Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
Oct. 13 2000 4:54 PM

Scratch from your list of undecided voters the Economist. An ad for the conservative British newsweekly in the Oct. 16-23 New Yorker has a picture of George W. Bush reading a children's book. Here it is:


Note that Bush's mouth is open, which seems to suggest that he moves his lips when he reads. (The implication is a tad unfair since he's probably reading the book aloud to schoolchildren at a campaign appearance.) The caption, "Living proof that genetic traits can skip a generation," conveys the clear meaning that The Economist thinks Bush is a dummy.

Two pages later in that same issue of The New Yorker, there appears an Al Gore-themed Economist ad that purports to be similarly mocking. But the Gore ad is much less blunt--indeed, it's hard to know what it's supposed to mean. Check it out:


Gore's upraised hand indicates that he's taking some sort of oath (probably he's being sworn in as vice president). The caption, "Spin a politician too far and he's apt to wind up where he started," seems to suggest that Gore is a prevaricator. But if Gore's "spin" ends up taking him "where he started," doesn't that mean he's ultimately authentic? How can you be authentic and a prevaricator at the same time? By being an authentic prevaricator? Chatterbox phoned the Economist's U.S. marketing director, Humphrey Rolleston, for a clarification. Rolleston readily agreed that the Bush ad was "poking irreverent fun" at Bush's IQ. The Gore ad, he said, "is really directed at the fact that whatever reincarnation Gore comes up with, and he's on Version 8.0 at this point, at the end of the day, he's still Al Gore." Meaning? "Rather stiff and wooden." Oh.

The Gore Economist ad is an example of Chatterbox's Law of Magazines, which says that the education level required to understand the advertisements in magazines is steadily rising at the same rate that the education level required to understand the editorial content is steadily falling. At this stage in the process, most of TheNew Yorker's text requires reading at something like the seventh-grade level while most of TheNew Yorker's ads require grad-school training in semiotics. The Bush Economist ad, however, is an exception to Chatterbox's Law of Magazines. Any reasonably bright 10-year-old will quickly grasp that its point is that George W. Bush is an idiot. Even assuming the message of both ads could be readily grasped, wouldn't most New Yorker readers (and readers of the Harvard Business Review, the Industry Standard, and various Ivy League alumni magazines, where the ads have also been placed) rather be stiff than stupid? Perhaps the Economist has figured out that this elite target audience already plans to vote for Gore and wants the two ads to pander to that preference while maintaining a veneer of evenhandedness.