The One

I’m loving the brouhaha about whether John McCain’s ad “The One” (best watched at his website) is in fact a coded message to America’s Dispensationalists that Barack Obama is the Antichrist. I think it’s hooey, but entertaining hooey.

Before I go into details, let me maintain my loony-left moonbat cred by saying that I absolutely think the McCain campaign is fully capable of suggesting that Obama is the Beast. Weird coded messages are nothing new to politics, certainly not to modern Republicans—remember W’s apparent non-sequitur about Dred Scott? And certainly McCain and his sinister minions have shown themselves to be no more impaired by Honor and Truth than were Bush and Rove (fortunately, they seem to be considerably less competent). I just don’t think that’s what’s happening here. I wonder if they now wish they had thought of it themselves, so they could have done a better job. But I don’t think they’re that good; the ad looks to me just like what they say it is.

Now to business. Something called “The Eleison Group” has a handy memo detailing the ad’s alleged antichristiness. The gist is that the ad’s imagery and text are so similar to those of the Left Behind books—featuring, of course, an antichrist politician—that the ad must be meant to refer to the books:

Viewers will notice how similar these very odd pictures that appear in the middle of the McCain ad are to the cover art and fonts of the Left Behind series, especially to the image, font, and colors of the final book in the series that would be most recent in reader’s memories.  The hidden images in the clouds and sun in the ad, which took a great deal of editing and are so strange that they had to be intentionally chosen and placed there by the McCain camp for their symbolic value, are of screaming, frantic crowds.

Mere coincidence? They think not!

I’ll be super-nerdy and start with the fonts (see the cover of the last Left Behind book here, and the ad at the link above). Yes, they look kinda similar. But then, all serif fonts look pretty much the same to most people. These do have one obvious superficial similarity—the serifless top vertices on the Ns and Ms—and they were both designed the same year (1989), but that’s about it.

The book jacket looks to me like it uses ITC Giovanni, designed by Robert Slimbach, who (quoting that description from Adobe) “based his design on classic oldstyle typefaces such as Garamond and Bembo.”

The ad uses Trajan, based not on oldstyle fonts but on Roman inscriptions. The differences are especially pronounced (I think) in the construction of the serifs, and in the spur and the  on the G, but lots of the proportions are pretty different too. Check ’em out (that’s the book title on the left, Trajan on the right):

lb-giovanni-sample lb-trajan-sample

OK, maybe they look the same to you, but they don’t to a proper type geek, and any proper conspiracy theory is going to have to assume McCain’s ad guys know their type. Perhaps more to the point is that Trajan is used a lot—it’s probably the typeface a designer would be most likely to use for a political ad if s/he just couldn’t be bothered to think about it. Using Trajan needs no explanation. Actually, if you want to connect it to the Left Behind books, you’d have to explain why they didn’t just use ITC Giovanni.

So that’s a bit of a digression, but I think it applies to the imagery as well. I just don’t see anything particularly odd in those “hidden images” that “took a great deal of editing.” They just don’t look that odd to me.

the-one-stairway

Again, if the McCain camp was really trying for some heavenly image here or allusion to God shining his light on Obama or to Obama shining his own light on the people, they would have used a different image. The classic and obvious image most viewers would recognize as divine would be of the white beam of light shining down from heaven (e.g., Monty Python or Simpsons spoofs). But this is an odd orange light surrounded by darkness. So why would they not go with the classic divine light imagery?

…and another has a stair leading to heaven.

Hm, a stairway… to heaven… Nope, no non-rapture-related cultural resonance there: that imagery could only have come from Left Behind! Seriously, I don’t think that picture (and the rest) are outside the mainstream of Messiah imagery. McCain and the Left Behind designers were drawing from the same image pool.

One more. Quoting from Amy Sullivan in Time:

Perhaps the most puzzling scene in the ad is an altered segment from The 10 Commandments that appears near the end. A Moses-playing Charlton Heston parts the animated waters of the Red Sea, out of which rises the quasi-presidential seal the Obama campaign used for a brief time earlier this summer before being mocked into retiring it. The seal, which features an eagle with wings spread, is not recognizable like the campaign’s red-white-and-blue “O” logo. That confused Democratic consultant Eric Sapp until he went to his Bible and remembered that in the apocalyptic Book of Daniel, the Antichrist is described as rising from the sea as a creature with wings like an eagle.

That idiot seal was one of the Obama campaign’s silliest goofs, and the McCainiacs would certainly want to take every opportunity to remind us of it. I don’t know how many people will get the joke—I did—but even if they don’t, it does say “Obama” right on it, so it works in context anyway.

UPDATE: Had I looked even cursorily at McCain’s website I would have noticed that he (or his lackeys) use Trajan in lots of places. Definitely not Left Behind-specific.

UPDATE 2: Read the comments for more incoherently evolving thoughts.

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3 Responses to “The One”

  1. The One, Continued « Michael Lauer’s Weblog Says:

    […] Michael Lauer’s Weblog « The One […]

  2. Alice Says:

    It’s worth noting that according to the WSJ, even the authors of the Left Behind series saw the connections between the ad and their work – though they don’t believe Obama actually is the Anti-Christ
    (http://online.wsj.com/public/article_print/SB121816422728523227.html)
    Plus, as that Time article notes, the ad was made by a close friend of Ralph Reed. As silly as it may sound, it’s pretty obvious that the McCain camp is trying to prey on the worst fears of a specific group of religious voters (a demographic Obama is making a significant dent in by the way). He can’t get them enthusiastic about his campaign, so he’s trying to scare them away from Obama. And just think of the brilliance of this approach, using language and imagery that would be readily recognized by a specific sub-culture, and all but invisible to everyone outside of it.

  3. mrlauer Says:

    I admit that the Fred Davis-Ralph Reed connection almost convinces me. But I still find the specifics in the Eleison Group memo (etc.) pretty weak, and the McCain campaign’s official explanation perfectly plausible.

    But I’m no expert on End Times iconography and language, and I’ve never read the Left Behind books (I doubt seriously that I could get through them). Maybe there’s more there than I’m seeing.

    Perhaps it makes sense to look at the ad not exactly as an explicit coded message but as an attempt at subliminal persuasion grafted on to a merely petulant and juvenile attack ad, based on some happy (for the ad guys) coincidences, e.g. Oprah’s calling Obama “The One.” That is, they did intend people to pick up on the Antichrist theme, but not consciously, and not necessarily for any particular set of specific reasons like those in that memo.

    Now I think of it, I suppose anything Messianic is going to be pretty close to Antichrist territory to someone so minded, so maybe the antichrist theme would be sort of inevitable. The makers of the ad, if they’re Rapture-ready, would naturally use the same imagery for “Messiah” and “Antichrist,” at least if they’re mocking the alleged Messiah. Rapture-ready watchers might find Antichrist imagery in a Messiah ad whether it was supposed to be there or not.

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