BROOKE GLADSTONE: Though the sums spent on campaign ads may be unprecedented and the media on which they appear may be new, their message is as old as politics. David Schwartz is chief curator for New York’s Museum of the Moving Image, where he curated The Living Room Candidate, which traces campaign ads from the birth of television, starting with the 1952 campaign of Dwight Eisenhower. Thinking we'd end the hour by taking the long view, we asked Schwartz for a quick retrospective of that campaign, which set the template for so much that followed. For instance, in Eisenhower’s ads, he talked to real people, just like candidates do now.
DAVID SCHWARTZ: Of course, the people were filmed separately.
[BROOKE LAUGHS] They actually filmed them a day before, asked them the questions, and then they filmed Ike separately in a studio reading off of big cue cards.
ANNOUNCER: Eisenhower answers America.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: General, the Democrats are telling me I never had it so good.
PRESIDENT DWIGHT EISENHOWER: Can that be true, when America is billions in debt, when prices have doubled, when taxes break our backs and we are still fighting in Korea? It’s time for a change.
DAVID SCHWARTZ: Everything goes back to Eisenhower –
[BROOKE LAUGHS] - ‘cause things really haven't changed a lot. [LAUGHING]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Which brings us to the biographical ad, which apparently, is as old as campaigning itself.
DAVID SCHWARTZ: In the beginning of a campaign, the candidate introduces themselves with an ad that sort of tells their story in one minute. So, again, Eisenhower, he had an ad showing he was from the heartland of America.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: The man from Abilene! Out of the heartland of America, out of this small frame house in Abilene, Kansas…
DAVID SCHWARTZ: And, actually, if you look at the Obama campaign, he also did biographical ads.
[MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I was raised by a single mom and my grandparents. We didn't have much money. But they taught me values straight from the Kansas heartland where they grew up.
DAVID SCHWARTZ: Adlai Stevenson was the man from Libertyville. The Eisenhower campaign criticized that at first and they said, this is just made up, but he was actually from Libertyville.
[BROOKE LAUGHS] These are the feel-good ads, and then the mudslinging starts. Then all the attack ads begin.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, attack ads, that’s a category that’s so big [LAUGHS] that it’s broken down into a variety of subcategories, one of which is the backfire ad, which I thought was a new phenomenon but, as you said, it goes back to Eisenhower.
DAVID SCHWARTZ: [LAUGHS] Adlai Stevenson did backfire ads in 1956, and they took bits and pieces of the Eisenhower commercials from ’52 and then showed how he didn't live up to his promise.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Another really enduring category is the scare ad. This is the one that uses ominous images to tie an opponent to a threat.
DAVID SCHWARTZ: And that really was introduced in 1964. The most famous of all political ads was the Daisy Girl ad, which just juxtaposes two images. You have a little girl picking petals off of a daisy –
CLIP OF AD [UP AND UNDER]:
LITTLE GIRL: Eight -
DAVID SCHWARTZ: - this innocent little child.
LITTLE GIRL: - nine.
DAVID SCHWARTZ: - cut to mushroom cloud explosions.
[SOUND OF EXPLOSION]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This was a Johnson ad tying Goldwater to nuclear obliteration.
DAVID SCHWARTZ: It’s hard to do more of a vicious attack than that.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You know, very few people have the perspective you have because you can see every video ad of note throughout 50 years of campaigning. And I just wonder - are they becoming more outrageous?
DAVID SCHWARTZ: The Internet is changing things. I think now we're seeing ads that are taking more chances because the way that an ad works on the Internet is if it’s funny and provocative, it goes viral. For many years the ads sort of stayed the same. They used the same techniques and the same messages. If you were attacking a Democrat you would always say they want to raise your taxes or they're going to be weak on defense. And if you’re attacking the Republicans you say they don't care about the working class, they don't care about people. The motto, “It’s time for a change” we've been hearing since 1952. Ads do create a sense of expectation that always leads to disappointment. [LAUGHS] And that’s why it’s always time for a change.
[BROOKE LAUGHS] Yeah.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: David, thank you so much.
DAVID SCHWARTZ: Oh, it’s been a pleasure.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: David Schwartz is the chief curator for New York’s Museum of the Moving Image, where he curated The Living Room Candidate. Give me an unsung gem.
DAVID SCHWARTZ: Well, Tony Schwartz, who made the Daisy Girl ad, did a hilarious ad in 1968 where you just see a TV set and you hear a man laughing.
[MAN LAUGHS] You know, he can't control himself.
[MAN LAUGHS] And then he sort of chokes at the end of the ad and coughs.
[MAN LAUGHING] And the image on screen just says “Agnew for Vice President.”
[MAN LAUGHS] And I thought that was brilliant.
[MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
BOB GARFIELD: That's it for this week's show. On the Media was produced by Jamie York, Mike Vuolo, Nazanin Rafsanjani, Alex Goldman and P.J. Vogt, with more help from Sarah Abdurrahman Nerida Brownlee and Bonnie Watt, and edited – by Brooke. Our technical director is Jennifer Munson. Our engineer this week was John DeLore.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Katya Rogers is our senior producer. Ellen Horne is WNYC’s senior director of National Programs, and our first violin. Bassist/composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. On the Media is produced by WNYC and distributed by NPR. I'm Brooke Gladstone.