Verily, Maud Getteth It

Maud Newton and I have something in common -- something we do not share with most of our colleagues and neighbors and friends, nowadays, at least since each of us moved to Yankee-stan.

We both grew up in the South, not just "around fundamentalists" but within the shadow of all those "beasts with seven horns and ten crowns," and "baskets of locusts with scorpion tails," and "golden cups filled with the abominations of the world" and whatnot described in the apocalyptic books of Daniel, Ezekiel, and St. John. (Some friends have urged me to write about getting out from under that shadow -- but man, how do you even start?)

Thus it is that we can watch this John McCain video and see the same thing:


Maud gets it, though I might venture to quibble very slightly:

It is designed to galvinize a very specific group: Evangelical Christians of the End Times, Rapture-Ready variety. It is designed, more to the point, to scare the shit out of these people by insinuating that Barack Obama is the Antichrist. This is a particularly nefarious and crafty argument to make because it is the one context in which all the candidate's strengths -- his smarts, his articulateness, his contagious smile and way with people -- can become evidence against him. All these traits are associated in the Bible with the charismatic, popular, well-spoken man who is supposed to become the leader of the world and bring about the Tribulation.

My possible point of dispute is based on a recollection that there is another character in this scenario -- a false prophet who works with the Antichrist (preparing the way for him more or less as John the Baptist did for Jesus).

So maybe that's supposed to be Obama's role, rather than that of the Beast himself? Either way, it is not good.

The people who created the ad know that most of the public won't pick up on any of this.

But as someone who grew up in the 1970s listening to a rock opera called It's Getting Late for the Great Planet Earth! (not reissued on CD, alas) I have no doubt the message will be received loud and clear by the audience it's aimed at, which otherwise might not feel that enthusiastic about McCain himself as a candidate.

On second thought, this might not help the campaign very much. If you are waiting for the Rapture, it's not like preventing the rise of the beast with seven horns and ten crowns etc. is a huge priority. (You sort of want to get it all over with, ASAP.)

The RNC panders to these folks, but it doesn't actually consist of them. The ad's makers know their audience but not quite well enough to grasp how it really thinks.

August 4, 2008 2:40 PM | | Comments (12)

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12 Comments

You know--and this is probably my upbringing in rural Southern Illinois coming out, too--that was my initial take, too. Then I convinced myself that I was being silly. But if all three of us had the same reaction, we can't be the only ones, and it starts to look like this is exactly what they intended.

not to detract from your point, which is more interesting than mine, but has anyone noticed this: John McCain is running an awful lot of ads in which Obama looks really good. Surely he's familiar with Michael Deaver ?

I can't tweak Wrongshore's link so that it works. Here is the page it should point to:

http://journalism.nyu.edu/pubzone/weblogs/pressthink/2004/06/09/reagan_words.html

Who knows? Maybe Obama is too mediagenic for them to clobber.

Conversely, if ever a candidate seemed destined to have a moment of explosive ranting rage captured by cellphone camera, it is John McCain.

Oh, man, I grew up with the transplanted southern California branch of barking mad fundamentalists & the Antichrist message jumped out at me instantly when I saw this ad. We drove around in cars with bumper stickers saying "ride at your own risk I'm leaving with the rapture." Look, most of those people are deeply racist in any case -- my own family stank with racial hatred -- that they don't really need a reason to vote against Obama. This ad is intended not to win votes, but to motivate volunteers. Though why they would volunteer to postpone that Rapture by electing McCain remains something of a mystery.

Hal Lindsey's comments suggest that they are putting Barack in this role. I grew up in an evangelical culture, and I don't think that they can twist scriptures to turn Obama himself into the Antichrist, but that's some really evocative footage there.

FWIW, I did not grow up in such a culture, but that was my immediate reaction as well, and I didn't have second thoughts. (I'm not "versed" in Antichrist/precursor lore, so I can't speak to that.) Even if the ad was not made with this intention, the alternatives are not much better: He thinks of himself as the returning Messiah or as a prophet on the order of Moses (and not the Biblical one, either, but the crude magician of Charlton Heston's famous portrayal). And the ad takes comments that seem pretty clearly to have been made in jest-- "a light from . . . somewhere"--and tries to portray them as sanctimonious self-aggrandizing.

I thought I had seen campaigns stoop as far as they could possibly go, but the sheer dishonesty and ugliness of McCain's campaign against Obama thus far has shown me how naive I was. "Straight talk"? "Maverick"? This is not "the same old politics," but a hideous new low.

Well, yeah. Nice point about the campaign people not quite having the patter down (odd to speak of it so).

Me, I’ve been saying for years Bush is the Antichrist and Cheney is the False Prophet (or is it vice-versa?).

I could see McCain as the AC, and he’s got more False Prophets than you can shake a stick at.

A fun parlour game for the entire family. Socks the Cat anyone?

I hear you about getting out from under the shadow.

My rule of thumb is to apply Romans 2:1— Therefore o man, whosoever thou art that judgest, when thou judgest another thou condemnest thyself, for thou that judgest doest the same things. (KJV obviously.) That follows hard upon the passage most commonly used to condemn homosexuality; leaving the punch line out, strangely enough. I think it has to do with selection bias...or something like that. Fundamentalist (ideological) perverts condemning the Other Guy.
IOW anything that can be characterised as smug self-righteousness (“Lord I thank you I am not as other men”) is poisonous. Poison for body, soul, and spirit, speaking trichotomistically. Distinctly lacking in the Redemption department.

Like a lot of the moves the Dark Side makes these days the ad is probably meant to do more than one thing. Appeal to the info-illiterate with schlock Cecil B Demille anthemic noise, and at the same time creep the shit out of smart people everywhere. Why they would want to creep the shit out of smart people is a little more intricate.

Would it be wrong to spread the rumor that the Rapture is going to happen on election day (to spare the faithful from Obama's reign of unholy terror, natch) and thus everyone should stay home and make sure their family is right with Jesus?

Scott, you've made a strong and convincing case her for an evangelical Christian reading of this ad and for easy familiarity with the relevant symbols on the part of the people who made it, but I'm not convinced that the ad is designed to galvanize evangelicals. ("Seriously, I grew up with these people" is not, as you know, an argument.) It seems to me that an ad specifically intended to galvanize evangelicals would not be a campy Web-only video they're unlikely to see, an ad that (if they saw it) would tell them something that, according to Google, many of them already believe and are discussing openly rather than obliquely.

The ad's delivery method suggests to me that its primary intent was to reach the more urbane sorts who read blogs and follow political micro-controversies like Obama's weird faux seal, and I think one could make a case that the fundie imagery is being used here to get a chuckle out of voters who roll their eyes at Obama's rhetoric and the ardency of his fan base, and maybe convince a few moderate pro-Obama voters that the movement they're considering joining is silly or creepy rather than cool. I've no doubt evangelicals will interpret this ad in the very unsettling way you've outlined, but I'm not convinced it's "aimed at" them primarily. Readers' responses do not prove intent.

I never claimed that reader response, as such, proves intent. My guess on that score owes at least as much to knowing about the track record of use of evangelical "coded language" by the Bush administration.

But in any case, James's interpretation here is farfetched at best. Camp, at least, is in the eye of the beholder. To anyone who doesn't believe in the Rapture, the various Left Behind-ish movies would certainly qualify. In fact, they can be enjoyable just at that level. But that is not the intent. They are serious. Susan Sontag called camp a response to failed seriousness. I don't doubt that formula applies equally well to this commercial.

It could be (as you suggest) that the McCain campaign is staffed with New Media hipsters trying to get a buzz out of the blogosphere, and willing to spend money to chip away an infinitesimal portion of Obama's support. This does not seem probable, however -- and "not completely impossible" is not much of an argument.

I think you're both right, actually. It's probably not aimed at the fundies (although there's value to reaching out to them because although they aren't likely Obama voters, they need galvanising to get them out to vote at all), but at more centrist types who may have niggling doubts about Obama. Here's an ad saying there's something not quite right about Obama, and that will maybe resonate with people who could go either way but are more likely to vote *against* than *for* a person. It may even be dual purpose. It's unsettling for those not familiar with the imagery, and confirmatory for those who are.

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