So I’m reading The Selling of the President 1968, and there’s a few fascinating chapters on Nixon’s TV ads:
According to the book, the campaign basically never used moving images in their TV spots. It was all just photo stills with Nixon’s voiceover.
It’s like seeing some paleolithic fossil of what would become PowerPoint.
The campaign staffer in charge of creating these ads is a ‘McCarthy Democrat’, whatever that is, and openly talks shit about his own work:
‘We try to create an atmosphere through our selection of pictures […] The problem we’ve had, in most cases, is Nixon himself. He says such incredible pap. In fact, the radicalness of this approach is in the fact of creating an image without actually saying anything. The worlds are given meaning by the impressions created by the stills.
Keep in mind, this quote about the commercials is by the guy who is in charge of making them. It makes them somehow even more dystopian.
‘Nixon has not only developed the use of the platitude, he’s raised it to an art form. It’s mashed potatoes. It appeals to the lowest common denominator in American taste. […] The commercials are successful because people are able to relate them to their own delightful misconceptions of themselves and their country.
‘Have you noticed? The same faces reappear in different spots. The same pictures are used again and again. They become symbols, recurring like notes in an orchestrated piece. The Alabama sharecropper with the vacant stare, the vigorious young steelworker, the grinning soldier.
‘And the rosier the sunset, the more wholesome the smiling face, the more it conforms to their false vision of what they are and what their country is.’
Forty-three years later, what’s most striking about these is that, the political cliches haven’t changed at all.
American primary political imagery is still all nuclear families and fucking amber waves of grain. American jobs are exclusively factory workers, farmers, and firemen. No one in American political discourse sits in front of a computer all day.
The images we use to demonstrate America’s greatness haven’t matured since the invention of television. Two-parent families, securely employed factory workers and family farmers make up a fraction of our population, but a majority of our political fodder.
These images were already out of date in 1968. The technologies we use to deliver them may have developed, but the Alabama sharecropper is still staring, from his unreality into ours.