Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Gallows Humor vs. Pure Fear in Political Ad Strategy

Last night, I saw the following ad start circulating by a pro-choice organization targeting Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (and, by extension, the draconian anti-abortion regime that has recently been ushered in).


I'm curious what people think on this (as I've mentioned, cutting political ads is something I'm absolutely irrationally confident I'd be good at).

I fully agree that Democrats should be running and running hard on the demise of Roe. If there is one thing Americans hate, it is changes to settled expectations, and this one was a doozy. Democrats can and should do everything they can to elevate and place at the forefront the anxieties, fears, and trauma that is associated with this settled right being unceremoniously torn away.

I am curious how people view this ad, in particular, as fitting into the strategy. The most striking feature of the ad is the abrupt switch in tone -- from a pure emotional appeal to absurdist gallows humor. The ad has gotten generally positive reception on my Twitter feed, though I can imagine people thinking it's a little too jokey and slapstick for the moment. The alternative, of course, would be to run ads that aren't cut with humor but rather play purely on fear -- fear of women dying, being maimed, being arrested. I want to be clear: those fears are justified. I don't think this is fear-mongering, because these terrible prospects are absolutely on the horizon where they are not already the reality. But the point is there is a different style of ad one can imagine that doesn't flinch away from the raw terror of the moment by interspersing it with a bit.

Consider something like the following: 
A woman is sitting in an examination room in a hospital gown. She's terrified, and has clearly been crying, but she's trying to stifle any sound and keep a brave face. There's blood spotting the gown near her groin. The camera slowly pans over, zooming out so she stays in frame but capturing more of the exam room until it reaches the doorway. Out in the hall, one sees three police officers talking to a doctor or nurse. Eventually, one of the officers walks into the exam room with handcuffs out.
No humor, no levity, no absurdism. Not even any dialogue. Just a terrified woman, in the most vulnerable moment of her life, facing the abusive power of the state. A terrible image. But we are living in terrible times.

Would that be better? Worse? Or should both types of ads be run? I'm not sure. Again, curious what people think about what's the right and most effective strategy.


David Lev said...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_g2CqOrFGak&t=1s Meidas Touch produced an ad kinda like you describe a few months ago in which a teen girl and her mother are pulled over and arrested for trying to escape elsewhere to have an abortion. Even as a non-woman I find the ad terrifying.

David Schraub said...

Yeah, that's a good example.