February 17, 2007

Liberals ideate furiously over the black-and-white McCain website.

John McCain has an aesthetically pleasing website, which is distinguished by the very low color level. Instead of the usual florid blue and red, it uses elegant, crisp black, white, and gray. Perhaps that calls to mind some beautifully photographed black and white movie. Bring on the liberal commentators, and what movie do they think of? Of course, it's "Triumph of the Will," which, admittedly, is a film known for its crisp black and white photography (to go along with its Nazi propaganda).

Here's Atrios:
Imperial Stormtrooper Chic
And here's Ezra Klein:
But to get the full flavor of the terrifyingly martial undercurrent, watch the video "stand up," which is currently the default clip on the front page. It looks like an over-the-top parody of fascist campaign propaganda from a movie, and sounds like Triumph of the Will. It's also worth noting that in an effort to shore up his conservative credentials in a particularly pandering and ghoulish way, the next video is simply called "Reagan Tribute," and the weird shoehorning of McCain's time as a POW into his admiration for Reagan really has to be seen to be believed. I don't know how many cults of personality one web site can foster, but props to the McCain team for trying to find out.
What bugs me the most about their reaction is not the usual conservatives-are-Nazis business, it's the thoughtless tainting of the aesthetic of black-and-white design, this eagerness to score political points, with no feeling for art.

Klein does have a point about the film clip. The music is over-the-top. Visually, I think the film -- Errol Morris? -- and the website are excellent, but the music is off-putting. It announces the intent to manipulate you emotionally. That makes it a less effective effort at manipulation, though. I don't think Leni Riefenstahl would have done something so crude.

ADDED: I've amused Kevin Drum.


Anonymous said...

As bad as Barack Obama.

What a totally content-free video.

What's the message?

"We'll never surrender."


I guess McCain appeals to people who think we're living in Masada.

Ruth Anne Adams said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
hdhouse said...

the site is kinda slick and being black and white, i guess color neutral - oh how i long for a spielberg girl in a red dress! i think we will get used to it if ever encountered again.

the music however is right from Storm Troopers genre movies and either Sly Stalone or a menacing bug should emerge from the margins.

Hanslick, the Viennese music critic often decried the vast audience that could be excited by the beating of a drum. Is it still the case?

Ron said...

Ruth Anne: You're right, sepia leading to color evokes Wizard of Oz, not a McCainesque image! ("Ignore that little man behind the curtain!")

But some font-tweaking, and some videos of geometric patterns with some wizecrackin' banter about the economy, makes you think not Nazis, but Deco and Busby Berkley! ("We're in the money, c'mon my honey...") Couldn't make liberals happier than with Deco, and subconsciously connecting yourself to FDR can't hurt either! Is it too late for him to get Olivia DeHavilland as a spokesperson?

Gordon Freece said...

The typography is an unqualified disaster. It looks amateurish.

The shiny-WinXP-skin 3D effect on the Top News/About/Calendar tabs looks amateurish, too. For extra amateur points, it doesn't quite match the similar but less shiny 3D gradient on the top line of tabs (Home/Involving You/Informing You/Getting to Know You/Getting to Love You/Getting to Hope You Like Me/Etc.)

The angle-brackets on the "Click Here" buttons (with yet another similar-but-different gradient) are pretty bad. Hint: It's a JPEG. You can make real triangles in those now. We have the technology.

They lose points for loading it up with Flash detritus, but they did get something right: Not one single thing moves until you explicitly click on a "play" button. Very good. I'm pleased.

I'm all in favor of low saturation, but you need a spot of color to focus on. It should be something central to what the site is about. "10AM CST Sat." doesn't quite fit the bill.

They could've put an ad on any bulletin board at RISD and gotten a better website done for $1000. What were they thinking? Is it supposed to look like they're not slick? It just looks dumb.

Bruce Hayden said...

One more Red, White, and Blue political site, and I will probably hurl.

Part of triumphing as a politician, esp. at this level, is standing out from the crowd, and this is one way of doing it.

I should add that I have jsut filed a copyright registration for an artist friend of mine for her new web site, and it is probably more minimalist than McCain's. But because of that it is striking, and that is what is needed to sell her art.

The Drill SGT said...

When I looked at it, I think of a very similar style in the new Army Strong media campaign.(which I love)


As for the message: Duty, Honor, Country... Taking positions that aren't always popular, but you believe are the right positions.

That pitch resonates with me, and I think it works better for McCain than anyone else since Lincoln.

The Drill SGT said...

But then again, I thought "Triumph of the Will" was a masterpiece.

Hitler was an evil villain, the Nazis were an abomination, and Leni might have been a tool, but that photography was unsurpassed.

Mortimer Brezny said...

I guess only conservatives are allowed to have style. Liberals really need to realize that randomness and proletarian values do not style make.

hdhouse said...

drill sarge....

did lincoln have a website?

so ok..here is a goodie question for all of you?

who was the first presidential candidate to have a website? what year?

by the way, isn't mccain's site a template? i'm sure i've seen it before.

Beth said...

I think the critiques shouldn't be taken so seriously --"ideate furiously" is a bit over the top. The liberal blog comments I've read are amused; they're laughing, because the site is kind of funny. McCain is funny. He's hugely grim. His whole schtick is manly grimness; he wants to be seen as firm, unyielding, reliable, but he's really a bendy-twisty pipecleaner toy. I love it. I don't see the Third Reich so much as Star Wars Imperial Stormtroopers when I go to his site. It's way campy, in the truest sense of camp, a serious effort at drama gone unexpectedly, comically awry.

MDIJim said...

McCain might yet surprise them all. Being the darling of the media cost him a lot on the right. But he stood fast on Iraq and his antiabortion views, and the media and liberals have turned on him with a vengeance. In politics these days people seem to follow the rules of the Middle East - the enemy of my enemy is my friend. That will help McCain win back the right. Giuliani gives very intelligent and reasoned answers to the kinds of questions asked by the Larry Kings of this world. Unfortunately Giuliani's answers cannot be put into a sound bite and they are already being distorted by the media. With this kind of coverage, Giuliani will lose support on the right. Anyway, the design of McCain's web site recalls the "straight talk" slogan of 2000. That highlights his steadfastness on Iraq and abortion.

bearbee said...

Black and white allows the eye to rest. As an Ansel Adams fan I prefer a more stark look, less gray tones, and a less symmetrical look. With this format they can use color to better direct the eye to a specific news item, if they so wish.

......but he's really a bendy-twisty pipecleaner toy.

I am not a McCain fan but what I have read about his ordeal as a POW and his refusal to accept a negoiated release leaving his men behind, makes me think that he is not a bendy-twisty pipecleaner kind of guy. I have always wondered if his limited arm/shoulder movement was the result of his torture.

Ruth Anne Adams said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
vbspurs said...

First, I love the website.

At first glance, you are shocked, but then it pulls you in with equal doses of starkness and elegance.

It's unemotional, the very antithesis of Nazism, which if the leftards like Atrios had any real grounding on, they'd recognise.

But hey, let's humour them.

They want a Nazi-esque allusion? How about Riefenstahl's monumental documentary on the Berlin Games of 1936?


A documentary that changed my life, because after I saw it, I realised that film was not just for entertainment, but was scientific art. I was 15.

I don't like McCain but one bit, but kudos on his website design.


vbspurs said...

Hitler was an evil villain, the Nazis were an abomination, and Leni might have been a tool, but that photography was unsurpassed.

Many of the techniques she used in the Triumph of the Will, AND in Olympia, are still used by CNN and ESPN et al., today.

The moving gurneys and cameras on rails to get the real speed of the athletes in full flow.

That's still used when covering the Olympics today, and it was Riefenstahl's gift to sport.

She served monsters. But like Eisenstein, she was a genius.


Daryl Herbert said...

What's the message?

"We'll never surrender."

This isn't a message?

Compare it to that of politicians who want to find complex, eloquent, subtle ways of saying "Put me in office and I'll find a way to surrender without the negative consequences"

Daryl Herbert said...

What McCain's site and videos reminded me of is 24

Don't some people complain about how much torture there is in 24?

Kirby Olson said...

Leni Riefenstahl learned to scuba-dive in her late 80s.

hdhouse said...

Victoria purrs: "At first glance, you are shocked, but then it pulls you in with equal doses of starkness and elegance. It's unemotional, the very antithesis of Nazism, which if the leftards like Atrios had any real grounding on, they'd recognise."

You lost me sweetie with the unemotion being the antithesis of Nazism. That elegant argument was tried for years. Nazi's were hardly emotional killers..killing being perhaps the most telling manifestation of their domain...so silly-nelly terms like "leftards" (is that akin to repukicans?") are just so so so common ... don't cha know dearie...we expect so much more from you.

oh...and don't dangle prepositions k?

Unknown said...

Culturally knowledge is a wonderful thing. It is clear atrios was not talking about Nazis, but as he said Imperial Stormtroopers, you know Star Wars.

Gerry said...

You know what? When the next batch of real nazis come (undoubtably from the left, as they did in Germany prior to WWII), I really do hope they are as benign as me, who folks like these continually call fascist nazi sonofaguns.

Gordon Freece said...

hdhouse, it was Göring who said "I think with my blood". Read any of the crap those people barfed up. Nazism, as a political ideology, was all about emotion. Are you trying to claim there was logic in it? Are you telling us that the "Master Race" thing was logical? If you think so, you're wrong. It was emotionally appealing gibberish. "Unemotional killers"? Yeah, whatever. Read some history.

By the way, dangling prepositions are sanctified by usage in modern English. Even in formal writing, you shouldn't twist yourself in knots to avoid dangling prepositions or split infinitives. Only a walking sphincter writes clumsy prose deliberately. Sometimes the Received Grammar version sounds exactly right; use it then, but not otherwise.

Winston Churchill was making fun of dangling-preposition panickers back in the 1930s. That's a long time ago. It's time for people like you to take a xanax and stop bothering the rest of us.

Unknown said...


hdhouse said...

oh p froward....kind sir.

unemotional and illogical are not strange bedfellows. did the nazis kill with out emotion and as a result of nazi logic? most certainly. was the entire process highly emotional and without logic? certainly again. depends on where you stand as to what is what. "i think with my blood". How about: "It is a blessing for Germany that in Hitler the rare union has taken place between the most acute logical thinker and truly profound philosopher and the iron man of action, tenacious to the limit [And again] I follow no leadership but that of Adolf Hitler and of God !"

but enough about sociopaths and liars.

Ruth Anne has it right. This website is the affirmation of McCain the ubermann, man of steel, stalwart..pulsing, throbbing..wooooo big fella.

not pretty.

joeyess said...

Bring on the liberal commentators, and what movie do they think of? Of course, it's "Triumph of the Will," which, admittedly, is a film known for its crisp black and white photography (to go along with its Nazi propaganda).

Here's Atrios:
Imperial Stormtrooper Chic

I guess I'll be the one.

Imperial Stormtroopers is a reference to STAR WARS YOU IGNORANT PINHEAD!!!!!!

How do I get your gig?

Someone needs to replace you, because you're insufferably effing stupid.

norwester said...

Since other posters have noted your needing to get out more so that some day you'll, hopefully, be able to distinguish between a Nazi film and a George Lucas film, I'll pass on commenting further on that problem with your commentary and move on to more fertile ground.
The biggest problem with this post, which is symptomatic of your blog, is that you tend to make shit up. Liberals are "ideating furiously" over McCain's blog? Really? Because I Googled, and didn't find a whole lot of liberal ideating on this topic, and certainly none approaching the threshold of "furiously."
And when you say "they" are associating "Triumph" with McCain's blog, when did "one" equal "they"? Because I Googled that too (for a while-until I got bored with the fruitlessness of the search) and only found one original reference to "Triumph," which was the one you noted. Of course, there were several right-wing sites discussing that same - single- reference. Maybe that, in a right-wing New Math kind of way, justifies your use of "they."
That kind of crap is what irritates me about your approach. You don't seem to have a lot of respect for the facts--which kind of worries me, considering your day job. But, hey, I guess "buyer beware" is all that can be said about that.

esmense said...

Web design and film technique aren't comparable -- it is a mistake to confuse their aims and potential. These are such totally different media that engage people in very different ways -- one passive, entertaining and manipulative, the other interactive, informative and engaging. Trying for high drama on a website, or trying to use a website to manipulate emotion, is silly. The website reader is always in control -- you (the designer) provide them with what they are seeking -- quickly and clearly -- or you lose them. Movie-goers, on the other hand, to a greater or lesser degree depending on the skill of the filmmakers, surrender themselves to the film and the filmmaker's vision.

Bottom line, McCain's website is simply trying too hard to do something that no website is capable of doing.

In this context, a color scheme is just a color scheme -- it adds nothing of significance to the usefulness of the site.

Unknown said...

As has been pointed out (rather rudely in some cases, I must say) I imagine if you ask almost anyone under the age of 50 what the phrase "Imperial Stormtrooper" brings to mind you'd get Star Wars as a response 9 times out of 10.

McCain's site is more Cathedral of a Lightweight than Cathedral of Light in my view...

esmense said...

I'd add that it is not the color scheme but the site's over-reaching -- it's design misunderstandings --that make it a target for derision.

norwester said...

As for the use of black and white, it's a classic example of a promising idea poorly executed. In the hands of a better designer, it could have made the website a real standout. But it was clumsily executed, and, combined with the overuse of that star graphic that has the feel of something that came off a headstone, the website winds up looking a lot like a memorial to a dead guy. Which, I guess, could be seen as a political metaphor, although probably not one the webpage designer was shooting for.

hdhouse said...

its the music that is so bad...john williams wrote good testosterone music. this crap is, i believe, a $50 royalty bed...

pennywise and pound foolish.

djangone said...

Can we have an agreement, Ann? You won't comment on design, about which you know fuck-all, and designers won't comment on law. McCain's site invites exactly the wrong associations--it's a flaw in his marketing. It's a flaw in his campaign. It's not going to do him an iota of real damage, but it is an exercise in design ignorance.

norwester said...

Ruth Anne-
Pulsating? Is that what you look for in a Presidential candidate? On the other hand, that would help explain why, when I go to rightie websites, it feels more like they're rooting for their high school football team than engaging in political discourse.

Ruth Anne Adams said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
norwester said...

Ruth Anne-
You can dress up your rationale for admitting you find "pulsating" a desirable characteristic in a candidate all you want; but there's no logical connection between pulsating and strength of character. And by adding manliness, that presumably means you think the "weaker" sex is intrinsically too weak to preside in the oval office. That's too bad; because it sure seems that going to war based on lies and posturing with "Mission Accomplished" flapping in the background (while costumed in a manly flight suit) and egging the enemy on with "bring it on" were all about pulsating and not at all about what was best for the country.
Personally, I think we could do with a little less pulsating.

TMink said...

Djangone wrote: "You won't comment on design, about which you know fuck-all, and designers won't comment on law."

While I know nothing about your knowledge of the law, I have seen and admired many of Althouse's photos. The best demonstrate a keen understanding of design. Were you using "fuck-all" as a compliment?


spencer said...

Star Wars, Triumph of the Will . . . more or less the same thing, I guess.

Sure. Why not.

Jeff Fecke said...

To be fair, Lucas did lift the final award ceremony scene in Star Wars from Triumph of Will...not that Ann knows that, I'd suspect.

Ann Althouse said...

"not that Ann knows that, I'd suspect."

Jeff, it's a very well know fact. There is nothing more pathetic than a Star War geek who imagines himself to be in possession of sophisticated information.

bearbee said...

Can we have an agreement, Ann? You won't comment on design, about which you know fuck-all, and designers won't comment on law.

Great idea.

Maybe we should lobby for a law........ none is to offer comment on anything not within their field of expertise. I have no expertise so I would be proscribed from making any commentary including these, but, for example, a cop could not comment on the activities of school bus driver or firemen, a plumber could not comment on writing poetry or school teacher activities, no comments by doctors on acting or the postal service would be allowed, and, with the exception of 3 people, nobody comments on the activities of the POTUS.

Robert Green said...


you actually dipped into your own comment board here to berate (fine, fine, to dress down) someone who knows something about a) film history and b) star wars, the single most successful cultural event in world history over the past 30 years. you went with a "loser geek" riposte. ok, cliche and lame on your part, but hey, at least you tried.

but what is truly astounding, and says so much about your character, is the absence of recognition of your error in the premise of your post. you make an extraordinarily partisan claim the very center of which rests on a fact that is incorrect. "imperial stormtrooper" in this context is about star wars, not about nazis. thus the edifice of your argument is built on ignorance.

but from whence this ignorance? from, of course, a desire to get one over one others who are not of the same political persuasion as yourself. surely you have some tiny amount of self-awareness such that you can laugh and say, "wow did i screw this up. i'm sorry mr. black, and as the bigger person i will retract this and move on."

of course, you will just move on to another mccarthyite smear, but hey, you are from wisconsin.

Ann Althouse said...

Robert, did you read the linked Ezra Klein post? Apparently not!

Robert Green said...

no no anne, right you are. i read "liberals" to be plural, and thus mistakenly assumed that you were referring not only to ezra's post (which, upon linking through, manages to not in any way make your point, with such an exquisite lack of surprisingness it is like the sun rising in the east) but also to the referenced atrios post.

perhaps my reading skills are poor--yet somehow, given my various years of schooling, highly intellectual upbringing etc. i'm guessing not. i'm guessing that you made a mistake, albeit one that you have decided is beneath you (star wars trivia, and all that). a better person than you might own up to such a thing. i'd hate to have to play soccer against your team--every time i lined up to take a shot the goalposts would seem to have moved, oddly enough.

jogoldbe said...

How is linking to Klein's post an apology for mistaking Atrios' post as referring to Nazis??? Just acknowledge the mistake and apologize for God's sake! Take a tip from the far more intellectually honest (and actually liberterian -- or "moderate") folks at Volokh Conspiracy and just own up to it. It's not that hard and doesn't really mean much to overall credibility. The failure to do so, however, does show, yet again, that your posts simply aren't to be taken seriously.

Martin Wisse said...

Figures that a colourless, dull blogger would like a colourless, dull website.

Dylan said...

It's kind of hard to justify Atrios' two sentence post as criticism of the McCain site.

The title is "Imperial Stormtrooper Chic" and the single line in the post is "McCain's new website is awesome."

He was simply making a passing comment on the look of the site, black and white (coincidentally the color of Imperial Stormtroopers)...

Ezra then says he thinks it looks good, but the video sucks (which you agree with)...

I fail to see the problem...

Robert Green said...

i hate to waste both more of my and your time, ms. althouse, but let me clarify. you reference two posts as representing "liberals". given the level of profile of those whom you reference, (barely) fair enough. however, one of those two references is based on an ignorance of culture on your part. additionally, and where one must suspect your motives, you make the mistake in such a way that it supports your broader argument. i call this the "bill o'reilly error paradigm" where every mistake of fact is in one's own favor.

fine, i don't really say that, i just made it up.

the other post you reference in no way "ideate[s] furiously over the black-and-white McCain website." it is a diatribe comparing the website's video portion to a nazi propaganda film. these two things are not the same. at all.

words have meanings. you misuse them for partisan gain, and in the process are making yourself famous. i'm sorry that this is the case--you may be a smart person, but based on your blog, you seem dishonest and incapable of admitting error.

Ann Althouse said...

Robert: Since Klein was reacting to Atrios, any problem you have with me should also apply to Klein. Except Klein's a big liberal, so you can't have fun attacking him.

Oh, and... get a life.

Robert Green said...

wow, again.

i comment that you seem to like to move goalposts.

i comment that i believe that you have made a mistake.

your riposte is that i should care about someone else's mistake, not your own, one that you still haven't corrected.

pathetic. who gave you a phd, and can they have it back?