Sunday, November 15, 2009

Skewered symbolisms

Judging by its bumper sticker, this Multicab I spotted during rush hour dreamed big: “When I grow up, I want to be a dump truck.”

Hours later, even after a grueling morning and a delayed lunch, I still had the chuckles when I recalled that wee car and its owner’s Goliath-sized humor.

I wish the same bug bit the brains behind those political ads.

Night after night, they’ve thrown everything at hapless voters eating their doomed dinners. Everything but humor.

From-rags-to-riches Manny. Loren Kalikasan. Chiz the Chipmunk. Now-showing-Erap. Noy and the Fireflies, flipsided with Galing at Tiyaga.

One night, I caught myself wondering if it was spray net or glue that kept Noynoy’s top strands from rearing up and flickering their forked tongues in the combined heat generated by the native torches in that sing-along ad.

Then I became ashamed. I missed the point.

The message wasn’t about not letting the journey towards democracy ruffle one’s hair. I think it was about the son of Cory and Ninoy not being overshadowed by overpriced imported lampposts.

Still niggled by a feeling I missed the ad’s subtlety, I consulted the third edition of “Media Effects Research” at the excellent library of St. Theresa’s College.

According to author Glenn G. Sparks, researcher and teacher at Purdue University, media effects research holds that there are two ways to convince people. The central route to persuasion appeals to reasoning.

However, this high road has the disadvantage of stimulating people to think of arguments to counter the persuasive message.

The cognitive approach to persuasion is particularly limited with audiences that perceive the message as counter-attitudinal. When you are exposed to something that is contrary to your beliefs or attitudes, you are naturally critical, defensive and combative.

Does that mean ads are useless on political foes?

Villar’s ads meet the two values of successful propaganda, as laid down by Fritz Hippler. According to Sparks, the mastermind of Nazi propaganda attributed Hitler’s success to his campaigns’ simplicity and repetition.

I’ve lost count of the ads multiplying Manny the Compassionate during primetime. I don’t remember the other dramatic personas he projects through his ads.

But I can confidently hum the ditty accompanying the little girl miming her way around one of the townhouses constructed by a Villar-owned company. So whenever the TV screen shows the latest paid-by-friends-of-Villar ad, testimonial or pseudo news story, I supply my own background music: “Bulilit… bulilittttt (small person).”

If not for foes, are political ads then for one’s supporters?

Sparks writes that fear, guilt and humor may be used to reinforce persuasion. The third element specially disarms people, a good tactic in these joke-ready islands.

But a joke that’s gone too far may be something that wasn’t one in the first place.

Noynoy’s overproduced MTV spotlighted the showbiz “friendships” forged by his popular youngest sister. In this glitzy sphere, perhaps the makeover of Noy’s sparsely furnished head was inevitable in the footages, even in his cut-out image sprayed on a yellow banner.

Noy’s media handlers should know that his believers (count me in) don’t mistake Noy the Wispy for Noy the Wimp. Those few straying strands covering his noggin might be all that distinguishes his profile from that of a mushroom, but I think the fellow offers a drastic change from the Fungus in the Palace.

So if neither for friends nor for foes, for whose benefit then is the airing of political ads?

When a message is packaged as mere entertainment, this peripheral route was found to be more effective in introducing changes. People watching gyrations in a noontime show are not gearing up like a talk show audience to rant and pummel their agendas into their opponents’ skulls.

Political ads may just be exercises in the driest form of humor, packaged ostensibly as samples of the art of self-delusion but actually inviting the audience to find the caricature, take aim and have a chuckle.

In the cost-conscious world of primetime advertising, there is no time to account for performance, discuss programs, recommend solutions. It’s not unlike being caught in traffic.

You have time to read a bumper sticker.

And hope you get the joke at the end. 09173226131

* First published in “Matamata” on Sun.Star Cebu’s Nov. 8, 2009 issue

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