Conservatives across the country recognize the name Dale Peterson even though the man is a failed primary candidate for an obscure government position in Alabama. Why? Peterson hired filmmaker Ladd Ehrlinger, Jr. to make a television ad for him, and the ad’s sassy, quick-cutting style quickly turned it into a viral hit. There was nothing particularly controversial or noteworthy about the message of the ad; it set itself apart with a straight-shooting script, whip-smart timing, and intentionally silly camera movement.
Now, Ehrlinger is back with a new ad that seems to take an entirely different approach:
To highlight some unseemly behavior from a Los Angeles Councilwoman named Janice Hahn, the ad pulls out all the attack ad tricks in the book: sinister voice-over, red horror film text font, demonic red eyes evocative of another famous political ad, and, in an unprecedented move, a shoestring-budget gangster rap interlude, complete with AK-47s and dollar bills stuffed into a stripper’s shorts.
Is this beyond the pale? Though it’s not far removed from the style of even contemporary rap superstars, and though the actors, members of the ’90s rap group Splack Pack appear to be good-naturedly poking fun at their own music, the video gives Hahn and her left-wing defenders an easy riposte in claiming that the video is racist or racially insensitive. On the other hand, the video is an attention-grabbing invitation to find out more about Hahn’s involvement with gang members, and this speaks to one of the fundamental tensions in political media– the desire to inform versus the need to entertain.
The video’s sponsor, Turn Right USA, hopes to direct the video’s viral traffic to a website containing peripheral information, hahnshomeboyz.org, where some of the clips and facts presented in the 90-second video are explained in better context. Hahn aims to run for Congress, and the Democratic party, already besieged by the Weinergate scandal, could find themselves with a fresh black eye from national reporting of this malfeasance. This local news package on the story gives plenty of detail and runs almost nine minutes, but a nine-minute news package has virtually zero chance of of going viral and spreading the message to the general public.
So, does the video push too far? Have the filmmakers opened themselves up to distracting criticism about their tone, or is this just a humorous, attention-catching tactic to draw attention to a story that otherwise wouldn’t get its due in the media? It’ll be interesting to see how the story plays out now that the video has gone public and Hahn must craft a response to its charges.