Herman Cain Turns Politics into Entertainment: Is This What America Needs?

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on November 01 2011 3:19 PM
Herman Cain
U.S. presidential candidate Herman Cain, who faces a complaint about allegedly illegal contributions made to his campaign by a nonprofit organization affiliated with Charles and David Koch, said he is "very proud to know the Koch brothers” and that he is "the Koch brothers’ brother from another mother." Reuters

Herman Cain has been getting a lot of attention for his political advertisements, but a two-month old video, posted to Cain's YouTube page, is the most egregious ad in a particularly offensive season of campaign ads that has seen apocalyptic movie trailers passed off as endorsements and fiddle-music-dirt biking as declarations.

Titled God Bless America: A 9-11 Tribute from Herman Cain, the video features the GOP presidential candidate singing over footage taken during the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. It shows images of the planes hitting the Twin Towers, of graves, of death, of people looking for loved ones.

It is simple and simply abhorrent.

I don't even know what to say. I guess Cain can now brag that he's a former pizza magnate and crass exploiter of tragedies for political gain, Salon's Alex Pareene said in September.

The lyrics to God Bless America contrast rather sharply with the images of people dying and the sound of people screaming. I understand Cain's intention -- that American perseverance and our collective spirit can overcome anything, but from less simple a person, the coupling of America's blessedness with its most tragic event is disjointed, to say the least.

While this video did get some media consideration when it was first released, Cain was not being taken seriously enough at the time for it to appear on most people's political-solecism radar.

And while this isn't a campaign ad per se, would Cain have posted it if he wasn't running for President of the United States? Would he even have a YouTube page?

Many of Cain's ads - like the three minute-long Yellow Flowers ad -- are not meant for TV and can only be found on Cain's YouTube channel. In the age of Internet video and Tivo, this probably makes sense. Instead of paying for costly ad time when viewers are going to fast forward through your commercial anyway, place them online for free.

And when an ad is as strange as Now is the Time for Action! -- the infamous spot featuring Cain's chief of staff, Mark Block, smoking a cigarette -- the media attention will drive people to seek out the video.

Because these were never meant to air during a commercial break, it can only mean that these commercials are meant to be entertainment themselves, and not advertisements in the traditional sense. They're Cain's version of a Web series, and also a sort of post-modern spectacle that positions politics as production, as entertainment.

Most of Cain's ads are more about attracting eyes than about explaining policy. Example: The Herman Cain Train music video. Not a lot of substance, a whole lot of smiling people saying Raising Cain! over and over. The man even says I was speaking at Tea Parties before it was cool at one point. That's an honest plea if I've ever heard one.

In a weak Republican field, maybe this type of showmanship is all that's needed to attract the most voters.

Cain, who does have the best sense of humor of all the GOP candidates, seems to be making politics into entertainment in other ways. Since becoming the front-runner in a number of national polls, Cain has appeared on television nearly every day. He utilizes the medium more and better than any other candidate.

On Monday, Cain was interviewed by Jenna Lee on Fox News Channel, made an appearance on PBS's NewsHour, spoke live (and sang) in front of the National Press Club, then appeared on Fox News' On the Record.

(This is, of course, not all on Cain. As he shoots into public spotlight, more news outlets will scramble to interview him.)

Comments like I don't know the President of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan, which Cain said when discussing foreign policy during an interview with The Christian Broadcasting Network, are also about attracting viewers more than voters.

This is Cain as theater. We like to watch what he'll do more than we care about what he's saying.

Maybe entertainment is what American wants and needs. Change didn't work so well, so let's go for distractions. 9-9-9 is as good a slogan as anything being offered right now. Let's hop on board the Cain Train and light a cigarette and join hands and sing our way to financial, political and social contentment. God bless America.

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