"In Praise of Clint Eastwood’s Metaphorical “Halftime in America” Superbowl Ad"
I’d love your comments on Clint Eastwood’s awesome ad for
Seriously, though, I’m not going to spend much time on the rather absurd issue of whether Clint’s gritty optimism means he is channeling Obama’s gritty optimism, as the Washington Post and conservative commentators claim:
An an ad touting the resurgence of the American auto industry, Clint Eastwood declared that it’s “halftime in America and our second half’s about to begin,” which could be interpreted as a reference to Obama’s second term.
The ad’s themes seem to echo Obama’s own argument that his administration brought the auto industry back from the brink of disaster.
“They almost lost everything,” Eastwood says of Detroit. “But we all pulled together. Now Motor City is fighting again.”
Oh, no, we all pulled together to save Detroit. And it worked. I guess Eastwood is a socialist, too, albeit one of those socialists who is tough and successful. I wonder if he was born in Kenya.
Obviously, anything that offends Karl Rove, “Bush’s brain,” can’t be all bad. But the reason I’m highlighting the ad is because it is an extended metaphor — arguably the single most effective kind of advertising possible.
I’ll be publishing my book on messaging and persuasion later in the year. It focuses on the figures of the speech. As Aristotle said, “The greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor” (see “How to be as persuasive as Lincoln, Part 3.” So I’ll be focusing more on the use of rhetoric in politics and popular culture this year.
Extended metaphor is, for me, the most important rhetorical device. This figure is at the heart of some of Lincoln’s greatest speeches and Shakespeare’s greatest plays (see “How Lincoln framed his picture-perfect Gettysburg Address“).
The Elizabethan era book The Garden of Eloquence by Henry Peacham explains the potency of this figure: It “serves most aptly to ingrain the lively images of things, and to present them under deep shadows to the contemplation of the mind, wherein wit and judgement take pleasure, and the remembrance receives a longer lasting impression.”
Using an extended metaphor himself, Peacham explains that while a simple metaphor “may be compared to a star in respect of beauty, brightness and direction,” an extended metaphor may be “fully likened to a figure compounded of many stars … which we may call a constellation.” No wonder this figure is so widely used. Who wouldn’t want to have their words achieve the impact and longevity of heavenly images like the Big Dipper or Orion?
Winning political campaigns use extended metaphors. And this ad is certainly reminiscent of one considered to be among the most effective a political ads of all time:
This ad was a perfect metaphor for Reagan’s optimism. As I discuss in the book, Reagan himself loved to use metaphors, and the use of metaphors make presidents appear more visionary.
One of Obama’s great failings as a speechmaker is that he doesn’t use many metaphors. That’s one of the ways you can tell this that wasn’t put together by his dreadful and overly literal-minded messaging team.
Any candidate, indeed anyone seeking to be memorable and persuasive, would do well to learn the message from these two ads: Extended metaphors work.