May 18, 2012

Beyond Reverend Wright: Deconstructing the Ricketts ("Smiley Obama") Storyboard

Ricketts Obama Video Proposal

As he passes the camera, he looks to us and gives us “that grin.”– from Strategic Perception storyboard (NYT)

Yesterday, Wonkette ended up with egg on its face because they thought a NYT headline labeled Obama as “slick and cocky.” Instead, the text was part of a screen shot from a proposed Obama attack video to be financed by billionaire and “wanna-be PAC player” Joe Ricketts.

The reporting that exposed the project, effectively killing it, overwhelming emphasized the attempt to once again disparage Obama by way of Reverend Wright. (The move even brought a denunciation from Romney). Reading the pictures and the copy, however, the larger focus of the attack is on character and Obama’s disposition (the prominence of Wright giving the character attack a racial twist).

“Slick” codes for narcissism. “Cocky” does too. “That grin” (mentioned and displayed repeatedly) is about being smug, which — when you tie the “America-hating” black preacher into it — equates to “uppity.” Of course, “cocky” (used twice) also codes to sex, and in Obama’s case, the hyper-sexual black male. (If you never saw it, McCain went down that path with one video, in particular.)

An effective character attack, however, works on many levels, and the overall emphasis on the smile and the “cocky grin” points out a still larger narrative  in play. The meme they are going for is “shallowness.” In part, the Davis PR firm is reaching back to the 2008 “celebrity” attack which proposed Obama’s main selling point is that he’s simply charismatic. (You do remember Barack/Paris Hilton, right?). Put “tastes great, less filling” together with a guy who’s self-loving, and you can see how your modest, recession-battered voter could get a little interested in the idea that “engaging” with Obama equals being led around like a sheep.

In spite of Wonkette’s mistake, credit The Times for pulling out the key element of the foiled video. It might be that the Rickett’s project crashed and burned for playing “the Wright card.” I’d be surprised, however, if it doesn’t (smugly)  preview coming attractions.

(collage: via NYT via “Next” storyboard/Strategy Perception PR)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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