That’s an ad for Minnesota’s Mike McFadden: dad, coach, businessman, nut shot victim, candidate for US Senate. Before we lament the dignity of his office, let’s remember that McFadden is running against incumbent Al Franken (D–MN). Neither man is exactly James Blaine of Maine. Still, there is something weird about this campaign advertisement. Is it that Coach McFadden seems to have taught his players to lunge forward and punch him in the nuts whenever a literal interpretation of his words authorizes them to do so? Is that even his real peewee football team? Certainly, every child who plays peewee football dreams of helping his coach become a senator, but very few actually do. Is it weird for McFadden to get these kids’ hopes up by putting them in his campaign commercial? No, it’s weird that he gets punched in the nuts at the end.
Sunset in the dining room of a cozy family home: Brother and Sister dig into their casserole and squeal with delight. “I used Velveeta Process Cheese,” Mom says proudly. “It’s got the creamy taste kids love.” Dad walks to the other end of the table and punches Mom in the tit. Everyone laughs.
Coke and Pepsi are playing beach volleyball. Two bikini babes appear—do they want to play doubles? No, they both join Coke on his side of the net, cooing and caressing him until Pepsi walks away, dejected. When he is out of sight, one bikini babe trips Coke to the ground and the other punches him in the nuts.
A man puts on Levi’s jeans. They burst into flames, badly burning his nuts.
None of these advertisements is particularly effective. They’re not even good analogs for McFadden’s ad, except for the Coke one, since as the candidate in a campaign spot he is himself the product being sold. It’s weird to spend 20 seconds telling us how great he is and then use ten seconds to blast his sack. I want to believe it was a genius ad lib, but I’ll bet it’s not. I’ll bet this Mike McFadden for Senate ad ends with Mike McFadden getting punched in the nuts because someone thought we’d like that.
I read about this ad in the New York Times, where Mark Leibovich cites it as an example of bumpkinification—the tendency of sophisticated candidates to become inordinately folksy around Election Day. As Leibovich notes, spots like this are usually produced by national consultants, so the bumpkinry on offer reflects Minnesota less than it reflects what a creative director thinks Minnesotans want. The nut shot isn’t McFadden revealing his dumb sense of humor. It’s McFadden revealing who he thinks we are.
If only we had some concrete visual image of how he thinks of us—okay, there it is in the reaction shot at :24. Those giggling 12 year-olds are what film theorists call an intratextual spectatorial model. They guide the viewer by modeling the appropriate reaction to what just happened. Without them, we would cry out in fear that Candidate McFadden had been attacked. With them, we remember that a man getting punched in the nuts is funny and admire McFadden’s wit appropriately.
I submit that this profound misjudgment of his audience is what makes McFadden’s ad so weird. Whom does this ad target? People who think nut shots are hilarious, i.e. minors and idiots.1 What kind of campaign organizes its ad strategy around winning the idiot vote?
It’s probably bad enough that Al Franken became the junior senator from Minnesota by being funny. But at least he went to the trouble of putting on a sweater and affecting a lisp. McFadden fell back on the laziest comedic device of all: establishing parallels between representing the people of Minnesota and coaching a children’s football team, then having one of the children/voters punch him in the nuts.
Sure, it’s hilarious. But does it drown out McFadden’s larger message—that you’re an idiot, and you need someone likable and fun to tell you what to do so we can win? I admit that McFadden seems pretty fun. I don’t know how much I like him, though. Maybe if somebody hit him in the nuts again.