by Adam Hanft on October 14, 2010
There’s been a whole lot of punditizing about Christine O’Donnell’s “Taxman” video, a mock-trailer parody that includes, at the end, a winking acknowledgment of the “Bed Intruder” video, a YouTube blockbuster.
What’s different with the “Taxman,” though – and why I’m calling this spot an early example of the “New Negative” in political advertising – is its sly but unmistakable reference to the Bed Intruder video. For those of you who aren’t among the 31 million people who’ve seen this phenomenon on YouTube, a young man name Antoine Dodson posted this rap narrative, and generous neighborhood warning, about his sister’s rape; including these lines:
“Hide your kids, hide your wife, and hide your husband, ’cause they’re rapin’ everybody out here…”
In the “Taxman” video – as we hear ominous music, and after we’re told that Chris Coombs wanted to tax a 911 phone call– the Dodson lyric is transformed into:
“Hide your will,
Hide your lights,
‘Cause he’s taxing everything out here.”
There are (at least) two psychological tactics operating here. The first is that the spot – which is threatening in its entire affect – links Coons to restricting 911 calls and to a rape. Davis wants to construct a new brain system in which Coons is unconsciously associated with personal violation.
The second tactic is the insider-y reference to the Bed Intruder video itself. Davis is connecting his candidate O’Donnell to the beating heart of pop culture, and by doing so makes her both contemporary and gutsy. Few candidates are so willing to share their obsessions; but that’s exactly the ‘I’m You” persona that is being carefully constructed for O’Donnell.
But that’s not all. Davis is also using pop culture against Coons. The Bed Intruder video – which people love, which has led to iTunes success, Halloween costumes, and dozens of the instant extensions – is functioning as a kind of O’Donnell proxy endorser. I don’t think that’s ever been done before; raiding the culture to create mash-ups like this is, for me, a whole different approach, a “New Negative.”
But most of what I’ve read misses the point of this latest culture bomb – better, this latest IED (Internet Explosive Device) from O’Donnell’s media strategist Fred Davis, who conjured the “I’m Not a Witch, I’m You” spot of which I’ve written earlier.
Yes, beginning the spot with a movie trailer disclaimer – in this case confirming that the
“preview” has been approved for all ages is clever. Davis knows that wresting a familiar image from one context, and plopping it into another, grabs attention. And yes, using a horror-movie parody that makes Chris Coons a stock figure of unplumbed evil depths, has viral potential.
But Davis has used the movie parody syntax before – more imaginatively, in fact, in a video for Carly Fiorina that used Hitchockian imagery to turn Barbara Boxer’s into a helium-filled monster who terrorizes California.
O’Donnell is running well behind in the polls, so Davis and his team have nothing to lose. I think he’s experimenting with new kinds of creative, frankly, for his other campaigns. The “Witch” and “Taxman” spots are Petri dishes for the future.
For an example of the “Old Negative,” you’ve got to see this spot that incumbent Governor Pat Quinn is running against Republican challenger Bill Brady. Quinn is charging Brady with wanting to mass euthanize sheltered animals. (Note to Microsoft: Why isn’t “euthanize” in spell check?) Or as the media is putting it, “Brady wants to kill your dog“. It’s rough – we hear a yowling sound track - it yanks something out of context, but it doesn’t have the “Taxman’s” post-modern burnish and elaborate cultural reference systems.
For those who remember it, it’s hard to watch that spot and not think of this legendary National Lampoon cover. Life imitates the brilliant and missed Michael O’Donoghue.