Wendy Davis for Governor, “Justice”

  • Title: “Justice”
  • Sponsor: Wendy Davis for Governor, Inc.
  • Issue of Focus: Abbott’s Legal Career
  • Type of Advertisement: Negative
  • Broadcast Location: Texas
  • Release Date: October 10, 2014
  • Length: 30-second spot
  • Web Address:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lush7TZB860

Transcript of Ad

“A tree fell on Greg Abbott. He sued and got millions. Since then, he spent his career working against other victims. Abbott argued a woman whose leg was amputated was not disabled because she had an artificial limb. He ruled against a rape victim who sued a corporation for failing to do a background check on a sexual predator. He sided with a hospital that failed to stop a dangerous surgeon who paralyzed patients. Greg Abbott. He’s not for you.”

Analysis of “Justice”

Julia Medhurst, University of Maryland

Context

The 2014 Texas gubernatorial election marks the first time since the days of Ann Richards that one of the major parties has nominated a woman for the highest seat in the state. The energy behind Democratic candidate and state senator Wendy Davis is electrifying the Texas Left. Davis gained statewide and national prominence just over a year ago when she completed an 11 hour filibuster in attempt to halt the passage of Senate Bill 5, which bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Even though abortion politics catapulted her to fame, Davis’ main mission is to reform Texas education. Davis’ challenger, Republican nominee Greg Abbott, comes to the election with 12 years of experience as the Attorney General of Texas and 6 years of experience as a member of the Texas Supreme Court. A strong supporter of incumbent Governor Rick Perry, Abbot markets himself as a “defender of the Constitution, protector of our rights, and vocal conservative who stands on the foundation of law.”[1]

Analysis

The “Justice” ad posits Abbott’s disengagement from his constituency, especially from the cares and concerns of the disabled and victimized. Not only is this disengagement construed as non-empathic, but it is constructed as an attack: the ad reads in summation, “Greg Abbott. He’s not for you,” suggesting, of course, that he is for others (the physically-abled, the abusers). A single wheelchair image achieves this aim. I argue that the image of the wheelchair functions dually: first as a symbol of Abbott and second, as a vehicle to juxtapose his real-life physical presence to his political/empathic absence.

The first tactic of the ad symbolizes Abbott through the image of an empty wheelchair. We hear the voiceover declare that “a tree fell on Greg Abbott. He sued and got millions. Since then, he spent his career working against other victims.” As the voiceover speaks, we see a single image of a wheelchair. Upon seeing it, we think of Abbott. As the first wheelchair-bound gubernatorial nominee in the state, Abbott’s condition is a strong identifying factor. In fact, the Abbott campaign has made his condition a focal point of their advertising strategy; the campaign’s ad, “Perseverance,” for instance, provides a narrative of how he became wheelchair-bound and highlights his daily triumphs over physical, social, and political adversities.[2] As such, the image’s reference point is evident. In case the symbol is unclear, the ad uses words to connect his name to the picture. The photo of the chair and the voiceover are fused so that the audience knows who should be seated in the image.

Once the chair image performs its initial symbolic function, the ad turns to visually constructing a presence/absence dichotomy. In the first frame, a wheel appears on the screen; as the camera zooms out from the wheel image, the picture is completed to show an empty wheelchair. The edges of the wheelchair photo are darkened, allowing us to focus exclusively on the chair. The zooming-out of the camera to slowly reveal Abbott’s absence gives us time to realize that Abbott is not spatially where he should be. Thus, we first identify Abbott with the chair (as we see the wheel) and subsequently are made aware of his absence in the seat as the camera moves up. Therefore, what is present (the chair) is important for its symbolic value and what is absent (Abbott) is visually magnified, asking the audience to reflect on why Abbott is missing. Presence and absence, then, can function in service of visual rhetoric.[3]

Abbott’s absence from the chair is key because it reinforces Davis’s message that Abbott is absent from the lived experiences of disabled or victimized Texans. The voiceover continues past the wheelchair image, saying that Abbott argued against an amputee, ruled against a rape victim, and sided with a dangerous surgeon. All the while, the audience is left with the single image of the empty wheelchair and the implied question: Where is Abbott? He is missing from the chair because he is not disabled in spirit. Someone who has experienced the true disadvantages that accompany a disability, the ad implies, could not abandon victims of similar circumstances. But, according to the voiceover, Abbott has done just that. Therefore, the image of the empty wheelchair is hardly surprising. Abbott’s absence in the photo comes to stand in for his absence of concern for others.

To complete the presence/absence divide, Abbott’s photo does appear at the end of the ad. Instead of showing him in his wheelchair, however, the ad’s final image shows him from the chest up, sitting behind a table. The rhetorical choice to show Abbott without his chair points to another symbolic moment. The implication is that he lacks solidarity with the disabled community; rather than empathizing with victims (in wheelchairs), Abbott’s absence from his chair transports him (visually and symbolically) to the status of the able-bodied.

Notes

[1] “Greg Abbott,” Abbott for Governor, 2014. http://www.gregabbott.com/bio/.

[2] “Perseverance,” YouTube video, 4:36, posted by “Greg Abbott,” June 24,
2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CTrxQ9A6KjE.

[3] Brian L. Ott, Eric Aoki, and Greg Dickinson, “Ways of (Not) Seeing Guns: Presence and Absence at the Cody Firearms Museum,” Communication & Critical/Cultural Studies 8, no. 3 (2011): 215-239. Communication & Mass Media Complete, EBSCO host (accessed October 18, 2014).