Lord of the purse strings

In a land devastated by deficits, one advertising campaign will rule them all.

By Joyce McGreevy
Published March 8, 2004 8:30PM (EST)

From the producers of ... "The Cash In" ... "Lost in Trance Nation" ... and ... "Someone's Gotta Give (So Why Not the Poor and Middle Class?)" ... comes an economic tale so spellbinding, so fantastic, so utterly insulting to your intelligence that it will leave ... you ... speechless ...

Phony Pictures presents

A Little-White-House-on-the-Prairie Production

"LIES, ACTUALLY: Bush Campaign Ads 2004"

  • "Keeps you cringing until the very last frame." -- Leonard Faultin

  • "Two eyebrows up. Way up." -- Heebie & Jeebies

  • "Any chance 'Gigli' is still showing?" -- Al Flack

  • "I like everything!" -- Jim Ferguson

  • Winner of Two Brass Globes

  • Hypocritics' Choice Award

  • Nominated for Costliest Fiction

    In a land devastated by deficits, one man must rise above it all, taking only 1 percent with him ... So begins the subject of today's "Economy Sighs" movie review.

    Wasting no time on historical accuracy, the plot of "LIES, ACTUALLY: Bush Campaign Ads 2004" creates an intriguing political science fiction. It reinvents the Clinton years -- a time of unprecedented job creation and a record surplus -- as a recession.

    From the moment this jaw-dropping concept hits the screen, the multimillion dollar special effects never let up and mysterious subtitles are never far from sight. One 60-second film in the series is simply entitled "Lead," which this reviewer first interpreted as an ingeniously sly reference to the leaden weight of both the federal deficit and the heavy impact of massive job losses on a cast of millions.

    But, no. The title is actually meant to evoke leadership, not a dense, highly toxic metallic lump. What fascinating cinematic game is the director playing here? Who among the cast will emerge as the implied leader? The director never tells us, but instead reveals a man and a woman engaged in dialogue about that most universal of human themes --pretending that the U.S. economy (portrayed here by a sickly dog dressed up as a poor man's Shirley Temple circa "The Good Ship Lollipop") is all set to dance its way up 520 billion steps, right into the hearts of voters everywhere.

    Suddenly, it's a musical! In an unforgettable duet, the antagonist (played by George Bush), croons, "One of the things that must never change is the entrepreneurial spirit of America." (Count on those catchy lyrics to replay in your head over and over for the next nine months.) The other half of this duet (Laura Bush, no elation) then sings the immortal refrain, "The strength, the focus, the characteristics that these times demand." Alas, the antagonist cannot help her with this demand and the scene abruptly ends.

    Cut to stock photos of people who actually do embody admirable human qualities, such as bravery, wisdom and commitment. Viewers see a teacher in a classroom, people involved in business, and for one sun-drenched moment the viewer can bask in nostalgia, fondly recalling lost jobs. Three million of them. Again, the antagonist sings, "As the economy grows, the job base grows and somebody who's looking for work will be more likely to find a job." The viewer is thrown back into a current of uncertainty, a whiff of inanity, a fog of obscuring semantics. What economic growth? What job base? Who is this one, lucky somebody who is destined to be "more likely" to find a job? Where is that job hiding? What is happening? When did this rollicking, feel-good film turn into pure, rocky horror?

    Putting on his best Christopher-Walken (as the suicidal driver in "Annie Hall"), George punches out the line, "I know exactly where I want to lead this country!" In other words, right over the fiscal cliff. The audience experiences a deliciously creepy sense of foreboding, the kind that makes one silently urge the clueless, passive, about-to-be-victims to DO something, for chrissakes. Dammit, Janet, switch on that dim bulb you call a brain, get out of that dank economic basement and take Brad with you! Register! And I don't mean for china patterns.

    As the economic thriller careens toward one of two possible endings (to be decided by audience ballot or a Supreme Court decision, whichever can be cast), the star of "Lead" suddenly reveals all. For a national audience anxious about economic issues, this is the payoff moment. All is not lost. A road to recovery may yet emerge out of the gloom. The Texas chainsaw massacre of healthcare, education and Social Security may still be averted, and the mad-slasher tax cuts might cease while the bloodied innocent bystanders still have a pulse (though, alas, not the coverage to have this medically verified).

    Again George speaks. "I know what we need to do to make the world more free and more peaceful." And that is ...? What? Hey, over here in the back row. Could you please elaborate a little? E-lab-o -- but the screen goes blank.

    What is it that George "knows"? We will probably never find out. In this tale with a twist, the twisted never explain. Genius.

    Several sequels have already been released, each more controversial than the last. Final verdict: If you see only one ad this year, make it this one. Watch it. Smell it. Think about it. One way or the other, it will change your life.

    "LIES ACTUALLY: Bush Campaign Ad 2004." Now playing in a key battleground state near you.

  • Joyce McGreevy

    Joyce McGreevy is a writer in Portland, Ore.

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    Business U.s. Economy