Green Room

Demon Sheep: The Day After

posted at 5:23 pm on February 4, 2010 by

The Lambinator

Jim Geraghty, one of the first to react to Carlyfornia’s instant classic “Demon Sheep” web ad, calling it “genius” and possibly “the Greatest Campaign Web Video of All Time,” has expanded on his thinking, which, like the ad itself, left many observers scratching their heads.

Geraghty provides a short review of the ad – stressing its strikingly bizarre juxtapositions of terminator werewolves in sheep’s clothing alongside conventional political messages, but if anything he under-plays the mini-movie’s aesthetic and narrative dislocations (an effect which he originally termed “psychedelic”). “Demon Sheep,” aka “FCINO: Fiscal Conservative in Name Only,” aka “#demonsheep: OMG – have you seen this ad?” is the El Topo, the Putney Swope, the Andalusian Dog, the Videodrome of campaign ads, at once so hilarious and yet mind-bending that I can’t bring myself to watch it a second time – not for fear of the lambinator, but because my brain is still stuck in a regressive thought-loop in which a manically chomping sheep is intercut with images of Tom Campbell while a seethingly hostile narrator addresses the latter like the Saw -killer or maybe Hannibal Lecter probing for soul-searing represssed memories, buried crimes, and moral terror.

Addressing the political tactical rationale for the ad, Geraghty stresses that it “instantly broke through a very noisy and crowded political environment, and got almost everyone who watched it to drop what they were doing and call their political junkie friends and say, ‘You have got to watch this.'” He believes that Fiorina had a purpose for the ad as rational as the ad itself is surreal:

Fiorina is behind, and she needs to shake up the race. After another day or two of mocking, it’s possible that this ad and the brouhaha will spur California media to look at Campbell’s record and see whether her criticisms are justified. And if that happens, then maybe he’ll lose some ground, and she’ll close the gap some. (On the other hand, the Chuck DeVore team has a site up already.)

This is a Hail Mary of an ad, which means there’s a very good chance that it won’t work. But a lot of the “traditional” advertised approaches wouldn’t have worked either, and would have just blended in with all the other ads in a busy election cycle. By comparison, ten years from now, if you hear the word, “demonsheep,” you will probably start giggling and know exactly what it was.

Since Geraghty has likely undergone numerous Demon Sheep viewings, some aberrations in judgment on his part are more than forgivable. Whatever the explanation, though his analysis makes some sense, it’s overdrawn.

With the California primaries still five months away, this isn’t the time for a “Hail Mary,” unless it’s one of those time-running-out in the first half/might as well go for it/nothing on the line kind of things. The polls taken since Tom Campbell jumped into the race show him with a 5- to 11-point lead over Fiorina, with Chuck DeVore’s numbers dropping into single digits, and with up to 40 -50% undecided. In short, the race is still up for grabs, and Campbell’s entry appears to have put DeVore in a lot more trouble than Fiorina. Incidentally, all three continue to poll close to “Senator Ma’am” Barbara Boxer, with Fiorina having come within 3 points in Rasmussen’s mid-January poll of likely voters. In a post-Brown political universe, it’s long past time for Senate handicappers to start mentioning California as one of the “in-play” states.

Prior to Campbell’s entry into the race, Fiorina had been maintaining a steady but not overwhelming lead over DeVore, a favorite of grassroots hard right conservatives, and had been directing her fire almost exclusively at Boxer.  In such a volatile political environment and with the decision points still months away, it’s easy to over-interpret poll data, but Fiorina and her team may see the former DeVore vote as having rested on a free-floating ant-Carly or not-sold-on-Carly segment of the politically oriented electorate (no one else is paying attention yet).  Why else would the numbers shift so heavily to Campbell, a vanilla Republican whom committed DeVoreiacs would be unlikely ever to support?

To re-gain her lead, Fiorina may not need to win all of those voters back:  She just needs to push them away from Campbell.  Say whatever you want about “Demon Sheep” – Ace (of Ace of Spades) called it “over-the-top,” which is a bit like being called tall by Manute Bol – but it hammers home the messages that Campbell is not a fiscal conservative, and that he’s the furthest thing imaginable from an anti-establishment politician, even if it leaves everyone a little confused about other matters (like who the sheep are supposed to be, what the whole purity test intro was about, whom Sarah Connor would endorse…).  It strongly supports Fiorina’s credentials on the same two issues:  The only “mention” of her name in the body of the ad is visual, via rendering of her signed “no tax” pledge, and the ad itself is obviously anything but “establishment” even before you get to its verbal content. These messages should sink in both for direct viewers of the ad and for those who see it excerpted on news shows and elsewhere.

From Fiorina’s perspective, if the fiscal conservative message is critical to Kali Republicans, then they can be herded away from Tom Campbell.  Even if many move to DeVore in the short-term, she still stands to benefit in the 3-way calculus. The risk might be that she utterly collapses, as a laughingstock, but she has a large personal fortune and a long history to put against that threat – including the cancer-survivor status that made another recent Fiorina video also something of a hit (and as aesthetically minimal as FCINO is polymorphously perverse).

Love her or, along with many voluble conservatives, hate her, there’s something about Carly Fiorina that sticks in your mind – she’s unpredictable, striking, and formidable. You almost feel sorry for whomever she was up against on her way to the top of Hewlett-Packard all those years ago.

As for DeVore, he’ s put up a funny, but rather cheap-looking web response in which his campaign attempts to piggyback on Demon Sheep (a difficult maneuver one might think). In his straightforward talking-to-the-camera style, he decries “Hollywood glitz and meaningless slogans,” strangely taking aim at two of California’s most economically significant surviving industries.

I think he should have gone 3-D, or, if that’ s too expensive, blue – especially since Meg Whitman’s got normal totally covered for now:

Makes sense when you consider she’s looking like a shoo-in on the R side, and will be facing Governor Moonbeam himself. Then again, the morning after Demon Sheep… everything else seems completely sensible.

Long live the new flesh!

cross-posted from Zombie Contentions

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That’s a really solid ad by Whitman.

nickj116 on February 4, 2010 at 5:52 PM

Test entry. I believe I’m finally able to log in to HA again. Shwing!!!

Nice pair of pieces, CKM. As discussed at ZC.

J.E. Dyer on February 4, 2010 at 8:32 PM

I agree, nickj116, actually. It IS a solid ad. Could have used some robot predators in disguise, but can’t have everything…

Welcome back to HA, JED. I’d been meaning to ask whether you’d gotten that problem taken care of.

CK MacLeod on February 4, 2010 at 8:49 PM

We’re talking about Carla and how Campbell may not be a fiscal conservative. Ergo the ad worked. The general rule about advertising is that if it gets people talking about your product, it works.

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