"Look, and I Will Show You Something You Will Want to See": Pictorial Engagement in Negative Political Campaign Commercials

By Barbatsis, Gretchen S. | Argumentation and Advocacy, Fall 1996 | Go to article overview

"Look, and I Will Show You Something You Will Want to See": Pictorial Engagement in Negative Political Campaign Commercials


Barbatsis, Gretchen S., Argumentation and Advocacy


When Eisenhower's Presidential campaign introduced television spots to the political discourse, critics pointed to the unthinkable: treating a political candidate as a product. But the advertising agency responsible for creating these commercials found the idea very thinkable. They unabashadly intended to create commercials as effectively for a political product as they did for soap and toothpaste (Wood, 1982). However distasteful the idea might have been to critics, the advertisers got it right. Today it is not political commercials but, rather, a political campaign without them that is unthinkable.

Television spots in political discourse continue to raise compelling questions, not the least of which is negative campaign advertising. As early as Johnson's Presidential campaign, advertisers complemented traditional bolstering and comparative advertising strategies with the negative attack ad (Kaid & Johnson, 1991). Its purpose, which viewers consistently find distasteful (Ansolabehere & Iyengar, 1995; Garramone, 1984; Merritt, 1984; Stewart, 1975), is to degrade the image of a rival candidate. Interestingly, this is not a preferred strategy for the likes of soap and toothpaste commercials because of its potential backlash effect, though once again, advertisers got it right. Negative campaign ads have increased with each new campaign season.

Why they got it right, both in introducing the televisual spot to political discourse, and in shaping that discourse with the negative attack ad, is another question. Clearly these forms of political discourse work because they engage viewers, but identifying how they do that has been anything but a straightforward task. Political wisdom holds to the image as critical in that engagement, which Kathleen Hall Jamieson's work addresses in its extensive analysis of negative political advertising. Jamieson (1992) describes a complex and interactive engagement where "what is shown is not necessarily what is seen, and what is said is not always what is heard" in which she emphasizes the role of visualization tactics. (pp. 9, 43-101).

In this essay I both focus on the pictorial component of a televisual text and propose that the engagement offered in a political commercial can be understood as we understand a viewer's sensemaking of any televisual text. I do so by examining a series of three negative campaign ads created for the 1988 Bush Presidential campaign, The Harbor, Revolving Door, and A Tank Ride. My examination of their pictorial structures proceeds with two propositions in mind: first, that the pictorial structure of a multimediated expression, whether print, film or televisual, can and should be addressed independently and in its own terms;(1) second, that realization of symbolic structures in pictorial terms need not be a matter of shifting their definitions to fit a particular symbolic mode (Barbatsis, 1993).(2) Accordingly, while I address the pictorial structure of a televisual expression independently and in its own terms, I do so with reference to a conception of textual structure that extends to equivalent constructions in verbal and musical modes, as well as to the multimodal televisual structure in which they all participate.(3)

Using work in reader-response theory, and particularly that of Wolfgang Iser (1978), I approach the visual component of these three commercials as pictorially constructed textual structures. I then describe these pictorial texts in terms of two pervasive features of televisual expressions, their narrative structure and their rhetorical mode of direct address.(4) I use the term pictorial narrative to mean the expression of a narrative structure in pictorial terms, and I use the term pictorial direct address to mean the expression of a direct address structure in pictorial terms.

Accordingly, I argue that these visual texts use pictorial direct address to simulate a camera-to-event encounter which engages the viewer as a participant in constructing the world of the text. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

"Look, and I Will Show You Something You Will Want to See": Pictorial Engagement in Negative Political Campaign Commercials
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.