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The News Media

Stick Together: Differences Reinforce Identity

Hayato’s presentation today on racism in political campaign ads reminded me of this commericial, which ran during the 2011 special election to fill California’s 36th Congressional District seat. In this ad, Democrat Dan Adler positions himself as a candidate who is uniquely qualified, based on his multicultural family, to represent a mosaic of minority interests. Unlike the ads we saw today in class, this ad emphasizes racial difference as a unifying factor and something to mobilize around, as opposed to a tool to incite fear.  The difference between the two ads is their intended message and audience–while Adler’s commerical emphasized the otherness of minorities TO minorities to create cohesion and position himself as their champion, the ads we saw today in class emphasized racial notes in order to create a white “us” who needed to be protected from a minority “them.” Both ads harness the power of Otherness, or the way in which members of one social group distance themselves from, or assert themselves over, another by construing the latter as being fundamentally different.

Dan Adler’s “Stick Together” ad went viral in the worst possible way, and the media skewered the ad as racist, out-of-touch, and even bizarre. In preliminary results that don’t include absentee ballots, Adler garnered 285 votes, or 0.54% of the vote.

Interestingly, Adler hails from a media background as a Los Angeles entertainment industry mogul of both film and television. His campaign manager, Sean Astin, is best known for his portrayal of Samwise Gamgee in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. One would assume that two people with as much media experience as Adler and Astin would be able to come up with a more effective ad, which was the source of more jokes and humor than actual political traction. Furthermore, it failed to accomplish either of the two goals of campaign ads: 1) convincing someone to vote for the candidate, or 2) convincing someone not to vote for the candidate’s opponent. Adler’s ad certainly didn’t convince many people to vote for him, and it didn’t take votes away from other candidates.

As Hayato pointed out in class today, the race card is an undeniable factor in political campaigns. Race cuts across various voter cleavages, and Democrats and Republicans politicians alike are enough aware of this reality to try and use it to their advantage in both negative and positive campaigning. However, treading lightly seems to be the key in making an ad with racial undertones work; the media is more than ready to label a politician as ‘racist’ for the attention-grabbing headline alone. Are the votes you gain from ads like these worth the ones you lose?

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