The Michael Bayification of Republican ads
By Pete Smiley
If you’ve been following the gibbering freakshow that is the Republican presidential nomination, then you may have noticed the candidate’s ads growing more cinematic than the usual ominous-voiceover-plus-newspaper-headline.
Of course, political ads have often borrowed from summer blockbusters. Take this unsettling Crosby, Stills and Nash-scored spot for Walter Mondale’s 1984 campaign, which juxtaposes innocent, all-American kids with high-tech ‘splosions in much the same way as the ‘84 trailer for the classic neocon wank fantasy Red Dawn:
But we’re now entering a new and exciting period of imitation, which I like to call the Michael Bayification of US campaign ads. A trailblazer in this regard was chinless former Governor of Minnesota Tim Pawlenty, with his instant classic from earlier this year, Courage to Stand.
Courage to Stand perfectly apes the modern Michael Bay trailer. There’s the relentlessly building score; the inspirational voiceover; the swooping pans and aerial shots; the stuttering jump cuts; the faux-static glitches; the cinéma vérité shakycam; the abrupt transitions to slow motion; and the innocent faces of the children whose future is
at stake. Compare it to the original Transformers trailer, once it gets going at around 0:28:
Courage to Stand is inherently ridiculous, in that it’s urging us to be inspired by a man who may be the least inspiring political commodity ever, and who subsequently showed himself to be distinctly lacking in Courage to Stand. Stylistically, though, it taps directly into the lizard brain. Every time I watch it, I curse my central nervous system for making my spine tingle for Tim Pawlenty.
The one truly risible moment is at 0:47, where Pawlenty’s handshake is accompanied by the sound of the Death Star exploding. Apart from that, the ad stays non-specific enough to justify its emotional cues. Pawlenty is, after all, running to become the most powerful man on earth. The stakes are high!
Texas Governor and coyote-slaughtering human peacock Rick Perry must have liked Courage to Stand as much as I do, because he plagiarised it for his presidential debutante spot, President Zero:
President Zero has a sinister intro that’s absent from the Pawlenty ad. In this, and in its buildup of tension towards a cathartic release, it’s almost identical to the trailer for Transformers 3:
(As an aside, both ads also illustrate the regrettable, Bay-pioneered trend of digitally rendering the entire world in shades of teal and orange).
President Zero also beats Courage to Stand by having more helicopters and wild horses, more American flags (20 to Pawlenty’s 13) and a candidate who actually looks like the president in a Michael Bay movie. But Perry goes too far in his latest attack ad, Mitt Romney – Misleading:
Misleading employs all the editing gimmicks we’ve come to associate with sinister threats to the very survival of planet Earth, and uses them to communicate two deeply unshocking revelations – that Mitt Romney lacks integrity, and that he once had Mexicans mow his lawn. Not only is the effect unintentionally hilarious, but it also dilutes the Bayification. What will Perry do if he actually gets the nomination, now that he’s used all his thunderclaps and flickery jump-cuts on Romney’s efforts to provide his constituents with adequate healthcare? Could it be that his only remaining option will be a full Zack Snyderfication? My fingers are resolutely crossed.