Playlist Errol Morris
The Living Room Candidate - Transcript
"High Prices," Eisenhower, 1952
[TEXT: EISENHOWER answers AMERICA]
MALE NARRATOR: Eisenhower answers America.
WOMAN: You know what things cost today. High prices are just driving me crazy.
EISENHOWER: Yes, my Mamie gets after me about the high cost of living. It's another reason why I say it's time for a change, time to get back to an honest dollar and an honest dollar's worth.
"High Prices," Citizens for Eisenhower, 1952
Maker: Rosser Reeves for Ted Bates and Co.Video courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.
From Museum of the Moving Image, The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952-2012.
www.livingroomcandidate.org/commercials/1952/high-prices (accessed September 20, 2020).
Voters and elections intrigue me. I earn a living from advertising, and I find political advertising endlessly interesting. What works, what makes people respond? What gives them reason to believe? Or to hope?
Real-people ads have existed since the beginning of film and video. And they have been part of political advertising since the 1950s.
Here is a history of real-people political ads, with my commentary.
To a contemporary audience, this ad may seem somewhat stilted, but no doubt it was effective in its day. The concerns are timeless: a worry about high prices and the ability to feed a family.
Here is an ad for Kennedy with real people — the Sills family. It could be unscripted, but it has a stilted quality. The family is sitting down to dinner. The two little girls are seated on the same side of the table — presumably so that they can be photographed. Otherwise, you would get the back of one of their heads. You would never seat a family at a dinner table like that unless someone was coming to dinner with a camera crew. And then JFK shows up in their living room? Was he invited? Did they offer him milk and cookies? The father looks somewhat beleaguered. He may not have enough money to send his kids to college, but he is talking to a man from one of the richest families in America. It is meant to seem spontaneous, off-the-cuff, but the impression left is of the exact opposite.
They consist of real-people interviews shot against a white background. I interviewed Republican voters who were planning to vote for John Kerry. These voters were not pro-Democrat; nor were they anti-Republican; they were anti-George W. Bush. They were upset with this particular Republican candidate. Several people said, “After this election we will go back to voting Republican. This vote is not a break with the party; it’s a break with this man. He lied to us. We don’t trust him.” The voters I interviewed felt betrayed. But they were not voting for John Kerry; they were voting against George Bush.
If you’re not going to put words in people’s mouths, if you’re really listening to what they have to say, you’re going to learn something. Admittedly, the evidence is anecdotal. I haven’t selected these people through some kind of statistical sampling. These people are self-selected. They wrote in and said that they were registered Republicans, Independents or switch-voters who were planning to vote for Obama. People in the middle. And I was interested in talking to them on film about why they were making the switch from voting for a Republican to voting for a Democrat. Was it linked with policy? With the personality of the candidate?
This time — as opposed to 2004 — the content of the interviews has been qualitatively different. The people I interviewed have embraced Obama. They are voting for a candidate, not against a candidate. Lissa Lucas, for example, tells the story of voting for someone for the first time in her life. There is a feeling of hopefulness. There is this optimism, even though the situation in the country is arguably much worse than four years ago. A failing economy. The continuing war in Iraq. A crumbling infrastructure. But there is the core belief that if we pull together, we can save the country.
Of course, the ultimate expression of real people is their votes next week in the presidential election. Hopefully, we will hear from all of them on Nov. 4.