The best political ad of the season is a celebrity-endorement satire from Joss Whedon

Political ads are like soft drink ads. They don’t have anything to do with facts or the inherent quality of a product,[1] they’re really just designed to make you feel an emotion that probably isn’t deserved about a can of water that’s had some sugar dumped into it.

Which is why I find myself loving Buffyverse-creator and Avengers’ director Joss Whedon’s new anti-Romney ad, a ditty that is less of a political statement than it is a satirical commentary on political advertising itself.

In fact, to get a good handle on what Whedon is satirizing it’s helpful to first watch another celebrity-endorsed political ad, in this case one by the great Clint Eastwood:

Eastwood’s ad starts out well enough, citing statistics about the sluggish economy and suggesting that voters should hold Obama accountable for those statistics – which is a perfectly reasonable and compelling argument.  After that, however, it quickly veers off into silly hyperbola.  Eastwood claims that if we don’t vote for Mitt Romney, America itself will not survive.  “There’s not much time left,” he says with that same kind of emoted breathless concern that Chuck Norris used to warn us that a country that didn’t elect Mitt Romney would face the thousand years of darkness that the gypsy woman warned us about.

What makes these kinds of ads both funny on their own and ripe for satire is the uncertainty about why we should mock them.  Do Eastwood and Norris really believe a Mormon ex-Governor challenger with a policy record that matches the incumbent almost exactly is all that separates us from Armageddon, or are they simply willing to make ridiculous, hyperbolic statements if a SUPER-PAC is willing to shell out a big enough paycheck for a half hour’s work?  In either case, Whedon’s arrow wooden stake strikes true:

As an actual case for voting for Obama, of course, it stinks.  But as an entertaining commentary of celebrity-endorsed political ads it’s quite wonderful; I’d rate it far above any political satire I’ve seen SNL do this season.

 

[1] Which goes a long way to explaining why 40% of Americans can’t identify which party is Pro-Choice and which is Pro-Life.

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66 thoughts on “The best political ad of the season is a celebrity-endorement satire from Joss Whedon

  1. As an actual case for voting for Obama, of course, it stinks.

    I think we must be watching different ads–or, more likely, coming to the ad with very different presuppositions. What Whedon does here is clearly lay out the policies that Mitt has endorsed at one time or another; or the policies that are indicated by Paul Ryan’s budget. If you believe that Mitt wouldn’t really enact many of the policies he’s attached himself to (which is fair, since he’s attached himself to so many), then this is a silly bit of meta-commentary.

    But if you come to this, as I do, with the idea that Romney would enact many Bush-style policies–which did help accelerate a growing income gap–and if you believe that wealth/income gaps are bad for society, then the commentary here isn’t “aren’t ads silly?”, but rather “keeping Romney out of office would be better for America.”

    (There may be a leap from “Romney would make a bad president” to “Vote for Obama,” and maybe that’s why you say this stinks as a pro-Obama ad.)

    The hyperbole and image of zombie apocalypse may be funny, but you make a mistake if you think this joke (like Zomney) has no serious meaning behind it.

    (And frankly, I’ll take the left’s jokey apocalypse with a serious message than the right’s apocalyptic messages that might or might not be serious. For instance, this letter from 2008 about what 2012 would be like (http://www.wnd.com/files/Focusletter.pdf)–is it serious in its depiction of America as a hellish socialist, gun-free dystopia? Or is it just trying to motivate the base?)

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          • Whee! Let’s ignore Whedon’s comments on safety net cuts (and the dangerousness of Ayn Rand followers):

            “Romney is ready to make the deep rollbacks in health care, education, social services and reproductive rights that will guarantee poverty, unemployment, overpopulation, disease, rioting — all crucial elements in creating a nightmare zombie wasteland.”

            Or his comments on unregulated business privilege:

            “But it’s his [Mitt’s] commitment to unregulated corporate privilege that will nosedive this economy into true insolvency and chaos.”

            Yes, the end-point is humorous, but Romney’s been running on (or near–it’s hard to pin that guy down to what he actually would do) an anti-regulation platform with a budget that would slash the safety net.

            But it’s true, the word “taxes” doesn’t appear, so it’s clearly all just a joke. That sounds like a winning argument only among people already convinced.

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    • So you are saying, “If Whedon had Firefly, he didn’t make that”? :-)

      It’s important to remember that “Firefly” was mostly Tim Minear’s creation.

      Important perhaps, but almost certainly incorrect.

      Minear co-exec-produced it with Whedon, but Whedon was incredibly hands-on on Firefly. It was his baby. He even wrote the theme song, for goodness’ sake.

      Wikipedia says Whedon created it:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firefly_%28TV_series%29

      IMDB credits show that Whedon directed 3 eps (including the pilot) vs. Minear’s 2; Whedon is credited with writing on 14 eps (again including the pilot), vs. 4 eps for Minear.

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      • It’s pretty far from Whedon’s own views but IIRC, he wanted to write about it to see if he could, and he loves Mal Reynolds even though he doesn’t buy into Mal’s politics. One of the themes of the series was that despite Mal’s desire to stay free and apart from society, he often gets pulled into helping, despite himself.

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        • I disagree with most of this thread.

          There are a lot of anti-government story lines that weave their way through Whedon’s work, not just Firefly. In Buffy, the Initiative was an example of a government program started with the best of intentions that at best became an amoral force easily used by the corruptible. In Angel and Doll House government employees (especially those in elected and political positions) are most often the tools of more nefarious individuals and organizations.

          That said, I’m not sure that I buy that Firefly, or any other Whedon vehicle, is libertarian.

          If Firefly were meant t be libertarian, I would expect that the characters that represented private powers would be painted in a more flattering light. Instead, they’re presented as they are in almost any Whedon show – ranging from amoral enablers of evil to actual evil characters. In The Train Job, the crew eventually helps government forces over the private magnate that had hired them to rob a train… a magnate which was portrayed as a far more evil character later in the show. In Shindig, the villain is a rich man that delights in mocking and even killing those he views from lower stations. In fact, though there are some exceptions just about every financially successful character in Firefly is to one degree or another a villain.

          Whendon’s shows seem champion the cause of the powerless over the powerful, something which – even if the powerful is sometimes depicted as the government – is pretty antithetical to much of libertarianism, especially those of the Randian flavor.

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          • “If Firefly were meant t be libertarian, I would expect that the characters that represented private powers would be painted in a more flattering light.”

            Why? Libertarians don’t say that private enterprise is inevitably morally “good”. Their claim is that if private enterprise behaves inefficiently, then that inefficiency will be corrected by the mechanism of the market–and that market corrections of inefficiency happen much more quickly than electoral corrections of government inefficiency (which may well never happen at all.)

            People keep forgetting the protectionist villains in “Atlas Shrugged” and how they didn’t work for the government.

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          • I think that his works’ anti-central-authoritarianism can be fairly read as at least libertarian-friendly though. The Alliance isn’t exactly the Empire; their ‘evil’ is (mostly) of a more bureaucratic type – the events presented in Serenity are a result of good gov’t intentions/overreach, with tragic unintended consequences.

            Even the Watchers’ Council in Buffy, which for so long is presented as a bulwark of good against evil, is eventually revealed to be corrupt/incompetent (and misogynistically flawed from its prehistoric beginnings). A conservative would say, “Trust/Respect the Watchers’ Council”; a liberal would say “We just need more funding for the Watchers’ Council”; a libertarian would say “Who needs the Watchers’ Council, anyway?”, which is exactly where Buffy ends up.

            Again, all this isn’t so much due to Whedon’s politics or anything, it’s just sort of how “hero” stories work.

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        • I will also add that Obama vs. Romney is not big goverment vs. small, it is big government vs. big government. The difference is what policies will be enacted by that government.

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      • You should take a look at all the liberal Star Trek fans who remain convinced that Star Fleet was a pacifist organization dedicated to peaceful exploration, even though just one of their ships typically expended a hundred times more nuclear firepower in combat in an average week than the entire world has used in 50 years.

        The liberal fans often question why a conservative would even watch it, and I typically replay “Did you even watch the show? Every week they make contact with a new alien civilization, blast them with nukes till their ships are vaporized and their planet surrenders, and then absorb the survivors into the Federation of Planets. What’s not to like?” Sometimes I ask them how they could be so gullible as to watch “1) We come in peace. 2) Fire photon torpedoes, full spread,” occur over and over for decades and not even suspect that the “1) We come in peace” part is total BS.

        Regarding Whedon’s ad, the government never conducted mass zombie drills until Obama was in office (one of the largest is occuring as we speak), and we didn’t have deranged maniacs eating people’s faces until this year. What we have now are tens of millions of unemployed on foodstamps, gnawing through the federal budget in search of brains that are not there.

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        • “Did you even watch the show? Every week they make contact with a new alien civilization, blast them with nukes till their ships are vaporized and their planet surrenders, and then absorb the survivors into the Federation of Planets. What’s not to like?”

          I don’t remember any episodes of Star Trek where that happened. Nor does it seem to match up to the episode description on Wikipedia. There’s plenty of violence sure but nothing about nuking planets into surrender or absorbing the survivors. Was this stuff in one of the other Star Trek series?

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          • They rarely attacked an entire planet, but ships were another matter. Whenever they encountered a strange, alien ship, it was a safe bet that they had a 50/50 chance of destroying it before the end of the episode.

            For another example, what about the total extermination of billions of Husnoc in TNG? Though Picard didn’t destroy them himself, he addessed the creature who did and said, “We have no punishment to fit your crime, so you’re free to go.” Zowie. He didn’t even call a prosecutor to see if there was maybe some little legal clause about mass genocide and specicide somewhere in the Federation law books.

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            • I think that latter example is a bad one.
              You encounter a grumpy alien who says “The race of Husnoc came by and killed my girlfriend so in a fit of rage I exterminated the entire species with a thought”.
              Darwinism says that the Liberals who say what Picard said, the centrists who say “Fish this!” and run away or the libertarians who say “well they shoulda respected your property rights” will survive while the neocons who start screeching about genocide and trying to drag the alien into a court or shoot him won’t.

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        • As Clint Eastwood said at the RNC convention, no, it’s not funny, it’s tragic. Millions of families are suffering, but Obama will only leave to golf course when he feels like scaring some more businesses into not hiring anyone. To him, American familes are just collateral damage in his bombing raids on the 1%.

          Needless to say, the Trek fans believe his class warfare rhetoric just like they believe “We come in peace” – with an arsenal of freshly loaded hot nukes.

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        • Star Trek is a funny thing; when it began, we were still comfortable with the growing military-industrial complex. As the show aged and our discomfort grew, it shifted, less the top-down military tale, more ’emotional,’ more black-box theater.

          When it was revived as Next Gen, the military-industrial complex had been brought back to life by several years of an all-volunteer military, Reagan’s Cold War/Star Wars successes, Star Wars itself (the movies,) and a new-found faith in government after Nixon’s scandals.

          From my view, it’s pretty easy to track pro-military shows; they thrive when we’re not at war, when the military is a distant thought, not an in-your-face reality with bombs actually blowing folks up and young kids coming home in coffins.

          But if you’re seeing more then that, and blaming Obama for zombies and the millions of unemployed, here you go — another glass of red kool-aid is in order. Salut and drink up!

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          • a new-found faith in government after Nixon’s scandals

            You mean faith in government went down because of Nixon but had crept back up by the time TNG was on the air right? Only on first reading I thought you were arguing that.
            -Having an untrustworthy person at the top of government makes people trust government more.
            -The effects of Richard Nixon somehow hung around from 1974 to 1987 but no president in between changed things much.

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          • By Obama’s own numbers, there are millions more unemployed than he claimed we’d have if he sat back and did nothing, and that’s not counting the millions who left the workforce because they couldn’t find jobs.

            I don’t entirely blame Obama for the zombie outbreaks occuring in places like Florida because I don’t think the Federal government had been taking the possibility of drug-induced zombies seriously (though Bush took the overall zombie threat seriously, asking for a $50 million supplemental for zombie defense, and the mainstram press made fun of him for it – Bush press conference video).

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            • 20% unemployment is still down 50%,,,

              Considering that we’ve got a significant reservoir of bubonic plague, I’m not surprised that nobody takes the zombie threat seriously. If it was going to turn septicemic, it probably would have already.

              … you do realize the zombies were just Black Plague victims, right? Still alive? (if not, read more dailykos. they had a great piece on it)

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            • We’ve also got hanta virus running amok in Yosemite.

              Interestingly, a Harvard trained Mexican epidemiologist was looking over the old records from the plagues that wiped out millions of Aztecs after the Spanish conquest, which have been blamed on smallpox and other European diseases. He looked at the autopsy records, period documents, and other sources and concluded that the plagues were an indigenous rodent-borne hemoragic disease similar to ebola (the Aztecs even had an old word for the disease a familiarity with it, while the Spanish did not), and he noted that the plagues recurred whenever heavy rains returned after an extended drought, when rodent populations would be booming after they’d been forced to congregate near watering holes.

              The plagues kept recurring into the 18th century in and around Mexico city whenever such conditions prevailed, and we still have no idea what the disease was. I’d also venture that what ended the plagues may have been the introduction of domestic cats that finally cut the rodent population to levels that couldn’t maintain it, pehaps along with better ways of storing corn.

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            • Darth Vader: It’s been four years of cybernetic hand replacements and I still can’t shoot force lighting without shorting it out.

              Technician: Lord Vader, it is a complicated problem and despite losing all four limbs and being burned to a crisp you have full mobility and are the best fighter in the empire. I should get credit for that.

              Also you should really blame Obi-wan Kenobi since he is the one who chopped off 3 of your limbs.

              Lord Vader: YOUR STILL BLAMING OBI-WAN!

              (force chokes technician)

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        • Uhhh…

          Which episodes were you using as your yardstick?

          Maybe…

          Mirror, Mirror

          And…

          In a Mirror, Darkly?

          Because otherwise, the “nuke them until the planet surrenders” part never really happened. Now, talking computers to death…that happened a lot. I’m told to this day Bill Shatner can’t use an iPhone because Siri shuts down and blows up the phone when he tries to talk to it.

          Star Trek might not exactly be pacifist, but it’s certainly more liberal institutionalist rather than neoconservative.

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    • 1. I don’t personally find a rich investment banker decrying having to pay Clinton-era tax rates as the road to serfdom as particularly compelling.
      2. It’d be nice if he could actually knew the difference between communism, socialism, and social democracy.

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        • Except Hungary was a monarchy until the Nazis took over, and then the communists after that. But of course you’re right, there’s no difference between a Nazi or communist dictatorship, and a social democracy like Germany. I’m sure the people who lived in East Germany would agree with you that there was no difference between where they were living in the 70s and where they’re living now.

          Good to know that Clinton-era tax rates are the path to us building a wall around the country to keep us all in and the purges of millions of dissenters.

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          • So just having state-provided health insurance, aggressive poverty prevention programs, and tax rates to support it *isn’t* starting an inexorable slide to Soviet-style state ownership of the means of production, like Hungary had?

            I’m glad you agree that the cited ad was completely misleading, then.

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          • It depends on how aggressive your poverty prevention programs are. Stalin and Mao both reduced poverty rates by exterminating the poor, which although quite effective is nowdays viewed as a less-than-ideal solution. Yet many socialist states still use elements of this, advocating euthenasia to eliminate illness, dog-breed exterminations to eliminate dog attacks, the Euro to eliminate money, and the Eurovision song contest to eliminate taste.

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  2. “Which goes a long way to explaining why 40% of Americans can’t identify which party is Pro-Choice and which is Pro-Life.”

    I chuckled at this. Arguing over which side you want telling you what you can and can’t do with your life/body. Funny.

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