Pulp Politics: How Political Advertising Tells the Stories of American Politics

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Pulp Politics: How Political Advertising Tells the Stories of American Politics. Glenn W. Richardson, Jr. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003. 159 pp. $19.95 pbk.

When an author advances that the text of political advertising is the fabric of popular culture, he gains my attention. When he claims that his book is a beginning step in a new direction to study political advertising, I become excited.

Richardson makes these claims and more in his analysis of American political advertising. The book begins by exploring ways in which popular culture, especially readily identifiable genres, frame political communication. Jesse Ventura's use of children playing with action figures in a 1998 ad is one of several examples used throughout Chapter 1 to illustrate the convergence of popular cultural icons and political advertising. The Ventura ad illustrates the super-hero genre and attempts to link the heroic action figures with Ventura himself.

Acknowledging the inherent challenges due to the interpretive nature of genre analysis, the author selects nine prominent political ads from campaigns since 1988 and graphically displays how each ad has been classified or typed by previous research. He then asserts: "The exercise above shows that knowledge of how ads evoke the genres of popular culture can provide analytical leverage that extant approaches cannot. More importantly, the insights provided go to the very core of the meaning of the communication embedded in political spots." He leaves the reader to determine how the comparison of previous typologies does any of this; further, he offers no explanation of how the "insights" go to the core meaning of the political spots. Though this chapter contains interesting illustrations and examples of the genres, it fails to achieve the objectives the author asserts.

The second chapter claims to probe the cognitive underpinnings of political information processing through a quasiexperiment the author conducted with undergraduate students. It is in this chapter that the absence of rigor in methodology is most apparent. The author seems to want the credibility of true experimental methodology without adhering to its conventions. We know nothing about preexperiment reliability testing of stimulus ads, instrumentation, or even variable identification. Of critical importance, there is no indication that students are randomly assigned to the different stimulus (treatment) conditions. The design is unclear and inadequately explained.

One of the stimulus ads was created for the study, the other was taken from a previous campaign; yet there is no evidence that they are of comparable quality. It is claimed that the stimulus ads represent different genres (although there is no reliability confirmation of this). …