A simple, poetic indictment

The winner of MoveOn.org's "Bush in 30 Seconds" contest is a subtle ad with the power to sway even some of his defenders. Now the ad may be headed for the Super Bowl.


A simple, poetic indictment

The winning spot in MoveOn’s “Bush in 30 Seconds” ad contest didn’t compare President George W. Bush to Hitler. It didn’t even call him a liar, or castigate him for deceiving the nation into war. The commercial that triumphed over more than 1,000 other entries — and that will run 30 times on CNN during the week of Bush’s State of the Union address, and possibly during the Super Bowl as well — was a subtle, elegiac and nearly wordless indictment of the burden Bush is shunting onto future generations with his deficits. It was made by Charlie Fisher, a 38-year-old advertising executive and father of two from Denver, a fiscal conservative who was a registered Republican until 1992.

Over a minor-key acoustic guitar tune, Fisher’s “Child’s Pay” spot shows a series of stoic, worn-looking American children laboring at low-wage adult jobs — a boy washes dishes, a girl in a baggy pink maid’s uniform cleans a hallway, another works in a factory. It ends with white words on a black screen: “Guess who’s going to pay off President Bush’s $1 trillion deficit?”

Actually, “Child’s Pay” won twice. At a gala, celebrity-studded awards ceremony at Manhattan’s Hammerstein ballroom on Monday, Fisher first received the People’s Choice award for the ad most highly rated by MoveOn’s members. Then he won the night’s highest honor, being chosen from among 14 finalists by a panel that included pop star Moby, actor Jack Black and Democratic consultant James Carville.

The ad served as a somber culmination to a contest that has whipped the right into paroxysm of feigned indignation.

As Moby said from the stage, “Bush in 30 Seconds” was born when he and his friend Laura Dawn “were talking about our mutual contempt and loathing for George Bush, who’s a big, fat, fucking liar. We thought, what can we do to get the creative community more involved?” He credited Dawn with the idea for the contest, which called on MoveOn members to submit homemade anti-Bush ads. Screening only for legal and decency issues, MoveOn posted 1,000 of the 1,500 entries received on the Web and invited members to vote on them, with a celebrity panel choosing a winner from among the top-rated spots.

The winner will be broadcast from Jan. 17-21, to coincide with the State of the Union address on Jan. 20. And as MoveOn campaigns director Eli Pariser announced on Monday, it may also become the first political ad ever to run during the Super Bowl — there’s space available and MoveOn can afford the $1.6 million price tag, though the deal isn’t yet sealed.

Yet outrage, or at least a campaign-season facsimile of it, erupted when it emerged that two of the more than 1,000 entries that MoveOn posted compared Bush to Hitler, prompting a round of GOP fulminations and talk show bloviations. Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie called the ads “[T]he worst and most vile form of political hate speech.” CNN’s Wolf Blitzer introduced a segment on the incident by calling it a “huge, huge controversy.” The Drudge Report ran breathless headlines about each new development.

MoveOn apologized for the Hitler ads, but slammed Republicans for hypocrisy. Founder Wes Boyd issued a statement saying, “We agree that the two ads in question were in poor taste and deeply regret that they slipped through our screening process. In the future, if we publish or broadcast raw material, we will create a more effective filtering system. Contrast this with the behavior of the RNC and its allies when supporters of President Bush used TV ads morphing the face of Sen. Max Cleland (D-GA) into that of Osama Bin Laden during the 2002 Senate race. MoveOn.org and the MoveOn.org Voter Fund exist to bring the public into the political process and produce a more fact-based election process. We regret that the RNC doesn’t seem to embrace the same goals.”

But it may turn out that RNC hysteria only helped MoveOn. Monday’s awards show, packed with more than 2,000 MoveOn members who paid $35 each to attend, crackled with genuine drama and was swarmed with reporters, even if some of them fought their way into press gaggles to ask questions like, “Is it really fair to compare Bush to Hitler?”

Of course, part of the reason that reporters from outlets such as People, Us Weekly and MTV showed up is because of all the celebrities in attendance — presenters and performers included Julia Stiles, Janeane Garofalo, Rufus Wainwright, Moby, Chuck D, Al Franken and Michael Moore. The foreign press was out in force, too. When a French TV reporter introduced himself to Al Franken, who just returned from visiting troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, the comedian replied with real sincerity, “Thank you for your help in Afghanistan. I was just in Afghanistan. The commander there said the French paratroopers are the best he’s ever seen.”

In old-fashioned awards show style, the big winner wasn’t announced until the end of the night. The show began with Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid performing a Jimi Hendrix-style electric guitar version of the national anthem. Interspersed with stand-up comedy, music and wry commentary from host Garofalo were awards for best animated ad, best youth ad and funniest ad. The winning animated spot, “What I’ve Been Up To,” features a cartoon Bush giving a rundown of his achievements. “For starters,” he says, “I turned the strongest economy in history into the biggest deficit in history … I invaded two countries, made a joke of the United Nations … and still managed to take the most vacations of any president in history!”

The best youth ad was made by 29-year-old Jared Ewy, a Denver radio DJ and stand-up comic, and features Ewy ranting in black-and-white against a desolate landscape. His voice is outraged and incredulous as he riffs on Bush’s misdeeds, “Bring it on? Our soldiers in a hotbed of hate and you say bring it on to people who accessorize with dynamite?”

Al Franken presented the awards for funniest ad to Christopher Fink, who made “If Parents Acted Like Bush,” in which the father, “George,” leaves his daughter behind when she needs a ride to school, barges in on her in the bathroom, charges a motorcycle to her and cheats on her mother (“I know it’s not Mom, but it’s OK! She’s rich!”).

In between were performances that ranged from sublime to mortifying. The evening’s low point was a bizarre mock rap about healthcare by comedian Margaret Cho, who also did the night’s opening monologue. Dressed in nurses scrubs, face covered by a surgical mask, she shouted, “Look me in the eye. You can’t do it because you are dehydrated. You’d better do that shit, drink some water, fool,” later imploring women in the audience to give themselves monthly breast exams. It was all a joke, but one that this reporter utterly failed to get.

Resuming her post after the sad spectacle was finally finished, Garofalo asked the crowd, “Is that what you want, people? Is that what you want?” Then, somewhat cryptically, she said, “We’ve got to stop media consolidation.”

Medical raps aside, there were far more lovely moments than awful ones on Monday, chief among them Rufus Wainwright’s devastating cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” The heartbroken exaltation of the lyrics drew out all the melancholy beneath the evening’s celebration — after all, progressives might be full of hope and energy, but many of them are also scared and weary. “Maybe there’s a God above/ And all I ever learned from love/ Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you, he crooned over his piano. And it’s not a cry you can hear at night / It’s not somebody who’s seen the light / It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.

Other artists also used covers to make political points (Moby told the crowd that he nurtured a secret dream of playing in a cover band). Chuck D did a cover of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Stand,” while Moby, announcing that he was singing from the point of view of Bush, performed Radiohead’s “Creep.” The passion he poured into the self-lacerating chorus, “But I’m a creep/ I’m a weirdo/ What the hell am I doing here?/ I don’t belong here,” almost suggested an oblique empathy for a man in way over his head.

It was the most sympathy Bush got all night. Pariser, whom Garofalo introduced as a “revolutionary and American hero,” told the crowd, “President Bush has a problem with the truth. It’s a simple problem. The truth is that Bush’s policies are terrible for our country and the world.” The truth, he told the cheering audience, is “the surest way into people’s hearts … even $200 million and the world’s best spin machine can’t beat that.”

Many on Monday were convinced that the nation will soon awake to Bush’s perfidy. Michael Moore extolled the organizing power of the Internet and told the crowd, “The people are on our side. The majority of the people support a progressive agenda.”

Before the show Moore insisted, “The people do not support George Bush.” He enjoys decent approval ratings in Middle America, Moore said, because people don’t like to criticize the commander in chief when their sons and daughters are at war, “but that doesn’t mean people like him or his policies.”

If that’s true, then progressives don’t have much to worry about. Yet they are worried, and the anxiety encompasses their fellow citizens as well as their government. One ad finalist featured a man in bed pulling the cover over his eyes and hitting the snooze alarm every time his clock radio woke him with news of Bush’s depredations. Ewy, winner of the best youth ad award, acknowledged that there was much enthusiastic support for Bush where he comes from, caused by “misunderstanding due to disinformation.”

Given that, it’s a relief that MoveOn’s judges and members both chose “Child’s Pay.” It doesn’t capture the anger and outrage of urbanites made to feel like exiles in their own country, and it doesn’t attack Bush personally, no matter how richly earned such attacks may be. Its tone is one of deep disappointment and fear that tomorrow’s Americans will find their options dramatically diminished. It seems like it could resonate even among people who think “sushi-eating” is an insult and Bush a decent man.

This story has been corrected since it was originally published.

Michelle Goldberg is a frequent contributor to Salon and the author of "Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism" (WW Norton).

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>