Alison Lundergan Grimes for Senate, “Skeet Shooting”

  • Title: “Skeet Shooting”
  • Sponsor: Alison Lundergan Grimes for Senate
  • Issue of Focus: Coal, environment, jobs and guns
  • Type of Ad: Negative / Differentiating
  • Broadcast location: television in Kentucky
  • Ad Buy: “a significant six-figure statewide buy”
  • Release date: September 15, 2014
  • Time: 0:30
  • Ad URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z7Pa16JPUlY

Transcript:

  • ALISON LUNDERGAN GRIMES (voiceover): Mitch McConnell wants you to think I’m Barack Obama. Mitch is the same guy who thought Duke basketball players were UK, who’s attacking me on coal after doing next to nothing while we lost thousands of coal jobs. He even said it’s ‘not his job’ to bring jobs to Kentucky.
  • GRIMES (to camera): I’m not Barack Obama. I disagree with him on guns, coal, and the EPA. And Mitch, that’s not how you hold a gun.
  • GRIMES (voiceover): I’m Alison Lundergan Grimes, and I approve this message.

Analysis of “Skeet Shooting”

Will Howell, University of Maryland

Kentucky voters are very unhappy with President Barack Obama, and incumbent Republican Senator Mitch McConnell aims to capitalize on that. In early September 2014, he aired an advertisement connecting his Democratic opponent, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, to the unpopular Democratic president. McConnell’s advertisement seemed to resonate with Kentucky voters as polls showed he increased his lead after the advertisement. The Lundergan Grimes’ campaign responded with an advertisement called “Skeet Shooting.” In it, Lundergan Grimes tethers McConnell to Obama through masculine pronouns. The advertisement separates her from them through scripting and editing, and by highlighting her masculine ability with a gun. The camera’s voyeuristic gaze softens this masculine edge by accentuating her femininity.

The campaign uses the symbolism of a shotgun to differentiate Lundergan Grimes from Obama. Over the course of eight short shots, viewers see Alison Lundergan Grimes shooting skeet in a bucolic field at daybreak. The combination of guns and this rural setting recalls Obama’s comments as a candidate: rural voters “cling to guns…as a way to explain their frustrations.”[1] In the first eighteen seconds of the ad, Lundergran Grimes is shown hitting her clay pigeon every time. These quick opening cuts invite the viewer to experience this task virtually “in what feels like real time.”[2] Viewers who respond to this invitation may grant Alison Lundergran Grimes a rapidity of action that they do not grant to President Obama. And unlike the unpopular president, who has “missed” a fair number of “shots” in recent months (e.g., immigration, Syria, Iraq), the viewer is assured of Lundergan Grimes’ speedy accuracy.

Her narration over the first two shots lays the foundation for her gender-based argument linking Barack Obama to Mitch McConnell. “Mitch McConnell wants you to think I’m Barack Obama,” she begins. “Mitch is the same guy… [emphasis mine].” By using the phrase “same guy,” she couples the president and McConnell through their shared gender. That shared trait, then, becomes the locus for criticism of both men. When she argues, “I’m not Barack Obama,” she highlights the obvious gender difference and draws a wedge between both the unpopular president and her opponent.

The ad also uses her ease with guns to masculinize her image and de-masculinize McConnell’s image. Her calm, smooth demeanor encapsulates her familiarity with guns and implies that this morning session may be part of her daily routine. She dresses the part of the (unfeminine) stereotypical shooter, too: she wears drab, loose camouflage colors; tinted yellow eyewear; and ear plugs. Beyond hunting’s association with masculinity, this clothing bucks expectations of a female senator: women could not even wear pants to Senate floor sessions until 1993. [3] Because the gun is “coded as (hyper)masculine in American culture,” Lundergran Grimes’s shooting further masculinizes her image. [4] The advertisement also questions McConnell’s masculinity by questioning his knowledge of guns. As the advertisement displays a picture of him holding a rifle upside down, Lundergan Grimes chides, “Mitch, that’s not how you hold a gun.”

Yet, voyeuristic camera work presents a feminine angle on Lundergan Grimes’s shooting. In the early shots, the camera vacillates between medium and wider shots of her; all are from a low angle, and nearly always from behind. The viewer glimpses a private moment in her day: it is morning, the mist hangs over the field, and she is the only human filmed or heard. As she goes through her routine, the camera closes in with tighter framing, eye-level shots, culminating in a view over her right ear before pulling back. The advertisement ends with a wide, low, rear angle. As Laura Mulvey notes in Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, cinematography such as this “builds the way [a woman] is to be looked at into the spectacle itself.”[5] In the spectacle of Lundergan Grimes’s candidacy, this camera work directs viewers to note her femininity even as she seeks an office traditionally inhabited by men.

These camera angles support the advertisement’s narrative in distinguish Lundergan Grimes from McConnell and Obama. Lundergan Grimes is accessible–she’ll take time from her morning routine to clarify a political issue–and she will resolve Kentucky’s pressing problems quickly and thoroughly. McConnell–and by linkage, President Obama—is not in touch with Kentucky. He ”thought Duke basketball players were UK,” and he acted too slowly while Kentucky bled coal jobs. “He even said it’s not his job to bring jobs to Kentucky,” she says, as though “he” were an outsider. An astute viewer might realize that “he” is McConnell, not Obama, but a viewer who got lost in the graceful morning skeet shoot might not realize the distinction. Regardless of the male referent,“he” (Obama or McConnell) is responsible for the way things are–not “she.” In answering McConnell’s attacks, Alison Lundergan Grimes chose to do more than distinguish herself from her fellow Democrat, President Barack Obama. Using signifiers of masculinity and femininity, she fused the male Democratic President with the male Republic Senator (McConnell), and drew a sharp line between herself and the two men.

Notes

[1] Ed Pilkington, “Obama angers midwest voters with guns and religion remark,” The Guardian. April 13, 2008

[2] Shawn J. Parry-Giles and Trevor Parry-Giles, “Visual Realism and the Limits of Commodified Dissent in Fahrenheit 9/11,” in The Rhetoric of the New Political Documentary, eds. Thomas W. Benson and Brian J. Snee (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2008), 28.

[3] “The Long and Short of Capitol Style,” Roll Call. June 9, 2005.

[4] Brian Ott, Eric Aoki, and Greg Dickinson, “Ways of (Not) Seeing Guns: Presence and Absence at the Cody Firearms Museum,” Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 8, no. 3 (2011), 232.

[5] Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Screen 16, no. 3 (1975), 17.