Friday, October 30, 2009

Flag Art

The DNC is running a contest to come up with a powerful message for selling healthcare reform. One of the finalists is a video that depicts the desecration of the American flag.

In the video – which is accompanied by the sound of a heart monitor pumping and then flat-lining – words such as “pre-existing conditions,” “homeless” and “death panel” ultimately obliterate the flag, which reappears on screen seconds later with the words “Health Will Bring Our Country Back to Life” on the blue field where the 50 stars usually are.

According to the Organizing for American Web site, the 20 finalists in the “Health Reform Video Challenge” were chosen by a panel of “qualified” Democratic National Committee “employee judges.”

A contestant whose video didn’t make the final-20 cut complains that a video “defacing the flag” won’t do much to help President Barack Obama or the Democrats sell health care reform.

“They should never pick that,” said the contestant, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It makes the Democrats look really, really bad.”

Ya think?

I’m a believer in freedom of expression as much as anybody, and I have a real problem with amending the Constitution to protect the flag from desecration since one person’s idea honor — making a shirt out of the flag or painting it on your guitar — is another person’s desecration. I also have a problem with creating idols out of anything. But I also believe that art, be it a painting, a play, or a film, is a medium, not the message, Marshall McLuhan notwithstanding. The genius who came up with this ad will find out that no one will pay attention to the point of the ad: healthcare reform. It will be lost in the strong reaction this use of the flag will undoubtedly get, and not just from the people who make their living out of flag-waving. It’s like using an obscenity on live TV; people will pay more attention to the word than to the point you were trying to make. It’s also lazy. Trying to create a powerful message in a short amount of time is not easy, and throwing in something like a desecrated flag is a shortcut that says you couldn’t think of anything else.

And it also hands the knee-jerks an easy target. Remember back to when MoveOn.org had a similar contest in 2004 and someone came up with a video that compared President Bush to Hitler? The ad wasn’t produced by MoveOn.org, it was never sanctioned by them, and they never even ran it. But it leaked out, and Fox News ran with it, it went viral, and the next thing you know everyone on the right was purple with rage at MoveOn.org. (It kind of makes you wonder where all that high dudgeon went when the comparisons to President Obama to Hitler came up at the tea-baggers’ festivals, but short-term memory loss and hypocrisy are part of their deal.) I am sure there will be a big stink about this and demands from the righteous right that the DNC renounce the ad and, for good measure, commit sepuku on the east steps of the Capitol. (Let’s make a deal — they will if the RNC will do the same over Obama=Hitler.)

If the DNC has any sense, they will ditch this “finalist.” It won’t help the cause of healthcare reform, and that is the point of the exercise.