Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Negative Ads, Attack Ads, Critical Ads
Enough With The Sinister Sounding Voice-Overs Already

Terminology can contain or entail ambiguities or other confusions, and/or they can presuppose or entail bad theories, including bad theories of classification. All these things can be problematic and sometimes even disastrous (consider, e.g., the disastrously confused term 'war on terror'...).

'Negative ad' is unclear in such a way. It's at least ambiguous as between something like 'attack ad' and something like 'critical ad.' Now, there's absolutely nothing wrong with a critical ad per se. That is, so long as the criticisms are honest and fair, such ads can even be helpful to the process (as some studies have confirmed). On the other hand, ads which are unnecessarily vicious or negative are probably more properly called something like 'attack ads.' Those ads are bad, and candidates who use them should be punished (by the voters, of course, not the government.) Attack ads are exaggerated or otherwise dishonest, or aim at character assassination or some similar thing.

Public discussions of this issue are almost always terribly confused largely because they fail to draw this fairly elementary distinction.

One wee thing everybody could do right away to take a small step toward eliminating attack ads is to stop making ads with those g*d d*mn sinister voices reading the copy. If your opponent did something you judge to be bad or mistaken, then say so. But adding those stupid-ass sinister voices reading the text is not only sophomoric, but is clearly intended to suggest something sinister about the target.

O.k... As you were.


Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

But what do you do when an opponent is papering over their record and seems to be getting away with it?

From what I've read, there are two voter-psychology phenomena:

a) If Candidate A personally goes negative on Candidate B, the negativity accrues in the memory to Candidate A.

b) Negative ["attack"] ads are effective.

Now, Obama has tilted the game in his favor, and all credit to him: From what I've read, Hillary ran a single negative ad, and I think she pulled it. Obama's politics of positivity made her seem like a villain.

So Hillary used Bill as a surrogate [or Bill volunteered himself], calling Obama's account of his record on Iraq a "fairy tale," which was at least a somewhat credible charge.

No sale. The media, which carried Bill Clinton's water in the olden days, immediately began to distort his remarks [as in BC said Obama's candidacy is a fairy tale], and highly influential congressman James Clybourn (D-African America) spent the day of the South Carolina primary on CNN pretty much calling the First Black president a racist.

Well, it's looking like it's too late for Hillary to call Obama (D-Utopia) out, but it seems like a third party, an ominous-sounding voice on an attack ad, is the only possible strategy to derail the fairy tale in the general election.

11:49 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...


Keep tryin' Tom. It isn't working, but it's rather amusing to watch.

Who knew how many people were anti-hope? Turns out, there's a large anti-hope contingent.

(In the background, there's also this phenomenon: even if candidate A is every bit as serious and substantive as candidate B, if A says anything even modestly aspirational, the B-ites will scowl and say "A is a nutty idealist, not a hard-headed realist. Like B." There's one factor that gives us the cynical, demoralizing politics we've been stuck with.)

I'm not talking about anybody in particular. I didn't have HRC in mind. I'm really interested in the general distinction.

7:23 AM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

My thesis is clear, with examples from the current crisis. Hillary just couldn't go Clinton on Obama.

There is no clear alternative to ominous voice-overs, per my a)and b), and Hillary couldn't even use the OVO's, which is why she's losing.

4:26 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

In fact, Obama may be the perfect storm. With the new requirement of "I'm so-and-so and I approved this ad" [per McCain-Feingold?], per my a), OVOs might not even work anymore.

4:40 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Wow, man. I think you ought to just let this one go.

Er, "the media carried Bill Clinton's water"??? Surely you aren't serious about that...

7:25 PM  

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