Now that you’re done crying/submissively urinating, you should know that that was a commercial for a book. Tim Pawlenty wrote Courage to Stand: An American Story, which I have not read but appears to be a heartwarming story of how anyone can make it in the United States if they work hard and are Tim Pawlenty, and this video about Valley Forge and the moon landing is ostensibly to sell that. In reality,* of course, it’s about how Tim Pawlenty would make an awesome President for an awesome people. As with the Amazon description of his book, which refers to “the gritty meat packing town of St. Paul,” there appears to be some mythmaking going on here. That probably explains why he hired Michael Bay to make his commercial—which, in turn, explains why the only black people in this video are Olympic athletes and Martin Luther King.
Lest that strike you as an unfair remark, we should consider the rhetorical purpose of this, um, film. It is clearly not to sell books; the book appears only briefly, as one of a series of smash cuts 71 seconds into an 86-second video. The name and availability of the book appear on a title card shortly thereafter, but it remains on the screen for much less time than, say, the incongruous FreedomFirst PAC graphic that follows. We’re selling a Presidential candidate, here, and he comes with a book.
The style of those title cards—particularly the “Former Governor of Minnesota Tim Pawlenty” at :42—should be familiar to anyone who has seen a trailer for a Bruce Willis movie. Familiar, too, are the driving orchestral soundtrack and massive, decontextualized bass rumbles, which seem to have overdriven YouTube’s feeble sound encoders. Basically, in a world where America is strong and also not easy, one man has the Courage To Stand. That man is Tim Pawlenty, but like any good hero in any good action thriller, he’s also you.
That explains why Valley Forge is the only historical event depicted in this video that occurred outside the last 50 years. The first thirty seconds might as well be an ad for one of ABC’s Baby Boomer retrospectives—Cassius Clay on the medal stand, the moon landing, the fall of the Berlin Wall, some aging long-hair embracing his wife in the streets. From there out it’s white children, white laborers, white fifty year-old businessman with arty glasses.
Here, then, is America’s largest generation as it understands itself now: historically significant, aging but still hip, and ready to embrace lower taxes, deregulation and ethnic solidarity, which were apparently the values it fought for all along. In the images of a worried but hopeful nation responding to the impassioned speech of a natural leader, the commercial is unmistakably evocative of 2008 Barack Obama, except everyone is the same race and either a child or a senior citizen. Finally, FreedomFirst PAC seems to say, an Obama who looks like you.
Some other highlights:
:12-:14—The two parts of New York City that are okay to show in a Republican campaign commercial: the lower Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty.
:28—Nineteen year-old white girls watching Pawlenty speak subconsciously start to open their mouths.
:32–:34—Blonde, sandy blonde, redhead.
1:05—Split-second shot of a white toddler wearing a “Pawlenty For Prez” jumper.
1:07—As Pawlenty says, “we’re gonna have some differences,” he meets a white person in a wheelchair.
Perhaps I’m making too much of the racial homogeneity of this campaign/book/worldview ad, but there’s not much other rhetoric to dissect. The primary images—the Earth from space, fast-motion traffic, various dawns—are essentially stock footage, and the political position at hand seems to be, “America is great.” That’s not inappropriate for an introductory commercial, but neither does it augur an admirable campaign.
I like Tim Pawlenty. I do not like that he appears to be banking on the employed white families of America to bring him to the White House. Not all of us belong to that demographic, and despite the outpouring of rhetorical concern for their well-being, they aren’t the people who need a White House the most. Nor do they need any more convincing that the whole thing is like a movie.