August 22, 2004

Interrotronning for Kerry.

Errol Morris is turning his brilliantly effective Interrotron camera to making some pro-Kerry commercials, according to The New Yorker, and he's got an idea for the commercials that seems quite likely to reach swing voters: have ordinary Americans, speaking spontaneously about why they've switched from voting Republican to voting for Kerry. Interestingly, Morris's first idea was to aim his interrotronist techniques--seen in "The Fog of War"--on John Kerry himself--just as he'd used them on Robert S. McNamara in the movie.
“I thought that I could humanize him,” he said. “To solve the problem of Bush being seen as a man of the people and Kerry as an aristocrat, I’d film Kerry exactly the way all the other people were filmed. I’d put him in the mix, and, by being one with all the rest, he would become a man of the people, speaking out with other Americans.”
At first the Kerry campaign seemed interested, but in the end they didn't want Morris. Why not? The article suggests that the official campaigns are really attached to the conventions of the political commercial genre. How could they possibly take a chance with something stylistically striking? (Remember Morris's great Apple "Switch" ads?) So Morris ended up working with MoveOn.
"See—part of what I like is that this is not traditional political advertising,” Morris said. “They’re not involved in making a hard sell. The people potentially are likable."
Good point (though you just implied what people all too often say: that Kerry is unlikable). I'd watch Morris's commercials even with the TiVo remote in my hand. I think Morris is a wonderful artist. (One of the most re-watchable movies I've ever seen is "Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control.") But maybe the Kerry campaign is right not to want innovative, artistic ads directly associated with it. Maybe arty seems lefty. Or arty seems flaky. Or maybe it isn't a fear of art at all but a fear of making a connection with a specific public figure like Morris, who made a very high profile statement against the Iraq war when he accepted his Oscar for "The Fog of War."


Now, having written all of that, I realized I could look at the ads on the MoveOnpac website. So what do I think?

Well, the ads do give you the feeling of being on the receiving end of a conversation with a real person, but that's not necessarily a good thing. If my local car mechanic or barrista were to just start mouthing off about what's wrong with George Bush, I would be thinking: here we go, get me out of here. Watch the Rhonda Nix one, for example, or the Deborah Wood. The Nix one made me want to reread this classic Christopher Hitchens article. had its visitors vote on the most effective ad, but the point of the campaign is to reach people who do not traditionally vote for the Democrat, who are not likely to be the people who go to that website and watch a lot of ads and then vote. The one that won is especially irritating to me because of the "Bush lied" theme, though I can see why it appealed the website's habituées.

Bottom line for me: I love Errol Morris, but art and politics are a bad mix.

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