Photo Finish

Photo Finish

Photo Finish

TV and popular culture.
Oct. 29 2004 1:39 PM

Photo Finish

Bush's latest campaign ad experiments with human cloning.


Re: the "Whatever It Takes" TV spot for Bush/Cheney: This seems like a pretty minor pretext for a controversy, not really worth the attention it's gotten this late in the campaign. The alteration in the image in question—the "cloning" of a small group of soldiers' faces to pad out the crowd scene—is essentially a cosmetic one, rather than a piece of visual disinformation designed to mislead (like the doctored photo picturing Kerry onstage with Jane Fonda that circulated on the Internet earlier in the campaign). Then again, that was the work of some anonymous blogger wag, not an official campaign commercial.


Still, looking at the before and after versions of the doctored ad, I couldn't help thinking: What would it feel like to be one of the five men whose faces were reproduced in different parts of the crowd? Might it not give you an eerie sense that the administration that had sent you to war regarded you less as a person than as an interchangeable image, like the computer-animated soldiers in the huge battle sequences in The Lord of the Rings? (If you looked closely at those films, you could also identify clumps of repeated figures.) It may be that the individuals whose images were used in this way have no problem with it at all—after all, the function of the crowd shot for the purposes of this ad is to represent "the troops" as a whole, not to offer individual portraits of each listener. But it's to be hoped that whoever is elected commander in chief next week doesn't treat the men and women in Iraq as similarly replaceable. ... 10:38 a.m.

Update: a Frayster has informed me that the Lord of the Rings war scenes did not, in fact, reproduce figures in "clumps," but rather used a new animation technology called MASSIVE that allowed each of a group of identical figures to move independently. I'd like to thank BenK for his correction, and point out that, that being the case, the "Whatever It Takes" ad's vision of the individuality of soldiers in Iraq is less nuanced than Peter Jackson's vision of the evil army of orcs. ... 12:42 pm

Last night's Voting Booth Poll on CNN's Paula Zahn Now:

"Who do you think might persuade more voters to support their candidate?

Dana Stevens Dana Stevens

Dana Stevens is Slate’s movie critic.


     Arnold Schwarzenegger  56%

     Bruce Springsteen         44%

Remember, this is a sampling of visitors to our website, not a scientific poll."

Unscientific? So where are viewers to turn for an accurate assessment of public on Conan the Barbarian'schances against the Jersey troubadour? Get Zogby on the phone!


As useful statistics go, this faux fact ranks somewhere a notch below "Choosy Mothers Choose Jif."  Still, I'll be spending the next four days mumbling Teutonic catchphrases and humming "Born to Run." Whichever one is stuck in my head on Election Day, that's who I'm voting for. Wait … Arnold and Bruce aren't on the ballot?  ... 7:26 a.m.

It wasn't on cable news, but the stupidest single thing said on television yesterday was unquestionably Rudy Giuliani's forehead-slapping blunder on the Today show. Asked about the missing explosives stash in Al Qaqaa, Giuliani responded: "No matter how you try to blame it on the president, the actual responsibility for it really would be for the troops that were there. Did they search carefully enough? Didn't they search carefully enough?" Nice move, punk—especially when your party's only defense on the Al Qaqaa issue (besides "We don't have the facts! Leave us alone!") was the whole questioning-our-troops-is-unpatriotic line.

When the Democrats went to town on Giuliani's statement, he issued a huffy proclamation from Bush/Cheney headquarters: "We don't need someone who voted against funding our troops during war to take my remarks out of context. Like the president, I wholeheartedly support our troops. If John Edwards is looking for someone who is blaming our troops without the facts, he need look no further than his running mate, John Kerry."

Giuliani then stuck out his tongue and chanted "Nyah-nyah!" before running off to hide under the jungle gym. ... 7:35 a.m.


Wednesday, October 27, 2004

The Jon Stewart media backlash has begun, just as I predicted last week (scroll down to Monday's entry). Some readers seemed to think I was making myself part of this backlash, that I meant the words "freakout," "fool," and "court jester" in a bad way. On the contrary; we should have far more freakouts on TV, especially talk TV. The lasting power of Stewart's Crossfire appearance will have been that he exposed the contrivance of cable news "talk" shows, which, with their high-volume outrage and fake debate, are daily chipping away at the public trust, like Snow White's dwarves in the diamond mine.

In that spirit, I'm proposing a new feature here at Surfergirl, which I'm calling Cable News Cretinisms. Each week, I'll search for the most absurd, stand-alone quotes from the round of cable talk shows: those that, even decontextualized from their yammerfest of origin, still manage to lower the level of discourse all by themselves and be funny into the bargain. These are not necessarily false statements (like Chatterbox's "Whoppers") nor malapropisms (like Jacob Weisberg's "Bushisms"); they're just fragments of the weird, dumb stuff talking heads say, and they're flowing by us all the time in the Zen slipstream of cable television.

I'll nominate my first Cretinism right now: It aired last night on the Fox News Channel, in the second half of Sean Hannity's snuggly interview with George W. Bush. After buttering Bush's toast for about 20 minutes, Hannity knit his brow and asked a serious question, a question about a day we all hope will never come:

Is it possible—is it a reality that we could turn on our television sets one day—Fox News Channel I hope—and find out that America is—that a nuclear weapon has gone off here—that a biological agent has been released or a chemical agent—is that a reality?

It's comforting, somehow, to know that, even if the worst happens and our country is decimated by a weapon the likes of which the world has never seen, Hannity's Fox boosterism will continue. Sean Hannity wants his network to scoop the apocalypse. When the end times come, I hope I can show that kind of loyalty to Slate. Armaggeddon! You heard it here first!

Readers are encouraged to send in their own Cretinisms; just make sure they're sourced with a transcript or clip from the show (if you can clue me in before the Cretinism airs on the East Coast so I can watch it myself, that's even better). Send quotes to, with the word "cretinism" in the subject line. ... 7:15 a.m.