This has been up for awhile, but The Museum of Moving Image has been posting political commercials from every presidential election since 1952. Despite the changes in media in the last 50 years, the general tone of these commercials has not really changed. The same themes and messages we see in commercials released on youtube or during primetime television are the same as those that have been used in commercials since the campaign to elect Dwight D. Eisenhower.
I've been thinking a lot about how the national discourse has changed during the Bush presidency, but looking through these I'm not so sure. Many of these commercials seem almost interchangable with the ones we've been seeing for the last two years. Of course, there is a fairly significant difference between praying on the american public's fear of nuclear proliferation and their fear of secret muslims.
A lot of the commercials are pretty ironic in retrospect, especially those for presidents that ultimately proved unpopular. But even for popular presidents, the dissonance between what is promised in a lot of their commercials and what was actually done is rather gigantic. I don't think its much of a suprise that so many people are so cynical with the political process. After all, everything we're seeing now has been happening for the last half century.
Depending on outcome on Tuesday, I do think some of this will change. One of the most impressive aspects of the Obama campaign has been its media savvyness. They've used text messages, facebook posts, traditional commercials, 30 minute informercials, youtube, and any number of other means to get their message out. Furthermore, the tone of these messages has been remarkably consistant. There is little in the way of personal attacks on McCain and Palin, instead the ads (even the attack ads) have pretty much stuck to the issues. The McCain campaign is also running a revolutionary ad campaign. I'd call it more disguisting than savvy as it has recently relied on stating blantent exaggerations or outright lies as truth. However, it is difficult to argue with their success as many people still belive Obama started his campaign in William Ayers' living room or that he is responsible for voter fraud.
Its going to be an interesting couple of days before we know how this is all going to turn out. I know which side I want to win and its not the one thats been revolutionizing political advertising by repeating outright lies.
To see more commercials check out the living room candidate.