Thursday, July 31, 2008

National Political Pundits Find No Racism in McCain's Overtly Racist Ad

Maybe I'm out in the woods on this one. I just heard a pretty young African-American commentator on CNN, Michelle Bernard, proclaim that there's no racism in McCain's new political ad.

The ad, in case you've been stranded at sea for the past 24 hours, flashes photos of very blond, beautiful and young airhead Paris Hilton, as well as an image of almost as blond and beautiful, equally young, and narcotically disturbed Britney Spears. These are followed by images of a smiling Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama greeting crowds of believers. The ad questions whether Obama is qualified to lead. John McCain's face appears at the end of the ad.

The imputation, in case you're brain dead from your ordeal at sea, is that Obama is as intellectually challenged as two women who are famous for being famous.

Obama has responded to this and other ads by suggesting he is under attack because he doesn't look like the other faces on our dollar bills.

Aside from the fact that it's silly to devote one's ad to images of a smiling opponent being worshipped by stadium crowds, this ad had a decidedly racial undertone. Let's pan past those images again: Two young dumb blond white girls, clearly needing protection, sometimes from themselves. A powerful black man surrounded by a large and potentially mob. All the ad needs is an over voice. I suggest the robot from the 1960s TV series, Lost in Space (an intergalactic version of the Swiss Family Robinson story), intoning,"Danger Will Robinson. Danger, danger."

Michelle Bernard's position suggests that there are no lingering fears of black men, no fears of unreasoning mobs, and no desire to circle the wagons to protect those beautiful women-children. Huh. I wonder why six times more black men are in prison than white guys, per 100,000, as reported by the U.S. Department of Justice.

If you have doubts about the power of subconscious imagery of this sort, check out today's story on National Public Radio. It's about psychological tests that help us identify our hidden, subconscious biases by the cognitive connections we make when shown photos. From there, you can sample some of these self-quizzes online.

To slide off-topic a wee bit, for a daily dose of intelligent visual deconstruction, check out No Caption Needed. This blog is written by John Hariman and John Louis Lucaites, two communication professors who prove the academy is not a bastion of hopeless eggheads who can't write a readable paragraph.

In summary, the McCain ad is racist. It uses subtle visual images to exploit deeply held racial prejudices. Political commentators who deny this reinforce the fantasy that voters are making a decision to vote for McCain for good reasons. Encouraging people to deny our biases while simultaneously making decisions on their basis is the essence of exploiting people's worst selves. Not only McCain, but our television commentators, should be ashamed.

1 comment:

Sylvia K said...

You surely won't get any argument from me!