Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Petraeus or Betray Us? A Subtle and Compelling Question

Lordy, I've done so much STUFF since I last wrote in here. I've seen four movies in theaters, started two novels, started and finished a graphic novel, and I've started writing some criticism for PopPolitics. The four movies were 3:10 to Yuma, King of Kong, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and Eastern Promises. The novel I'm focused on is Spook Country, by William Gibson, and I'm looking forward to the train ride tomorrow morning, when I'll be reading it again. The graphic novel was The Nightly News, which was intense and comes recommended.

Sometime during this whirlwind of consumption, something political came to my attention: ran a muckraking ad about General Patraeus, the commander of the Iraqi freedom defense military security awesome force (IFDMSAF). The ad makes a clever pun ("Patraeus or Betray Us?") to hook readers and put knots in conservative jock-straps, and then it basically argues that Patraeus is misrepresenting the facts to keep the IFDMSAF in Iraq.

Obviously, there's been an overwhelming media response, including the requisite posturing by editorial columnists and tweaking out by bloggers. I'm about a week late, but I think I should add my own pinch of salt to this heaping portion of mystery meat.

Here's the deal: the ad was aggressive, a very visible expenditure of the vast resources MoveOn has accumulated. Maybe it got into some peoples' heads. Maybe it just provided an easy target for conservative nay-sayers to take shots at. But seriously, "Betray Us"? What a juicy prompt for a slathering partisan frenzy of affirmation and condemnation. It takes a real message - the question about honesty and misplaced loyalty - and turns it into a bloody battle over propriety and respect, which are sort of the little bags of candy that manipulative people use to keep us distracted while the big people play.

All they had to do was put some more effort into the initial presentation. It's possible to get people engaged in a question without bludgeoning them with a rhetorical golf club. Get people interested BEFORE you make them angry... pull them into the facts before they have a chance to flatly reject your politics.

I think, in service of this goal, MoveOn needs to recruit some people from AdBusters. These guys are as radical and confrontation as you can get, but they always know how to frame an idea in a way that makes it striking and unfamiliar. I mean, AdBusters is pretty much pinned as a leftist radical organization, but if you decontextualize their work, you can see that it's interesting and intense before it's partisan. Unfortunately, their primary forum is a niche magazine that sells for impractical amounts of money.

AdBusters could frame an ad in such a way that it got attention, though, and they could definitely use their 1337 design sk1llz to drag some conservative cheerleaders into a serious, thoughtful argument. AdBusters knows how to disguise their arguments until it's just the right time for them to come out... MoveOn could use a lesson in that regard. In return, MoveOn could contribute their massive piles of Internet-generated wealth to distributing AdBusters' radical but carefully-articulated ideas, injected into the brains of the masses like heroin being forced on a helpless child by an insane homeless person.

The networkers, the designers, and the public, hungry for brain-food... sounds like a ménage à trois made in heaven, my friends. It's time to get on top of this.


Anonymous said...

I think the primary problem with ads like that is a source issue.

I bet the vast majority of people who saw the ad saw it second hand, or at least heard about the controversy and THEN sought it out. People who saw the ad as it was released are in the minority.

The problem with this, is that you are primed for it; you have already been told what your response should be, depending on where you heard it from. Unfortunately, almost every source (even the liberal ones) distanced themselves from it, lest they break the cardinal rule about questioning generals during wartime. In a sense, it flips cause and effect: rage, then consumption (if that). Although, even if there were more balanced coverage of the ad, it would still be in this order; your prescribed emotion or reaction would hinge more on what publication you heard about it from (the Salon reader would probably disagree with the Fox News consumer).

There is one upside to this method however, and that is penetration of the ad. I mentioned before my disconnect with ad avenues. But I still got the message because I read the internet. In this way, the controversy just propogated the ad, in the same way that the controversy over that crappy Captive movie increased its YouTube and Google Images searches.


Anonymous said...

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