Christine O’Donnell’s (be)witching hour

The Tea Party-backed Senate candidate decides to confront her past in a new television ad

Topics: Christine O'Donnell, War Room, 2010 Elections,

Christine O'Donnell's (be)witching hourChristine O'Donnell

Adam Hanft dissects and deconstructs political advertising at Spin Season, where this originally appeared

Those fingers in my hair

That sly come-hither stare

That strips my conscience bare

It’s witchcraft.

– “

Witchcraft

” by Cy Coleman and Caroline Leigh

Christine O’Donnell’s wiccan-denial is high populist eroticism. It’s imbricated with onion layers of Miltonian and Updikean sub-text. It’s subliminal and post-modern; it feels like it could be network promotion for a TV series about an innocent mom who, through an unusual series of events, is thrust into a sordid life of politics.

And it will go down in the annals of political advertising as one of the boldest, ballsiest examples of campaign theater in decades:

 

O’Donnell begins with three short but intensively crafted sentences that establish the narrative, and propel it forward:

“I’m not a witch.

I’m nothing you’ve heard.

I’m you.”

The first sentence acknowledges the 800-pound broomstick in the room. She’s telling us not to the cozened by the alleged coven.

The second sentence takes it up higher. She asks us to ignore the firestorm, the archival Bill Maher videos, the attack ads. Take me as I am, she is saying, as I take you for who you are. It’s a savvy presentation of faux-nakedness, a high school girl telling a guy not to believe the rumors that she’s slutty.

The third sentence is the emotional jujitsu; O’Donnell’s flips the switch, turns the camera around, and goes for a daring leap of mutual self-identification. Politicians always say that they are like us. They almost never say that they are us. It’s an epiphany of normalization that makes us believe her even if we don’t want to.

Cause it’s witchcraft, wicked witchcraft

And although I know it’s strictly taboo

When you arouse the need in me

My heart says “Yes, indeed” in me

Proceed with what you’re leadin’ me to.

Having established the “I’m you” bond – a cosmic one-ness with her audience – O’Donnell then performs a fantastic rhetorical pivot. She says, simply:

“None of us are perfect.”

This is a central, errr, stake of the commercial. It’s a direct acknowledgment of the flawed nature of humanity — we are all sinners — we are all living with the consequences of, as Milton put it, “Man’s First Disobedience, and the Fruit Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste Brought Death into the World, and all our woe.”

I’m not being grandiose here. O’Donnell is sending out a Christian dog-whistle that calls upon a whole brain attic of memory and desire.

Then, having established the enduring power of Original Sin, she shifts to a statement of mutual dismay at the current state of affairs.

“None of us are perfect.

But none of us can be happy with what we see all around us.”

You Might Also Like

There is no logical connection between these sentences other than the repetition of “None of us.” But it doesn’t matter. She’s already confessed her flaws on the personal level – forced us to admit our own sins, a mutual confessional – and can now take us by the hand and move to the political.

She then ticks off a brief litany of what’s wrong with Washington — spending, trading favors, backroom deals.

This is packaged up with a delicacy that is unusual in political advertising, where production values are usually sacrificed in the interests of speed and immediacy. O’Donnell is lit beautifully; she is a latent but palpable object of desire. A lot of attention is paid to hair and make-up… Most candidates are shot under McDonald’s wattage. There are no Tea Party histrionics. O’Donnell is put forward with a non-threatening but unmistakable suburban sexuality; if she is a witch, she’s straight out of John Updike’s “The Witches of Eastwick.”*

Her delivery isn’t the rushed and passionate syntax of most political advertising. It’s calm, it’s studiously legato, it’s meant to command attention. And it’s sexy. Not a bold, stiletto-heel Sarah Palin sexy, but a soft, sweet, Elizabeth Montgomery as “Bewitched” sexuality.

It’s such an ancient pitch

But one I wouldn’t switch

’cause there’s no nicer witch than you.

The spot wraps up with a final statement of twinning:

“I’ll go to Washington and do what you’d do.

I’m Christine O’Donnell and I approved this message.”

You think the spot’s over. There’s a heartbeat of a pause. And then she closes with a final whisper of equality:

“I’m you.”

And those same two words appear on the screen. It’s damn beguiling.

The polls show O’Donnell is down around ten percent. But that was before she hired Fred Davis, the controversial consultant responsibile for the famous Carly Fiorina “demon sheep” web video. If anything can change the conversation and close the gap, it’s this bit of erotic manipulation.

And if all this witchcraft talk is leaving you jonesing for Frank singing the original song, here you go:

Adam Hanft writes and comments frequently on politics and culture for The Daily Beast, Fast Company, Huffington Post, CNN, Fox News, Politics Daily, the Barnes & Noble Review, and elsewhere. He is founder of Hanft Projects, a strategic and brand consultancy.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 8
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Sonic

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Sonic's Bacon Double Cheddar Croissant Dog

    Sonic calls this a "gourmet twist" on a classic. I am not so, so fancy, but I know that sprinkling bacon and cheddar cheese onto a tube of pork is not gourmet, even if you have made a bun out of something that is theoretically French.

    Krispy Kreme

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Krispy Kreme's Doughnut Dog

    This stupid thing is a hotdog in a glazed doughnut bun, topped with bacon and raspberry jelly. It is only available at Delaware's Frawley Stadium, thank god.

    KFC

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    KFC's Double Down Dog

    This creation is notable for its fried chicken bun and ability to hastily kill your dreams.

    Pizza Hut

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Pizza Hut's Hot Dog Bites Pizza

    Pizza Hut basically just glued pigs-in-blankets to the crust of its normal pizza. This actually sounds good, and I blame America for brainwashing me into feeling that.

    Carl's Jr.

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Carl's Jr. Most American Thick Burger

    This is a burger stuffed with potato chips and hot dogs. Choose a meat, America! How hard is it to just choose a meat?!

    Tokyo Dog

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Tokyo Dog's Juuni Ban

    A food truck in Seattle called Tokyo Dog created this thing, which is notable for its distinction as the Guinness Book of World Records' most expensive hot dog at $169. It is a smoked cheese bratwurst, covered in butter Teriyaki grilled onions, Maitake mushrooms, Wagyu beef, foie gras, black truffles, caviar and Japanese mayo in a brioche bun. Just calm down, Tokyo Dog. Calm down.

    Interscope

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Limp Bizkit's "Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water"

    This album art should be illegal.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

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>