Thursday, May 20, 2010

Culture Shock 05.20.10: State candidate stars in best TV campaign ad ever

Apart from "Iron Man 2," the most exciting thing I've seen this month is, of all things, a political advertisement.

Dale Peterson's ad hit YouTube on Sunday, and by Monday afternoon it was everywhere — Fox News, political blogs, and websites devoted to things that are either awesome or just plain weird. You name it.

In media speak, the ad had "gone viral." By midweek, it had attracted about half a million views on YouTube, and at least one media pundit — a blogger for Time magazine — had declared it the best campaign ad ever.

Hardly anyone had even heard of Peterson before his ad stormed the Internet like battalions of GIs attacking the beaches at Normandy. Now he is the most recognizable candidate in Alabama's Republican primary for state agriculture commissioner. Not that that's saying much. With everyone's attention focused on the contentious race for governor, the candidates for commissioner of agriculture are barely an afterthought.

Peterson's ad is like a John Wayne western. The background music evokes "The Magnificent Seven," without being so similar as to require royalty payments.

When Peterson first appears, he is, naturally, riding a horse. He's also wearing a white cowboy hat, just in case you have any doubt about who the "good guy" is supposed to be. Then he hops down, takes off his sunglasses, looks us right in the eye and goes on a glorious rant that makes him sound more than a little like R. Lee Emery's drill sergeant in "Full Metal Jacket." You half expect him to tell you to drop and give him 20.

It's the political equivalent of Tourette syndrome. He even calls one of his opponents a "dummy," which is either rude or refreshingly candid or, for all I know, possibly both.

But this ad is no dummy.

With the help of some fast-paced editing, Peterson comes across as a decent character actor with superb comic timing. If he doesn't win the election, he could go to California and perhaps replace Emery as Hollywood's go-to military guy.

Peterson tells us he's been "a farmer, a businessman, a cop, a Marine during Vietnam, so listen up." When he takes off the sunglasses, he's like David Caruso at the start of every "CSI: Miami" episode. But instead of assaulting us with a bad pun, he talks about the "thugs and criminals" who try to keep Alabama voters "in the dark."

I'm not entirely certain what he's talking about, but it sounds pretty good. Besides, "thug" is a great word. People don't use it nearly enough. Thug.

He does lose focus a bit when he starts talking about "illegals." I realize you can't get elected dog catcher in this state unless you support a homegrown Berlin Wall, but immigration doesn't have much to do with the agriculture commissioner's job description. Still, he gets right back on target when he fumes about his opponents stealing yard signs from his supporters.

I like a politician who has his priorities straight.

But seriously, it's not that he's complaining about stolen yard signs. It's that he's so deadly earnest about it. And to prove it, almost the next thing he does is brandish a rifle.

Other campaign commercials this election cycle have shown candidates carrying rifles, but Peterson is the only candidate I can imagine actually shooting one. (Sorry, Bradley Byrne.)

Is it wrong for voters to choose a candidate based on one clever commercial? Of course it is. But voters make decisions based on lots of wrongheaded notions. So why not this one?

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