The Unartfulness of Political Attack Ads

This video montage of political attack ads from The Atlantic’s been getting passed around, and I found it particularly illuminating in the context of the powerful anti-Romney ad that’s airing in Ohio:

What’s fascinating about most of these ads is how deliberately unartful they are. There are exceptions, of course—the two-headed freak offered up by a carnival barker in the 1952 Adlai Stevenson ad, or most prominently, the Lyndon Johnson Daisy ad that suggested Barry Goldwater’s hawkishness would have terrifying consequences. But many of them have deliberately low-grade graphics, like the stock footage of the roller coaster in Walter Mondale’s anti-Reagan ad from 1984, the cheap blurring of Bill Clinton’s face in George H.W. Bush’s 1992 ad implying that Clinton was so contradictory as to sound like two entirely different people, or the deliberately choppy cuts of the 2004 George W. Bush ad showing John Kerry as a flip-flopper by showing him windsurfing back and forth. They’re cutesy or literal, though that doesn’t mean that the ideas they convey are. In a way, the crudeness of the images isn’t meant to condescend to the audience—it’s a way of conveying that both they and the candidate are in on the joke of their opponent’s weakness.