29 November 2008

“Political Advertisement”

In 1984, New York artists Antoni Muntadas and Marshall Reese started a video project, titled Presidential Advertisement, for which they’ve gathered together political commercials from the past fifty years. They re-edit their project every four years, adding fresh ads to reflect the zeitgeist and technological innovations. Muntadas and Reese’s video is now 75 minutes long (15 minutes longer than the election-2000 version). The New Yorker recently featured a column on the project, and writer John Seabrook writes,
Watching “Political Advertisement” in its entirety is a powerful but disorienting experience. Time hurtles forward with each Presidential election, but there is no clear progress on the fundamental issues. Jobs, better schools, tax relief, help for small businesses, change, peace through strength, and out-of-touch Washington insiders ebb and flow in importance. It’s morning again in America in 1984, with the Reagan ads, but soon it’s nighttime, with the darkening sky of a 1992 Ross Perot spot on the national debt. (Seabrook)

Because the ads are presented chronologically and sans commentary, the film highlights how presidential campaign rhetoric remains, essentially, unchanged. While this isn’t entirely surprising (as Seabrook suggests, political ads do shape our political discourse), it’s rather saddening to realize that for 52 years, politicians have spoken of addressing and resolving the same problems. Of course, many of these issues have been about for much longer than 52 years, but to have them presented on film underscores something akin to cultural wheel spinning. And yet…we continue to have faith in presidential candidates who do little more than echo previous candidates. What’s that word? Hope?

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