Shirley, You Can’t Be Serious: David Zucker’s Praxis of Evil
by Viveca Greene — Hampshire College
January 18, 2008 – 04:01
In October 2006, shortly after North Korea tested its long-range missiles, David Zucker of Airplane! and Scary Movie 3 and 4 fame released this political ad; he created it for the RNC, but the party deemed it "too hot" to officially endorse. The press, though, paid attention, and YouTube reports nearly a million views of the piece. Conjuring another highly controversial ad—LBJ’s apocalyptic 1964 "Daisy"—Zucker’s postmodern inversion stridently declaims that unless America votes Republican, it faces annihilation. The quaintly literal "Daisy" was the brainchild of the DDB agency, which, as Tom Frank has ably documented, is best known for inventing a very different marketing approach: the "rebel sell." Such ads make fun of advertising and encourage consumers to escape the conformity of mass culture by buying mass-produced products. And like product advertisers who appeal to young, cynical media-savvy audience members by insisting they don’t take themselves seriously, Zucker employs a similar representational strategy. There’s the Movie Trailer Guy voice over, the absurd Albright and Kim impersonations, the sexism and xenophobia, and the lead-heavy ideology. Zucker’s ad mocks its genre, hoping to capitalize on the illusion of edgy subversiveness of South Park and The Daily Show. But by exaggerating the very clichés it trades in—the Democratic party’s putatively effete security policy embodied in an obese and servile Madeline Albright—the ad subverts its own logic. It may read less like a Republican caricature of Democrats than as a Democrat’s parody of a Republican caricature of Democrats—as if choreographed not by Karl Rove but by Stephen Colbert. The images are so patently over the top that the ad’s meaning pushes the opposite direction. And yet the piece offers another, more disturbing meaning. Far from completely subverting itself, it replicates and reinforces precisely the Republican xenophobia that might make progressives laugh, while marketing it in a flippant form that would appeal to South Park Republicans. As one ascertains reading through the comments on YouTube, the hundreds of thousands of hits are not all from votaries of Jon Stewart. Perhaps by keeping it off the air and relegating it to the viral universe of the internet, the RNC knew precisely what it was doing.
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