the rewards of this historic moment have been reaped.

This one is a student project.


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  2. It's a shame really that Mitt Romney dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination; his ads were fun.

    My favorite was "Ocean", where the sea called up a whole series of metaphors. First it's dark and threatening "a cesspool", then he speaks of kids who "inhaled to deeply" in the ocean (yes they inhaled the ocean) and there are some psychedelic bubbles in the water suggesting drug abuse. After that, just when he says "I'd like to keep pornography from coming up on their computer" the white foam coming all over a little kid's feet creates a cum shot, as the editor surely must have realized because everybody who goes to film school is taught the interpretation of that one kiss in Vertigo where the waves crash on the rocks behind them. And finally, the upward movement, from the water towards the heavens, as in a baptism. Born again!

  3. god i haven't seen it.

    ""inhaled to deeply" in the ocean (yes they inhaled the ocean) "

    one of the "five chinese brothers" from the story can swallow the ocean.