They say that politics is the second-oldest profession. If that's true, then attack ads must be the oldest form of ad. Back when "politician" was synonymous with "despot", the original attack ads were literal attacks, as in, "Accept my authority or I will attack you with my warriors." But then the agricultural revolution started getting really popular, and things like art and increased literacy meant that just having a bunch of soldiers and a state religion wasn't enough; you had to kind of convince the population at large that you were the right guy to make laws and declare wars and stuff.
I doubt that many elections, or wars of conquest or civil wars or revolutions, have been won by leaders who said, "You know, the guy currently in power is pretty cool. But I might also be pretty cool." No, you have to convince the masses that the guy currently in power is leading them on a path straight to hell, and that if you get in power, they will all become richer, happier, and better-looking. Or, if you are the guy in power, that if you get deposed God will rain down fire from the sky as punishment. Thus, the attack ad was born.
For a while, literacy was awesome for this purpose. You could appeal to voters' intellects to convince them that you were the right one to lead them into costly and sometimes unnecessary wars. Then universal suffrage happened and voter turnout became kind of a big deal; luckily radio and TV were invented shortly thereafter and you didn't have to appeal to voters' intellects anymore. Thank God.
Today (and I mean literally today, because for the purposes of this blog everything else is irrelevant), most political ads contain a combination of attack and promotion. This is the best way to go about it, because undermining your opponent does nothing unless you make yourself look good as well. But not all ads have the same combination. Observe:
The Liberals, perhaps assuming that the last two years of the Conservatives' minority government were attack enough and that Canadians want slow, gradual progress anyway, have run a fairly clean television campaign and mostly base their ads around the big, exciting new Green Shift platform. That's not to say they don't sling their share of mud, though. The Young Liberals, for example, participated in a smear campaign re: the Chuck Cadman affair as well as the In-and-Out Scandal the day after the RCMP raided Tory HQ. And just because they don't air attack ads on TV doesn't mean they don't exist: hi.im.a.liberal.ca.
The NDP and the Bloc have been kind of equally attack-y, although the NDP practically makes criticizing other parties part of their platform (Bob Rae knows what I'm talking about). And this is not necessarily a bad thing; duly noted criticism is part of any healthy democracy. Unfortunately, this is not something on which to build a government (Bob Rae knows what I'm talking about). But their caustically sarcastic New Kind of Strong ad is still a lot of fun. Attack ads can often be caustic, but they are rarely caustically sarcastic.
The Bloc was a little late in rolling out their ad (only just posted today on their website), and it's exactly what you'd expect from a Bloc ad: a mime who is sad that the Québecois don't get enough respect. I cannot fathom why M. Duceppe thinks that Quebeckers deserve "plus de respect" since they get plenty of it as it is - certainly financially! - but if he didn't, he wouldn't have a platform. As anyone who knows me knows, I absolutely adore French Canadians and Québec, but as anyone who has ever come close to mentioning separatism around me knows, don't even get me started. Hey Gilles? Why don't you complain about federal funding to Alberta? And why don't you complain about your culture getting the shaft to the Acadians? Still, the Bloc's chanson de campagne is kind of fun, in the same way that Mes Aïeux's Chanson à boire is fun.
Finally, the most attack-y: the Conservatives. And it's understandable that they be attack-y. When you're the guy in power, it's more about undercutting the other guy than building yourself up. Well, assuming your government is good, anyway. Maybe that's why they released the promote-y ads as well. But it's the promote-y ads I don't really understand. There are two extremes when it comes to evaluating politicians: the American way, and the French way. The American way says that a good politician is "good" in every aspect of his life: he goes to church, he has a wife and 2.5 children, the only time he ever drinks is a glass of red wine once a week for the health benefits, and everything he knows about marijuana cigarettes, he learned from Reefer Madness. You solicit gay sex in an airport bathroom just once, and all of a sudden, you are no longer a good candidate for government. In France, you can be caught sniffing cocaine in a blonde wig and high heels, and even though every man, woman, and child in France will read about it in the papers, if the economy is good you have a reasonable shot at re-election. Canada is somewhere in between these two extremes. Stephen Harper seems to think that we lean much more towards the American way. "Wow, Stephen Harper plays music with his kids? Well, that makes me feel much better about the copyright bill!" Am I the only one who finds it ironic that Stephen is styling himself as a "family man" only two years after he shook his kids' hands on the first day of school? (Say what you will about the triviality of this matter, it is not normal not to hug your elementary-aged children on the first day of school.) Weird promote-y commericals aside, the Conservatives' attack website against Dion, notaleader.ca, is still the most fun attack-related material I've seen since the writ dropped. Admittedly, I am the exact demographic it's targeting -- and it's totally working. Last post, I talked about the fun of "make-your-own-attack-ads". I couldn't find any at that time, but apparently Google failed me, because notaleader.com has one. Unfortunately, they had to infringe some copyrights to create this bit of fun, and a few of the copyright holders (TVO) were unimpressed. Maybe that's why when I tried to access it today, it wouldn't work. I foolishly believed that it was easy to load websites.
Once more, stay tuned for more Election time fun. Next time, how to talk to a friend who refuses to vote.
Edit: A Liberal attack ad!
One finally made it to the televised arena after all, but since no one actually watches TV anymore, you can see it here: Harpernomics ad
This changes the entire spectrum I so cleverly photoshopped up there. I'm not going to re-photoshop it though. I have two papers and a magazine article to write in the next 72 hours!