A Powerful Commercial
Two weeks out from the presidential election, the nation is filled with a great anxiety about the future. This anxiety is not a political animal owned by one party. Rather it attacks everyone in America without discrimination.
Of course, the future is always uncertain and there is always a certain amount of anxiety assocated with it. Yet sometimes, the future is less uncertain than it is at other times. More predictable, one might say in that it has more of a connection to the present.
But sometimes, something comes along that makes the future so uncertain that it seems a totally new world is almost upon us: a new technology is created; a great war fought; a global pandemic sweeps over the world; a presidential election is weeks away. Now, time no longer travels in its familiar linear pattern but shifts to non-linear strobe-like flashes as events and information attack from all directions at once.
The pandemic year of 2020 has been one of these times. It is the year that has brought the greatest and quickest change in American history. At least in my lifetime. The continuous change in culture and society during 2020 has knocked out the nation’s structural supports, revealing the things to behind these supports. The experience has been somewhat like the dog Toto pulled away the cover “mask” from the Wizard of Oz. It is similar to the collapse of a great false front in a movie studio. It has been the year of the mask. As millions put on their masks, others took off their masks revealing what was really behind these masks all the time.
The short commercial “Don’t Get Tricked” was made by a group associated with the Republican Party. In it, a person wearing the mask of the person running for president stands behind Trick or Treat children at a door on Halloween. Candy is given out by the couple in the home. The person wearing the mask of the the the candidate for president shoves a pumpkin candy container forward expecting to receive candy like the children. The husband hesitates with a worried look on his face saying, “You look familiar. Who are you?”
The person wearing the mask of the presidential candidate rips the mask off. The person behind the mask is the person running for vice-president. Yet many feel the person running for vice-president will soon be the next president because of the declining health of the person running for president. The feeling is not from just one side but a feeling held by most of the nation.
For this reason, the future is doubly uncertain. Not just to members of one political party but to members of both parties. When will this person running for vice-president become president? What kind of transition will this involve? Who are the people behind the person running for vice-president? In all of this, masks seem like layers of an onion. We peel back one layer only to reveal another mask as the next level.
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The “Don’t Get Tricked” commercial asks “Who’s behind the mask?” It’s a reasonable question to ask and its asked by millions on both sides today. The commercial is made for one party. Yet it expresses the emotions of both parties.
This is what elevates it to being such a powerful statement of our times in little more than 30 seconds. In the end, the divisions in the nation might find a commonality in the mutual emotion of fear and anxiety about an uncertain future. Even though America might not agree on an idea, they can agree on the emotion of fear about an uncertain future. Perhaps this fear creates enough commonality to form new connections between the two parties? New connections between Americans?
The commercial is made to support the current president. But it’s admonition to not get tricked applies to any American who does not want to get tricked. It plays on fear of the future rather than a litany of accomplishments of a four year administration. For this reason, it just might cross the political aisle and gain support outside current supporters of the president.
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With the current president, the mask has been off for four years. There is less uncertainty about a future under him than a future under the challenger. This is perhaps the real campaign message that needs to be stated but really hasn’t been. Things have not gone all that well on messaging for the president. His campaign manager was arrested a month ago after threatening suicide. Most of his messaging is in large rallies singing to the choir so to speak.
If the election is really about fear of an uncertain future, then the current president is the one to lessen this uncertainy while the challenger is one to increase this uncertainty of the future. But it needs to be asked whether the emotion of fear and uncertainty is greater than the emotion of hatred that infects the nation in its own form of pandemic.
NOTES: The site https://2020trick.com carries the short “Don’t Get Tricked” commercial and nothing else on it. The commercial was made by Pony Soldier productions which is referenced at the bottom of the webpage. This might refer to a 1952 western starring Tyrone Power. Or, it might refer to a comment made by the candidate for president who on the campagn circuit called one person in a town hall meeting a “lying dog-faced pony soldier.” It was a phrase the candidate had used before, attributing it to a line from a John Wayne film.