This is the first thing I’ve seen or heard about the current meltdown that actually gave me an honest smile – Jon Stewart’s take down of Jim Crammer was more a knowing leer for me.
This is a good example of what Bob is talking about in his last post. A person telling their story – songs are quintessentially facts wrapped in emotion – and reaching out across the net to a larger community in order to effect change. Hope you like it. If so, pass it on. A good story is a terrible thing to waste.
A while back I talked about the advantage of down home branding and used Andy Griffith as an example of a master. Now it turns out Ron Howard is going me one better and really touching the TV heartland heart strings. You might have to be pretty old to remember the references, but the youth vote is already locked up. It is getting out the boomers that will tip the scales. And it does bring back memories of happier days. Enjoy.
Transformation – change – is the last of our five elements
and the goal of every story. When you see it, it is incredibly powerful. Change
as a human experience – not as a bumper sticker, not a slogan, not as something
to be achieved in the future – but as a here and now reality is what all
elections are about. This ad, which I found on Andrew Sullivan’s site, lets change
show through unadorned. Changing the world starts by changing your mind. What more is there to say?
Since early in the primaries this blog has taken the
position that Obama’s strong element – the basis of his campaign – is Passion
(his ability rally people around a central motivating core concept) and that
McCain’s is the element we call the Antagonist (his ability to define the story as his struggle against whatever is between him and his goal).
No story element is better or worse than any other. You need
all five to tell a compelling story, and every storyteller has their own style and
preference. But it is fascinating that as we come into the home stretch that we have such a strong visual contrast between the two campaigns.
And on the other you have McCain and company saturating the
phone lines with highly targeted robocalls that define Obama as pretty much
whatever it is that the listener might find unappealing. Phone calls, even robotic ones, are by
nature private and personal.
Election day has both qualities. When you vote you get to feel that you are part of something much bigger than yourself – and you get to brag
about it by wearing you “I voted sticker.” And when you are actually casting your ballot you are totally alone with
your own deepest and most private thoughts and fears. It is a great story contrast – a suiting end to
a long and historic campaign.
One thing Bob and I are questioned about when we talk on The
Elements of Persuasion is the connection between the five story principles
we use (Passion, Hero, Antagonist, Awareness and Transformation) and the actual
Greek Elements (Fire, Earth, Water, Air and Space). The relationship is more
than metaphoric – or if it is metaphoric it is such a deep cultural
metaphor that you have to consider it as a given anyway.
Case in point: The ads being run by the DNCC against Elizabeth
Dole’s reelection to the Senate. This is a very effective campaign that moves
from two Good Ol’ Boys on rocking chairs on a porch to the even more effective direct
attack below. The message – Elizabeth Dole isn’t really from here any more, so how can she possibly continue as our Senatorial Hero – is as personal as that quiet moment when you are alone in the voting booth.
All politics is local. When a candidate loses their
connection with the unique patch of ground they represent, they are toast. Pointing this out is particularly effective
in the South – new or other wise – which has long memories and gave us the term
“carpetbagger” in the first place. The
folks we see talking in this spot are justly described as “the salt of the
earth” – heroes in their own right.
If you’ve followed this blog since the WGA strike –
boy, that seems a long time ago doesn’t it – you know the deep respect we have for Dave Letterman and the master storytellers behind the Late Show,
Here is Dave talking about John McCain. It is a prime
example of how a small personal story can make a larger political point
precisely by remaining small and personal. Done right, it can be devastating.
“I don’t know if I can trust him.” Have you ever seen a shiv
slipped between a politician’s ribs with more grace and style? And describing
Keith Olberman as “that kid with the really big head” gives it just the right
sense of good-natured balance. Masterful.
One thing every Hero does is define their Antagonist – the
precise nature of the obstacle they must overcome. The Hero has a lot of
leeway here, but because our point of view is partially determined by our past,
every Hero has blind spots
Take the current economic crisis. If you are a Wall Street
Insider you are likely to view the problem as one of “toxic loans”. It is the
bad loans you made that are keeping up at night. What do you do about them? You
get rid of them. Sell them to some sucker who doesn’t realize how toxic they
are. And if you’re a Wall Street Insider who not so coincidentally happens to
be the Secretary of the Treasury, well then you convince taxpayers to buy the
junk for you. If you are Hank Paulson it makes sense.
But if instead you are an economist who has specialized in
credit crises in a globalizing economy the problem isn’t just about bad loans,
it is about frozen credit markets – banks that lack liquidity. Then the answer
is to pump money directly into the banks – and because you don’t do that
without some quid pro quo, you take a healthy share of the banks’ stock in
return. That was the plan Paul Krugman has been pushing.
Since this isn’t a fictional story, these plans have real
consequences that can be measured by the market. When the Paulson plan was
announced markets went a twitter. When it was passed by Congress the Dow had
the worst WEEK ever. When a variation of Krugman’s plan was adopted, with
Britain in the lead, Wall Street had it’s best DAY ever. And as luck would have it, Krugman won the Nobel Prize for
Seems the the jury is in. Paul Krugman is our Hero.
Not that the recent stock pop will last – it probably won’t
– but that the ideas behind it resonate with the people in the trenches. It is
the Hero’s ability to inspire the folks on the firing line that makes the right story
so central to real leadership.
Like a lot of people who spend way too much time prowling
the web I was shocked by this YouTube of folks coming out of a Palin
Rally convinced Obama was a terrorist. If that is the take away from a GOP rally
something is seriously wrong.
There are plenty of legitimate reasons not to vote for Obama
– enough so that I don’t really have to list them here – but him being a “one
man terrorist cell” whose “name says it all” is not one of them.
“Of course, not every story has a happy ending, and
there is a very real moral danger in creating villains… Story telling is innate
in human beings, but it is in some respects a value-free process. Fortunately,
there is a fail safe. Those stories that produce destructive and negative
actions tend to cannibalize the people who tell them. They rapidly eliminate
themselves from the cultural dialogue…”
But what do we do while we wait for the fever to run its
course? Listening to the wise words of our political elders seems a good place
This speech by Republican Jim Leach, formerly the
Representative from Iowa’s 2nd District, fills the bill. It was
given at the Dem convention, and is an endorsement of Obama, but that isn’t the
point. The point is that it is truly bipartisan.
What I really like about it is that it places the story of
this election cycle in the larger context of the Four Great Questions that have
been at the heart of every American election from our county’s beginning and lists progressive
politicians from both parties who have helped our country move towards achieving our ideals. It would make the kernel for a great High School
History class discussion.
Sometimes the real gems from a political convention don’t
standout until later. This speech is one of those. To find out more about Jim
Leach, click here.
Sarah Palin is not the only interesting story coming out of
Alaska. Ted “Hell No” Stevens is on trial for failing to report “gifts” from
“lobbyists.” His is also running for reelection. The DNCC put
together this little gem. I don’t like negative ads, but this one is too genre
perfect to pass up. If you still have doubt that great political ads are story
driven, this 30 sec spot should lay them to rest.
A quick 5-elements analysis: The Passion (irreducible core)
of the ad is carried by the opening sound track – a cross between a political
thriller and a local news stations investigative reporter theme. It establishes beyond doubt that this will be a crime story. The people in the van are our Heroes
(we even see Stevens’ house on a video monitor stressing their point of view is
our point of view). Stevens is the Antagonist “He thinks he is above the law”.
And crucially there is a moment of clear awareness when one “reporter” says
disgusted, “And I voted for him.” Finally a transformative tag line “It’s not
about Alaska anymore.” This is great stuff.
BTW, if anyone has any great Repub ads I’d love to analyze
them. Most of what I’ve seen from the Repubs are tired retreads, but I’m
probably missing something. Enlighten me, please.
I don’t usually comment on the debates. I don’t do
play-by-play and in story terms these debates have basically been yawners.
But one moment from the VP Debate has stuck with me. Palin
set it up early by conspicuously asking Biden, “Can I call you, Joe.” Then later
when he brought up McCain’s record she pulled the trigger with “Say it ain’t
so, Joe. There you go again, looking backwards.”
Biden’s reply when asked to respond by moderator Gwen Ifill,
“Gwen, as you know, past is prologue,” seemed awfully academic to me given
Palin’s down home diction. But now a video has come out that shows Biden may
have been doing a little setting things up of his own.
This video is long – 13 minute – so it is preaching to the
choir, but it seems to be designed to tell the Dem faithful what they need to
know to pivot character attacks on Obama back to their strong point, the
economy. Don’t have 13 minutes? The trailer is only 30 seconds.
In McCain’s defense at least initially he seemed to learn
his lesson from the Keating fiasco and he earned his reputation as driver of
the “Straight Talk Express” by being open and honest about his mistakes with
reporters. But now, in an analogous situation, he seems to be ducking even off
the record interviews. Am I the only one that finds that strange?