In 2008 an attack ad, titled ‘Vote Different’ appeared on YouTube, persuading voters to vote for Barack Obama instead of Hillary Clinton in the primary elections. Without a doubt this ad influenced the way many voters voted. By making use of allusion and by borrowing from other texts, it successfully made voters vote differently. As a result Hillary Clinton lost in the primary elections to Barack Obama. The attack ad ‘vote different’ depicts a large group of prisoners, sitting in neat rows, watching a large screen.
On the screen one sees Hillary Clinton talking about how she would like to listen to her audience and engage in a dialogue with them. Her words are very ironic, since the audience is not able to participate in the discussion. This is the first indication that we are meant to be critical of her words. Secondly, the camera switches to another woman, an athlete who has broken past the prison guards to enter the theatre where the prisoners sit.
She is running with a sledgehammer. While all of the images are dark and grey, she seems to bear the only sign of color with her red shorts. On her shirt is the campaign logo of Barack Obama. She hurls the hammer towards the screen, resulting in a burst of light that seems to awaken the prisoners. Then a text reads, “On January 14th the Democratic primary will begin. And you’ll see why 2008 won’t be like ‘1984’.”
Then the letter ‘O’ appears in the colors of Apple Macintosh’s old logo, along with the web address, BarackObama.com. What does this text mean, and how does it rely on other texts to construct meaning? There are three layers to this text. The first layer can be understood in the context of 2008 and the primary elections. The text traveled as a viral, meaning it was a commercial that spread like a virus through social networks on the Internet.
People who posted this video to their Facebook wall or sent it as a link in an e-mail to friends, all knew who Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were. Her face and his logo needed no introduction. The irony of her words, the dark images of the prisoners and the symbol of the sledgehammer all indicated a sharp criticism of Clinton. One did not have to understand the final text to sense that this was a strong attack ad.
It accused Clinton of not listening to her audience, and it praised Obama for helping them see ‘the light’. The second layer of this text can best be understood in the context of the Apple Macintosh ad that ran only once during the Super Bowl in 1984. The attack ad is in fact a ‘mash-up’ of the Macintosh ad, meaning that it is almost identical to the original ad, frame for frame, with a the exception of several manipulated images. Where the Apple logo once appeared on the shirt of the athletic woman, there is the logo of Organizing for America, Obama’s grassroots campaign team.
Where a man’s face once appeared on the large screen, there is Hilary’s face. The text at the end of the Macintosh ad originally read, “On January 24th Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t seem like ‘1984’.” Even if viewers of the Obama ad do not know about the significance of ‘1984’, they might know these references to the Macintosh ad. Since the ad only ran once, it created a great hype and sense of mystery. It promised to change the face of personal computing by literally and figuratively enlightening the masses. Comparing Obama’s campaign to the Apple brand, has an interesting effect on the reader in 2008. It is almost as if Obama is the new iPod: slick, stylish, personal and unique.
He breaks with the establishment, Hillary Clinton, who could be compared to Microsoft or IBM, in the context of 1984. The third layer of context is perhaps the most important one to understanding the ads. Both ads allude to a scene from Nineteen Eighty-four, a novel by George Orwell. His novel is commonly understood as a criticism of autocratic government. The autocratic government in Orwell’s novel, Oceana, is ruled by a man whose face appears regularly on a large ‘telescreen’. His name is Big Brother.
The Obama ad replaces Big Brother’s image from the Apple ad with Hillary Clinton’s face, making a comparison and strong suggestion that she stands for autocratic rule, establishment and war. The effects of this on the audience in 2008 are quite persuasive and bold, influencing the way they vote in the primary election.
At the time the attack ad ran in January of 2008, Hillary Clinton was ahead in the polls. Almost a week later, thanks to this ad and other influences, she began to lose points to Barack Obama (Pollster.com, 2008). While it is impossible to measure the exact effects of this ad in weakening her position, the ad’s implications are strong and persuasive. This viral video shows the power of mash ups and how the persuasive power of borrowing from other texts.
Apple Computers. “YouTube – 1984 Apple’s Macintosh Commercial.” YouTube – Broadcast Yourself. Web. 22 Feb. 2011. ParkRidge47. “YouTube – Vote Different.” YouTube – Broadcast Yourself. Web. 22 Feb. 2011. . “Pollster.com – Political Surveys and Election Polls, Trends, Charts and Analysis.” Pollster. Web. 22 Feb. 2011.