THE 30 SECOND CANDIDATE HISTORICAL TIMELINEFROM IDEA TO ADTRICKS OF THE TRADEQ_AND_ATHE TELEVISION PROGRAM
Wisconsin Public Television
     

         
1990  
   
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In the North Carolina Senate campaign, Republican incumbent Jesse Helms was several points behind Democrat Harvey Gantt in polls taken shortly before the election.

Over a weekend, political consultant Alex Castellanos wrote and produced an ad called "Hands." Gantt's support of affirmative action had been identified on surveys as an unpopular position.

The controversial "Hands" featured a close-up shot of two hands holding a letter and crumpling it as a narrator says "You needed that job, but they had to give it to a minority."

Helms made up the difference in the polls and won re-election
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WATCH "HANDS" ---
Quicktime or RealVideo

READ ALEX CASTELLANOS' COMMENTS ON "HANDS"


READ KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON'S COMMENTS ON "HANDS"

   
   

 


JAMIESON: The evaluation of visual symbols is extremely tricky. But there are two things about that ad that are worthy of discussion. The first, when you look frame by frame at the ad, there are frames in the ad in which the hands are crushing the head of one of the candidates. And I reproduce those pictures in "Dirty Politics".

Secondly, there is a black mark on the letter that's shown in the ad that is supposedly the rejection letter that a blue collar worker has just gotten telling him that he hasn't gotten the job and the ad's implication is that it was given to someone who was an unqualified minority. Well, when talking to people in focus groups about the ad, first most people didn't recognize that at almost an imperceptible level there was the hand appearing to crush the head of the candidate. But a number of people did see that and when you point it out to people they do see it. Now we don't know what that does to audiences. But it's interesting that it's there. Secondly, there's a black mark on the paper. And when you ask Castellanos how did it get there, he says, 'I don't know it's just a piece of paper we picked up.' But there are some people in some focus groups who see that as a black hand holding a black gun. Different people bring different meanings to different symbols. We don't all respond to the same message in the same way.

The question becomes for an ad like that, is that ad subtly activating racial fears? Illegitimate fears that are not about the explicit content of the ad, but are about something else. Or were those just production accidents that elicited that unintended response in some members of the audience.

   

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