April 17, 2005

Spoil the Rod and Spare the Child


If you’ve been following the Republican threat to limit the use of the Senate filibuster, you know that the Family Research Council, a promotional group for reactionary evangelicals, is sponsoring a television broadcast to build grassroots support for such a move.  These radicals believe that by eroding this legislative tool, they can prevent Democrats from blocking final approval of far right judicial nominees.  The reason the television program — and the poster promoting it — are getting so much exposure is because Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has agreed to appear on the show.

Other blogs can argue the (de)merits of the legislation and the TV program.  For the BAG’s purposes, however, I thought it might be worth taking a closer look at the poster.    (Full size version here.) 

The flier shows a boy weighing a gavel in one hand and a bible in the other.  In casting a skeptical eye on the gavel, he seems to be concluding that any affiliation with the judicial system (through the pursuit of public service) would put him in conflict with “higher” Christian beliefs. 

As a visual allusion to the scales of justice, the poster sets up an either/or relationship between Christ and the law. 


Before one can consider the logic of this dichotomy, however, the image adds another layer, implying that the ultimate judgment here belongs with the Christian public (or, to their children).  Which institution is more legitimate, however, is already determined.  Despite the fact the bible is likely to be heavier, the hand positioning implies that the weight of evidence comes down more strongly against the law. 


Another way bias is introduced is through the use of lighting.  The light breaks almost down the center of the boy, casting the left side of his face and shirt in shadow.  This lends a darker cast to the left, or “social” side, of the flier.   


In terms of the typographic layout, “Justice” and “public service” are thus equated with the shadow and with the boys “skeptical side,” while Christ, “Sunday” (the day of prayer) and the bible equate with the light (as well as the boys “uncritical” side).

Probably the most cynical aspect of this poster, however, has to do with how — in the attempt to disparage a single legislative procedure — the ad not only vilifies the justice system, but feels the need to also denigrate the ideal of public service. 


Having squandered the opportunity after 9/11 to develop opportunities for collective sacrifice, volunteerism or other forms of social involvement, it is clear now that the Administration sees no good in public welfare unless it serves right wing interests.  At a time when George Bush is trying to channel as many federal social service dollars as he can to religious organizations, it would seem the right wing only approves of public service when it takes place under the auspices of the church.


The other strategy this ad employs involves the exploitation of children. Remember those kids who were arrested in Florida “protesting” in front of Terry Shiavo’s hospice?  Even if these people belief that curtailing the filibuster process is a moral necessity, why place what is essentially a dirty fight in the hands of a child? And why disguise the issue in the context of a young man’s vocational dilemma?

If these people were truly moral, they would be doing a lot more than shielding their kids from an ugly campaign.  They would be teaching their children that you can’t overturn the rules anytime you can’t win the game.

Post By

Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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