Santorum Uses YouTube to Release Newest Campaign Video Against Obama
America, prepare for a new kind of political slander. Rick Santorum’s “Obamaville” television ad is a product of the political rivalry between him and President Barack Obama. The ad, which started out on YouTube, has gone viral, flooding televisions in the homes of many. “Obamaville,” according to Dr. Don Swanson, Chair of the Department of Philosophy, Religion and Interdisciplinary Studies, is different stylistically than typical television campaign ads.
“Like a lot of political ads, it doesn’t really say anything clearly; it uses images to create an aura. The aura is one of horror, negativity and fear. The images refer very broadly to an apocalyptic future. Everything in the ad is dark. Visual images are powerful in setting a mood. The goal is to set a sense that is vague and get the viewer to read emotion into the ad,” said Swanson. “Note the rapidity of the visual cuts, almost subliminal because they are so quick. These cuts try to get you to associate things to each other that are not really related. It has no remotely logical or accurate verbal content. It does however try to plant a verbal term, “Obamaville,” in the conclusion that the producers would like to become familiar and salient.”
Swanson was communication director in two congressional campaigns in Oregon in 1988 and 1990 when internet campaigning did not exist and is therefore more cognizant of the changes in modern political communication. He remarks that the evolution of political communication fascinates him.
Associate Professor of communication and Hawk TV advisor Donna Dolphin also agrees that Santorum’s ad takes a different approach than most political campaign ads. It is more cinematic, and the entertainment aspect of it is what draws viewers according to Dolphin. “My guess is that the ad is spinning in exactly the way it was intended to, that it was meant to go viral. It’s absolutely ridiculous so of course it will. It’s got people talking. It even employs subliminal suggestion, a controversial (and very old) technique which involves inserting a single frame of an image in the message. This frame goes past so quickly that we don’t consciously perceive it but, the theory goes, our brain does get the message. It’s a form of brainwashing – controversial and never proved. It was attempted by advertisers in movie theaters in the early days of movie going,” says Dolphin.
This evokes the question of legitimacy. For many, such as Swanson, “Obamaville” seems unsubstantial in facts and cannot be taken seriously. “It polarizes me against the Santorum campaign. My factual understanding of the current situation and its decades of causal factors causes me to interpret this ad as entertainment, not to be taken seriously. If we analyze it in terms of rhetorical principles, such as MU students learn in the general education course, “Critical Discourse,” we would quickly find that it employs several types of incomplete and fallacious reasoning,” he comments. Sophomore political science major Adrian Palaia also believes there are factual flaws in the ad.
“It is ads like this which polarize the American people’s thoughts into baneful stances that if one side does not win, it’s the end of the world. This ad does just that. It plays to your wallet, your faith and your health when in actually, even if Obama wins, we’d all still have those,” said Palaia.
Journalist Catherine Poe said in an article in The Washington Times that Santorum has become “A figure of doom and gloom with his moral certitude.” She also adds that the media is not completely responsible for Santorum’s negative reputation thus far in his campaign. “What makes the video all the more menacing is that you know that somewhere in “Welcome to Obamaville” there is another figure lurking, deep in the shadows, the one who okayed the ad. Don’t look now, but Santorum is slowly morphing into the Freddy Kruger of this campaign,” writes Poe.
Commenters on YouTube are making jokes about the ad. Many of the comments range from “What, no zombies?” to “Oh my God…people take this seriously!” Others have gone as far as making their own videos titled “Santorumville” which satirically mock the slander campaign against Obama.
The target audience of this campaign ad is television watchers and those who spend time on the internet. According to Swanson, this Internet and television tactic of advertisement, whether positive or negative, is more effective in the general election than in the primary election. “In the primary the party zealots are the main people paying attention and voting in the primary election. They are really only a limited fraction of the electorate. They will make the effort to go to a favored candidate’s website. In the general election the people who sway an election are the undecided, probably poorly informed,and probably initially disinterested citizens who have to be motivated to vote. TV ads are a way to get to them because they will just bump into the ads at random,” said Swanson.
This ad is one that younger generations and voters can understand. Poe, as well as the “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart, compared “Obamaville” to the world found in Suzanne Collins’ “Hunger Games” trilogy. With the first novel recently being released in theatres, Stewart says that people shouldn’t pay to see the movie when they can watch “Welcome to Obamaville” for free at home.
Relating it to younger generations in a more serious manner, Swanson says that the forms of media the ad has been marketed through target younger audiences. It grasps the attention of young viewers through the sources they are most accustomed to, believes Swanson.
“I assume that you know more about how your generation uses YouTube and you probably have some important insights on this. For example, does your generation browse YouTube constantly to find entertainment?”