William Adams, also known as Will.i.am, of the hip hop group, The Black-Eyed Peas; best known as an American rapper, the holder of countless awards; Grammy, MTV Music, Teen Choice, World Music, American Music, and the Billboard Music Award, collaborated with Jesse Dylan; an American film director, CEO and creative director of the media production company Wondros, best known for his videography and films, to create a presidential campaign ad supporting candidate Barack Obama in 2008. The ad was named, “Yes we can”.
Filmed in black and white, the ad combines Barack Obama's campaign speech in Nashua,New Hampshire, on January 8, 2008, with various young musicians, actors, actresses singing along with a soft acoustic guitar melody. The visual presence of stardom and the presidential nominee giving his speech is effective, but it doesn't particularly give me a valid reason to vote for Barack.
In the first shot,transfer is used, as described by Phil Taylor, of the “ The Fine Art of Propaganda.” The opening shot visually shows Adams looking confident, fixing his attire, preparing to sing, a profession that has touched millions of lives. It also cuts with another shot of a beautiful,young, well known blonde actress, Scarlett Johansson. The soft tone of an acoustic guitar soundtracks and the screen splits into two, showing Obama giving his speech in New Hampshire, overlapping with Adams singing along with his speech. Obama is wearing a suit and tie, and presenting his speech with confidence among a large crowd.
Taylor describes the techniques professional propagandists can and may use to express one groups opinion in order to influence other groups opinion. As described by Taylor, the “transfer carries the authority, sanction, and prestige of something respected and revered over to something else in order to make the latter acceptable”(5). The first scene is a prime use of the transfer and is visually appealing, with a young black man, successful in his profession; a young, successful, blonde woman preparing to sing in front of the camera. The whole movie is shot in black and white so it is also visually appealing, making the ad look genuine, non imposing, and soft. Obama begins his speech, and the successful american artists sing along with the president giving the ad a musical transfer that is moving, not only because of the tone and look of inspiration in the musicians eyes but also the facts Obama talks about in his speech. He opens with, “ it was a creed written into the founding documents that declared the destiny of a nation. Yes we can.” The transfer happens when Adams sings along with a melody along with Obama. The contents of Obama's speech are facts and the musicians have the credibility in their industry to portray art well. The musicians and actors are young, healthy looking, and seem inspired and moving while they speak, almost charismatic. People who love hip hop, movies and music will be attracted to this style of propaganda.
This brings us to the second type of propaganda tool, the “Band-Wagon,” which the propagandist, “ attempts to convince us that all members of a group to which we belong are accepting his program and that we must therefore follow our crowd and jump on the Band- Wagon” (5). As the ad presses on, it continues to use music and a group of musicians, actors ,and actresses overlapping with Obama's voice, while performing his speech in New Hampshire. Throughout the rest of the ad, dramatic shots of artists singing, suggestive body movements, dramatic facial expressions are carried out. Taylor explains, the propagandist, “ wants us to follow the crowd in masses” directing “ his appeal to groups held together already by common ties, ties of nationality, religion, race, sex, vocation”(11). This tactic is effective because it reaches out to young musicians, people who watch movies, people who listen to popular music, and to a younger crowd as a whole. Perhaps a generation of young men and women that wouldn't necessarily listen to the speech at all if it weren't for Adams’ and Dylan creating a film with the Obama New Hampshire speech meshed together. The impact the ad has on a younger generation to vote for Obama is strikingly efficient because if they support Obama and the younger crowd support the artists and trusts their word, well, hop on the Band-Wagon.
Thirdly, the campaign ad uses Glittering Generality. Taylor describes Glittering Generality as, “ associating something with a virtue word” like yes we can and “ is used to make us accept and approve the thing without examining the evidence”(7.) Taylor further explains that the virtue words in fact hold different meanings to different individuals. (7)The idea Dylan is portraying is, yes, we can vote. Yes, we can come together, all races, young or old, artist or actor and make a decision for the presidency. The ad lasts 15 minutes long, it continues to screen in black and white, continues to bring new faces of the media community singing along to the soundtrack, and Obama’s New Hampshire speech.
The ad uses heavy Glittering Generality towards the end when the words,” yes we can” are dubbed over and sampled to sound like a chant. The repetitiveness and the visual aspect of the artists is attractive, while watching Obama speak at the same time. The heart- warming body language, soft music, and the black and white film keeps people’s guard down and builds suspense. Towards the end of the ad, the people on the screen are chanting, smiling, and look inspired for change. The words, yes we can, are a Glittering Generality of another man’s speech, leaving the group watching full of hope, that someday there will be change as described by Obama in the closing lines of his campaign speech. “ For when we have faced down the impossible odds; when we've been told that we're not ready, or that we should try, or that we can't, generations of Americans have responded with a simple creed that sums up the spirit of the people. Yes we can.” Glittering Generality and Obama’s speech, coupled with a group of musicians and artists is indeed very effective, considering the combination of the other propaganda types, but it still doesn't give me any particular reason to vote for said candidate.
Considering the propaganda types used in this ad: Transfer,Band-Wagon, and Glittering Generality, and their effectiveness, the ad itself is inspiring. The visual cues and body language suggest a genuine emotion with the musicians and actors/actresses, but the ad doesn’t give any particular valid reason to vote. It is not valid because without any knowledge of who the celebrities are, without any knowledge of whom created the ad, at face value, they are regular people singing along with Obama. The ad suggests that these people are of importance in today’s society, suggesting we should side with them regardless of our own interests.
Intense emotional appeal may seldom suffice to sway an uneducated or educated individual to vote. A writing exerpted at Colorado State University website defines emotional appeals as, “ are generally frowned upon in academic circles for the simple reason that they tend to get in the way of logic and reason.” The individuals throughout the ad don’t provide any logic or reason to vote for their candidate of choice throughout the film. There isn't an indication or cut with any words that tell the audience to vote for Obama. The add uses emotional appeal to connect with a young generation, clearly suggesting to take their side for Obama and vote for him, which is invalid,unnecassary, and manipulative.It almost feels as if its insulting one’s intelligence when the singers are in sync with Obama’s speech. Without much research or access to the internet, the ad also suggests the nation should trust in them without considering hard facts or considering ideologies of the presidential nominee or for the ideologies of the numerous artists, actors, actresses including Dylan and Adams.
The visual presence of popular musicians, actors,actresses and the presidential nominee giving his speech is effective, but it doesn't particularly give me a valid reason to vote for the nominee. If we look at the bigger picture as it is now, the ad could have or must have had an effect on the election of president Barack Obama. Think about it, the ad is in black and white; almost implying that it is either a yes or no. You’re either with the hip new propagandists or you’re not. Americans were probably easily swayed into making a decision after they saw well known artists like Adams and American film director, Dylan. We must dig deeper than emotional appeal or famous individuals opinion. Michael Parenti, the writer of Democracy For The Few, writes,“ The president, we are told, plays many roles: chief executive, ‘chief legislator’, commander in chief, head of state, and party leader. Seldom mentioned is the president's role as promoter and the guardian of corporate capitalism. The president is the embodiment of the executive-centered state system that serves corporate interests at home and abroad”(215). These interests will be protected with military force. Capitalism affects all classes but the elite few. There is no mention of the president’s role in the “Yes We Can” ad, leaving the young community inspired, but with no new educational facts about the presidential nominee.
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Parenti, Michael. “ Democracy For The Few”. Boston:Wadsworth,2011. Print.215
Taylor, Phil. "The Fine Art of Propaganda." Phil Taylor’s Website. The Institute of
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" Yes We Can." The Living Room Candidate. 2008. Television Ad.