Attack of the Political Ad
Those attack ads get nastier every year.
"The ads they run are not generic party ads or issue ads—they are 'Bill Clinton-is-the-best-thing-since-twist-off-caps' ads and 'Bob-Dole-is-the-cause-of-halitosis-and-genital-warts' ads... (I personally doubt the genital wart claim, but...)"
— Jim Hightower, If God Had Meant Us To Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates
When campaigning for public office, it's not always about telling voters why you're the right person for the job. Sometimes, if not a lot
of the time, it's about telling voters why your opponent is the wrong person for the job.
Very much a fact of life in any democratic process. Since the advent of television, political campaigns have taken to the airwaves every election cycle just to point out the flaws and negative characteristics of their opponents in the most unsavory ways. They contrast the most unattractive pictures they can find of their opponent
with the most appealing photos of their own candidate
, they Quote Mine
, they scare you
into thinking that if their opponent is elected they'll, literally, send your world straight to Hell and personally hand it over to Satan himself
As such, whenever a work of fiction with political themes focuses on public campaigning, attack ads tend to show up in the most exaggerated forms, occasionally even parodying Real Life
attack ads. Oftentimes, a political opponent is smeared to an extraordinary degree not just to be portrayed as the wrong person for political office but also as being downright evil. For example, the opposition candidate can be suggested to have been involved in causing any number of world disasters, accused of eating babies
, or outright claimed to want to be the next Hitler
. This will likely be contrasted with the endorsed candidate being portrayed in an unbelievably saintly light. Naturally, this is usually Played for Laughs
is a more general case, less restrained by the necessity to keep at least formal decency. Compare Scare Campaign
examples should go under Scare Campaign
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- Head of State has some pretty silly attack ads against protagonist Mays Gilliam, claiming that if he gets elected the White House will explode, or accusing him of supporting cancer because he didn't appear at a cancer rally. Mays responds by making ads consisting of his opponent getting massive praise...by KKK members and Osama bin Laden.
- America (The Book) has a page dedicated to satirizing negative political advertising as well as highlighting some of its most famous Real Life examples. Among the book's surreal claims, a year after Lyndon Johnson's "Daisy" ad from the 1964 US Presidential election suggested that his opponent Barry Goldwater would start a nuclear war, Barry Goldwater started a nuclear war; Willie Horton was Michael Dukakis's running mate in 1988; and an underground smear campaign in ancient Rome depicted Caligula as "a pretty nice guy."
- Dave Barry Hits Below the Beltway has an entire chapter parodying campaign ads in which two candidates for Congress run ads against each other using the same TV announcer and the same dog and illustrated with "actual newspaper headlines" and grainy black-and-white photos of the opponent embracing Darth Vader and Adolf Hitler and abusing animals. The ads are so successful in scaring people away from voting for each other that, come election day, voter turnout is zero.
"I'm Bob Humpty, and I think it's time to stop name-calling and start talking about where we stand on the issues. I believe it's wrong to have sex with any kind of farm animal
. I realize that my opponent disagrees with me. But I think we can debate this issue in a positive manner, without negativity and lies and threats by my opponent to kidnap my baby daughter."
- Running For Governor by Mark Twain is all about this.
Live Action TV
- On Saturday Night Live, after the US 1988 Presidential Election, George H.W. Bush was still running new anti-Dukakis ads, even though he had already won, just because he had some campaign money left over. Content of the post-election ads would criticize Dukakis for being shorter than Bush.
"Barack Obama says he wants universal health care. Is that so? Health care for the entire universe? Including Osama bin Laden?"
- In Arrested Development, when George Michael lets Gob do an ad for his school president campaign, Gob pretty much attacks George's rival, Steve Holt, on the grounds that he doesn't even know who his father is. His father is actually GOB.
- During the US 2000 Presidential Election, The Chris Rock Show had the spoof "Mike Tyson for President" ads, which featured footage from Mike Tyson interviews admitting to things like being a convicted rapist and "a semi-good husband".
- Played with in a fake campaign ad on The State: An announcer details dangerous, controversial, or just plain weird policies a candidate allegedly supports over ominous music... Then it turns out it's actually an ad for said candidate, concluding that while he's crazy, he at least doesn't need a colostomy bag like his opponent does.
- This is how Jon Stewart ran the Oscars when he was the host.
- Played for Drama in Glee. An unnamed political opponent of Sue Sylvester decides to make an ad campaign declaring that Sue is a lesbian. Then he uses the fact that her cheerleader Santana Lopez is a lesbian as "proof"... and just outed Santana to everyone who watched the ads.
- In the Parks and Recreation episode "Campaign Ad", the protagonists toy with airing an attack ad against Lesle's Upper-Class Twit opponent in the election for city council. Leslie desperately wants to stay positive and creates a useless ad in which she only talks about "positive" things. Meanwhile, Ben creates an attack ad which is both effective and accurate, but Leslie is dead set against using it. Eventually, they compromise.
- This Hour Has 22 Minutes has featured several parody attack ads. For example, a series of Conservative party ads mocked Stephane Dion, the leader of the Liberals at the time, by calling him a nerd and claiming his name is not masculine enough.
- Another segment has a voice over actor recording lines for an NDP attack ad on the Liberals, and constantly screwing up. The line was supposed to be something like "The Liberals may have their bag of money, so let's give them the boot", over a graphic of a bag of money being kicked by a boot. Some of the screwups include:
Hey Liberals: You may have your bag of money, but have you seen our new boot?
Hey Liberals. You may have your bag of money, but we have a boot. The NDP: Just think what we could get done with two boots.
Hey Liberals. You may have your bag of money, so we're giving you a boot. Just one boot, though. It's a very nice boot.
Hey Liberals. You may have your bag of money. How aboot
[played over the graphic] The lIberals have a bag, with words coming out of it. We think they should have tied up their bag. THIS BOOT THINKS SO TOO!
- Mother Jones made a series of attacks ads based on Game of Thrones. Including one demanding to see Joffrey's birth certificate.
- Royal Canadian Air Farce had several counter-attack ads with Stephan Dion attacking the Conservatives, such as calling him a "boondoggler".
What the 'ell is a boondoggle? I 'ave never doggled anyone's boons before.
- In 2004, Mick Foley thought the big giant screens seen at political conventions resembled the Titantron, and since politics was, in his eyes, an imitation of the WWE, he figured maybe the WWE could imitate politics. This resulted in a pitch to Vince McMahon for an angle where Randy Orton would do political attack ads against Mick Foley. "Mick Foley claims to be a hardcore legend, but is he really?" McMahon laughed and approved the idea for storyline in early 2005.
- Brutally parodied to the extreme in Fallout: New Vegas. One vault was an experiment in seeing how people would put up with a political scenario where everyone had to vote for a regular sacrifice. As such, the walls are littered with attack ads.
"Vote for the other guy, not for me! He's a commie, and lazy too!"
- Done multiple times in the Grand Theft Auto series.
- One of the missions in Liberty City Stories has Toni Cipriani driving around Staunton Island in a campaign van doing this.
"O'Donovan supports compulsory buggery!"
- In GTA IV, John Hunter (Democratic) and Michael Graves (Republican), candidates for governor of the state surrounding Liberty City, take out surreal attack ads accusing each other of some of the most bizarre things imaginable, from the plausible (Hunter opposed private ordnance, while Graves opposed moves to repeal amendments preventing full-scale espionage on suspected terrorists) to the outlandish (Hunter wanted CCTVs installed in bedrooms to fine masturbators, as well as transfer funds from schools to drug addicts, while Graves wanted to raise taxes for free condoms in schools) and even the outright Ad Hominem (Hunter is a bald man with erectile dysfunction, while Graves shirked from The Vietnam War and is a pedophile with a morally reprehensible wife). Both also end up becoming Not So Different from each other by accusations of advocating underage sex, supporting a retreat from The War on Terror, and fiscal conservatism.
- GTA V continues this tradition with Jock Cranley and Sue Murry, gubernatorial candidates for San Andreas and extreme stereotypes of the right and left wing, respectively. Cranley's ad has him calling Murry a shrew and giving her demon horns and Glowing Eyes of Doom, while Murry's ad calls Cranley a drug-addled, apparently brain-damaged dunce. Strangely, this is a case where both sides' mud-slinging is actually completely true. Cranley's appearance on Blaine County Talk Radio paints him as a total dumbass whose campaign is composed entirely of testosterone-addled posturing focusing on his past as a Hollywood Action Hero and stuntman, with him openly insulting just about everybody (with shades of Mitt Romney's "47%" remarks) and showing no understanding of the issues. Murry is no better, with her appearance on WCTR painting an image of a hyper-PC, big-government, nanny-state elitist who "knows what's best" for everyone (being a former schoolteacher and all).
- In Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines we have these priceless ads:
- The Flash Tub had a 2004 election ad for the Cobra Commander campaign, attacking George W. Bush and John Kerry for wasteful spending on "the $87 billion G.I. Joe boondoggle."
- Played with in this featured article from Something Awful. It is written up as an attack piece on a candidate Freddy Krueger for Mayor of Springwood. While the attacks on Krueger are incredibly outlandish and surreal, none of them have anything to do with the obvious: Freddy being a dream-stalking child murderer — claims which the author of the piece dismisses as "rumors" and a ploy to spark "mudslinging" which the author refuses to take part in.
- This video uses actual quotes from the political campaigns for the 1800 Presidential election and turns them into modern attack ads that manage to sound even more over the top that the real thing.
- One of Cracked's takes here.
- The Alternate History story Fear, Loathing and Gumbo on the Campaign Trail '72, being rooted in changes to the 1972 Presidential election and their impact on the world, naturally features a ton of these. One ad in particular during Donald Rumsfeld's 1980 campaign attacks Democratic Presidential candidate Hugh Carey, the Governor of New York, for alleged ties to The Mafia, using a crude, Michael Corleone-esque Italian "Don" caricature; it is specifically noted that the ad was not played in places with high Italian-American populations.
- Parodied by College Humor in "If the Other Party Wins", which parodies both American political parties' ads. If Obama wins, according to Republicans, we will all live in a Free-Love Future with pansexual potsmoking children, where flags are burned, minorities are given scholarships to Yale straight out of grade school, terrorists and illegal immigrants will run rampant, and worse. If McCain wins, according to Democrats, Walmart will get its own country, the U.S. becomes a theocracy where children are taught that Jesus wrote the Constitution, homosexuals are jailed,children are drafted straight out of elementary school and encouraged to play with assault rifles, global warming has run rampant, and people are punished for any small insult to the U.S.