Presentation on theme: "PAID POLITICAL ADVERTISING A NARRATIVE PERSPECTIVE Attributes shared by political spots summarized in six propositions."— Presentation transcript:
PAID POLITICAL ADVERTISING A NARRATIVE PERSPECTIVE Attributes shared by political spots summarized in six propositions
Proposition 1: The central purpose of political spots is to influence voter's perceptions of candidates. A sign of preoccupation with developing an appropriate image is increasing reliance on consultants, hired to fostering or enhancing a certain image. Television and the spot format are extremely flexible in accommodating the goal of image development. Spots can "create" an image for an unknown candidate, act as a reminder of an established image, or signal the voters that a candidate has "changed.“ Paid ads allow candidates to choose their relationship to the political culture, ranging from the candidate with experience to an indignant outsider, suggest an expedient or principled nature, or endorse a new or old American myth (e.g., "Log Cabin" origin or a "Rags-to-Riches" story).
Ads position a candidate within the field of competitors as the underdog, the front-runner, or as being distinct, in some way, from the opponent. Ads routinely portray, implicitly and explicitly, the ideology, concerns, visions, and values of a candidate. Because of demonstrated accessibility to voters, spots become the forward element of the campaign, the public fare, the surrogate for the candidate. Proposition 2: Televised political spots are designed to promote positive and negative images. Spot advertising largely consists of embracing or attacking ideologies and values by associating praise or blame with candidates. Candidates can choose to promote positive images, thereby encouraging a vote for themselves, or negative images of the opponent, encouraging a vote against the competitor. All political imagery inherently implies an evaluation of the opponent.
When candidates utilize positive advertising, they engage in a narrative of self- enhancement. Campaigns, however, involve a "forced choice" and thus affirmation also contains an implicit rejection of the opponent. Claims that exalt one candidate's virtue necessarily bring to mind relative deficiencies in the opponent For every hero, there has to be a villain.For every hero, there has to be a villain.
Negative ads are the more direct manner in which candidates attempt to depreciate the image of an opponent. Negative spots typically discredit the opposition by indicting their public record, assigning them blame for an imperfect world, or raising doubts about future performance. Because campaigns are so deeply tied to candidates as the central actor, it is not surprising that pitting two persona against one another promotes the embodiment of evil in the opponent. Candidates contextualize the opponent's image as the "enemy," such that even normal political activity becomes a sign of an immoral actor. Negative spots operate to debunk, subvert, and unmask (Burke, 1959; Fisher,1970), that is, to expose what has appeared to be desirable as undesirable. As with positive messages, negative ads not only subvert the target, but they also promote the source by implying an inverse judgment. For every scapegoat, there is likely to be a saviorFor every scapegoat, there is likely to be a savior.
Proposition 3: Televised political spots are more concerned with creating a favorable image for oneself than with presenting a logically precise argument. The standards normally associated with traditional rationality (formal and informal logics) are absent in most political advertising. Spots conform to the reality of TV as entertainment The relationships between claims, reasoning, and evidence (i.e. facts, analogies, testimony), while often displaying the form and appearance of a "logical argument," usually function to bolster emotional appeals, loose analogies, disassociation and association, and ad hominem arguments. The "hype" of "production values," combined with the visual nature of the medium, promote an intimacy and immediacy with the audience; asking not for reflection but rather acquiescence (Postman, 1986). Television is an emotional medium. Spot ads, with their truncated exposition and powerful imagery, are more effective in appealing to the hopes and fears, aspirations and uncertainties, prejudices and nobility among voters than in constructing a reasoned treatise. Not only does brevity tend to disallow formal argument, spots also combine discursive and nondiscursive elements in their appeal. Often the pictures in political television have more to do with the meaning of an ad than the voiceover (e.g., Schram, 1987).
Proposition 4: Televised political spots seek images that resonate in voters lives and are believable. associativeJamieson (1988) contends that "television is a visual medium whose natural grammar is associative, a person adept at visualizing claims in dramatic capsules will be able to use television to short-circuit the audience's demand that those claims be dignified with evidence." The pattern of organization is more nearly one of "enthymematic complicity" in which the audience is recruited to supply the reasons for embracing an ad campaign. The inducement is more one of identification than deliberation. If practitioners are unanimous about anything, it is that ads must, above all else, be credible. It is less clear, however, what message components make an ad campaign credible. Campaigns cannot manufacture an image for a candidate "out of whole cloth." Roger Ailes, advises, "You can present all the issues you want on the air, and if at the end the audience doesn't like the guy, they're not going to vote for him." Certainly there is latitude between the "private" person and his or her "public" image, yet the candidate as a public actor, before and during the campaign, places real boundaries on messages voters find credible.
One key may be to seize the candidate attributes held in the public mind and defend an interpretive context in which those qualities are desirable. Typically candidates attempt to capitalize on attitudes, beliefs, and values already held by voters, seeking actional and attitudinal homophily with their contingency. Rarely do campaigns seek ideological conversion. Most often the image portrayed in spots reflects the latest polling data. For many campaigns, establishing credibility with voters simply means following the "lead" of the electorate; consequently the "issue of the day" or public fears inform advertising. Resonating with voters requires more than simply the candidate acting as an echo chamber. At a more fundamental level, campaigners' messages must ring true with the experience of voters. Voters may "want" to hear certain panaceas but still may reject them as untruthful. (see next principle).
Proposition 5: Televised political spots are prescriptions for action. Political spots are fundamentally a configuration of symbols which propose to define or redefine the past, present, and future. Spots provide various symbols (e.g., patriotic themes) embracing hierarchies of values and order. At their core, ads are prescriptive. Messages provide explicit and implicit prescriptions and resolutions for life's problems, in effect instructing the electorate for sizing up their situations and providing strategies for dealing with them. Spots place the world within a context which helps voters make sense of their environment and provide, as Brummett (1985) describes the symbolic process of mass media, "equipment for living." In an attempt to define the context or scene, spot campaigns offer voters competing conceptions of the past, present, and future. These potential realities are seldom neutral, but rather imply varying degrees of hope and despair. (e.g., "the good old days" or "the promise of the future", “Morning in America”)
Janette Muir's (1987) study of a large cross section of political spots, characterizes the core message of spots as "stories about how America is and what it can eventually become." The most common form of political advertising is some variation of a problem/solution, in which an injustice is revealed and the candidate is presented as the solution. The "candidate as fixer" becomes the symbolic representative of hope-laden claims. Spot " are "stories," complete with a storyteller, actors, plot, and dramatic conflict. Spots function as self-contained lessons on the conditions in one's life, definitions of self-identity, and the revelation of salvation with the candidate as savior.
Proposition 6: Story lines developed in spot campaigns are opposed by competing stories. Campaign rhetoric is seldom isolated, more often it stands in direct conflict with a competing message. An election campaign is by its very nature a dramatic story of competing forces, each with its own story to sell. Charles Guggenheim observes, "No one in his right mind, in a senatorial or gubernatorial or presidential election, cannot use television--if for no other reason than self-defense to neutralize what will undoubtedly be coming from the other side." Few candidates have the luxury of not producing spots, regardless of their efficacy. Patrick Delvin relates an old adage in campaigns which states that, "half of all advertising money is wasted. Since nobody in a campaign knows which half, all advertising continues."
Spots are not entertained in a vacuum, there is a rival depiction of the political landscape. Hence, the meaning of one candidate's spots is defined, in large measure, by the opposition's commercials. Through the practices of simply ignoring or offering direct confrontation, imitation or contrast, rebuttal or initiation, the spots from campaigns imbue each other with meaning. Spots engage in an unfolding dialogue. Ads, unlike many aspects of a campaign, are adaptable. Spots can be repeated, revised, substituted with new generations of messages, and directed to influence selected segments of the electorate. Rothenberg notes that new technologies allow "candidates to respond overnight to their opponents, rather than simply repeat bland, non-combative `issues' spots shot at the campaign's start."