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Apr 17, 2005

Spoil the Rod and Spare the Child


If you've been following the Republican threat to limit the use of the Senate filibuster, you know that the Family Research Council, a promotional group for reactionary evangelicals, is sponsoring a television broadcast to build grassroots support for such a move.  These radicals believe that by eroding this legislative tool, they can prevent Democrats from blocking final approval of far right judicial nominees.  The reason the television program -- and the poster promoting it -- are getting so much exposure is because Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has agreed to appear on the show.

Other blogs can argue the (de)merits of the legislation and the TV program.  For the BAG's purposes, however, I thought it might be worth taking a closer look at the poster.    (Full size version here.) 

The flier shows a boy weighing a gavel in one hand and a bible in the other.  In casting a skeptical eye on the gavel, he seems to be concluding that any affiliation with the judicial system (through the pursuit of public service) would put him in conflict with "higher" Christian beliefs. 

As a visual allusion to the scales of justice, the poster sets up an either/or relationship between Christ and the law. 


Before one can consider the logic of this dichotomy, however, the image adds another layer, implying that the ultimate judgment here belongs with the Christian public (or, to their children).  Which institution is more legitimate, however, is already determined.  Despite the fact the bible is likely to be heavier, the hand positioning implies that the weight of evidence comes down more strongly against the law. 


Another way bias is introduced is through the use of lighting.  The light breaks almost down the center of the boy, casting the left side of his face and shirt in shadow.  This lends a darker cast to the left, or "social" side, of the flier.   


In terms of the typographic layout, "Justice" and "public service" are thus equated with the shadow and with the boys "skeptical side," while Christ, "Sunday" (the day of prayer) and the bible equate with the light (as well as the boys "uncritical" side).

Probably the most cynical aspect of this poster, however, has to do with how -- in the attempt to disparage a single legislative procedure -- the ad not only vilifies the justice system, but feels the need to also denigrate the ideal of public service. 


Having squandered the opportunity after 9/11 to develop opportunities for collective sacrifice, volunteerism or other forms of social involvement, it is clear now that the Administration sees no good in public welfare unless it serves right wing interests.  At a time when George Bush is trying to channel as many federal social service dollars as he can to religious organizations, it would seem the right wing only approves of public service when it takes place under the auspices of the church.


The other strategy this ad employs involves the exploitation of children. Remember those kids who were arrested in Florida "protesting" in front of Terry Shiavo's hospice?  Even if these people belief that curtailing the filibuster process is a moral necessity, why place what is essentially a dirty fight in the hands of a child? And why disguise the issue in the context of a young man's vocational dilemma?

If these people were truly moral, they would be doing a lot more than shielding their kids from an ugly campaign.  They would be teaching their children that you can't overturn the rules anytime you can't win the game.


Type: Even if these people belief ...

I see the scale as saying the lower side (justice) is the one that "has more weight", or at least does for now. But it is a call to action to "balance it out". You know, like how a Greedy Old Party majority in Congress is "balanced", and Fox News is fair and "balanced". They love checks and balances, and laws, and ethics rules... Right up to the time such things aren't working in their favor, at which point it becomes a crisis that must be abolished. Their actions then say "Forget the balances. We will keep writing checks though. If you don't like it, we'll put a bounty on your head, then deny it, then blame the 'liberal' media for ignoring the full context surrounding said threat. But don't worry, the values voters proved themselves to be far too stupid to hold us accountable for anything, and they will even take into account our context. Because context sounds good while nuance sounds spooky even though the way we use those words it describes pretty much the same concept."

True justice is divine justice propounded at an Elmer Gantry Sunday megachurch-tent revival meeting in the little ol' state of Tennessee in the good old U.S.A. No amount of cynical comment could even begin to convey the level of the poster's arrogance and hatefulness. Just the organization's usurpation of the capitol dome as its symbol makes clear that these people claim the U.S. and its institutions exclusively for themselves or for those who are willing to be converted to their cause. No trespassing!

What a sly bunch.

Do they really mean that their children will be faced with a choice between 'faith in Christ' and 'public service'? As a rabid non-christian, I even find it horrifying that they could consider the two notions in any way logically contradictory. I can only assume that 'public service' must simply be an inept substitute for what should have been the term 'justice' but which was omitted to avoid confusion with the 'other justice', that is, the divine one. Substitute 'justice' for 'public service' and see how deviousness can be the only explanation for the mindboggling comparison. They can't really be against 'public service' as normally understood. Or am I completely ignorant of the progress these poeple have already made into the realm of hideousness?

Draw a black curtain over this boy and let him be replaced with his one-bared-breast counterpart at the Department of Justice. Her eyebrows have not been pencilled in, her expression contradicts the lying, advertising artistry depicting the boy's adult-imposed dilemma.

What I found interesting is how androgynous the model's face is. They use androgynous models in lots of advertising -- but it's strange to see one used to spruik a fundamentalist cause.

I like the "Question faith in Christ" logo myself. Not to fond of the "Question Justice" logo, though.

But I agree with the poster. He shouldn't have to choose. And the Christian Right shouldn't be forcing their choices on anyone else, either. It isn't a dichotomy, it isn't a dualism, there is more than enough room in society for people to have a legal system and not just one, but many varieties of religion. It is *exactly* this dualistic thinking that is getting the Christian Right into trouble. I don't think they begin to realize how deep that trouble is becoming as they piss off those of us who understand what this country is supposed to be about and reject their attempted takeover of it.

BTW, thanks for the great analysis you do, it's teaching me to do my own, as well. Here's todays.
Unfortuantely, the cartoon doesn't seem to be online yet and I don't want to waste my time scanning that image, or even giving it any undeserved attention, so I'll just post my analysis:

Mallard Fillmore cartoon sucks ass
April 17th, 2005

Just cancelled my LA Times subscription because of today’s Mallard Fillmore cartoon. I hope plenty of other people will do the same. Bruce Tinsley is free to have his opinion, but not to shove it in my face. He has his male character saying “I feel like we’re a little closer to being a civilized society, now that we’ve abolished the death penalty for everyone under 18! And a pregnant woman, with her stomach with a thought balloon of “well… not exactly everybody!”. The woman, of course, gets to have no opinion or express any thought, as apparently all Republicans believe women are not entitled to them. She merely stands with a vacuous stare on her face, her eyes covered with glasses so we can’t even see what her inner thoughts might be at all.

And this is what gets me. I could take the right’s opinions, if they would leave me with the opportunity to express my own. I could take their intolerance, if they would not insist on me being tolerant of their actions to make women totally voiceless in society again. They have every right to think whatever backwards, misogynistic thoughts they please - but they sure don’t have the right to silence my thought and my opinions.

Whatever one feels about abortion, and I think we can all agree it’s a difficult and unpleasant choice to have to make, it’s the woman’s choice that counts. To silence her opinion, her thoughts, her feelings about what happens in her life and any potential child’s life, is inane.

At first glance, I thought he was holding a gavel and a gold brick.

His hands are very strange.

The boy looks like a nice private catholic school attendee. Who is the audience here, anyway? It surely isn't the kid's age group, let alone college aged kids. So, this attractive "well groomed" 1950's era looking boy is himself a symbol- one who is directed to appear incapable of making the proposed decision for himself. Included in the message is the word "should" (ie "The Tyranny of Should"). Adults who view this message are handed a terrible decision cast by the word should.

hypothetical subtext via "tyranny of should":

"You should make the decision, otherwise you're wrongly subjecting this innocent boy to decisions he obviously is unable to make on his own. You're personally responsible--- so, should HE (personal pronoun) be left to make the choice? No, YOU SHOULD do it (or else be damned to failure!)"

this ad is a wonderful example of the terrible subjection and manipulation of the child for an audience.

ethics, anyone?

The gavel and bible were, quite poorly, photoshopped into the kid's hands. Its much more obvious if you look at the full size version.

Don't overlook the text as well: "He should not have to choose."

How apt, coming from the anti-choice, anti-freedom party.

Translation: "Our subjects should not have to make *any* choices. Big Government is here to tell you how to live your theocratic, Bush-worshipping life."

N'est-ce pas?

That is one of the cheesiest examples of PhotoShop abuse ever! Here's an improved version. Enjoy!

Ah, those reactionary Evangelicals are eroding the legislative process again, poor skeletal thing that it is. Considering that only one-third of the world's population is Christian (and probably less than half of these are Evangelicals), be a little skeptical that these outlaws will accomplish their cynical, [im]moral drive for world domination. Such denigrating descriptions are a little heavy-handed, no?

Digitally speaking, that gavel and Bible look pretty even-handed to me, however poorly Photoshopped they are.

And just to be fair, let's vilify all sides that exploit children's images for political purposes. Except for the ones that everyone can agree with, of course.

Christian (evangelical or whatever) world domination is not the issue. We had that more than a century ago, going back much further. The issue is the deep desire of a smallish percentage of U.S. persons (who also happen to be christians of a particular sort and happen to be represented by a disproportionate number of highly placed politicians) to influence the lawgiving processes of the entire U.S. of A. Full stop. Any influence abroad will be welcome, however secondary at this point. If successful, the consequences will extend from your say over your own body (women as well as men) to the rules of the workplace and all kinds of personal conduct: a general atmosphere of moral disapproval and oppression towards outsiders. But I can easily be mistaken that noncommital relativism greatly underestimates the danger.

i was hoping that you would put this image up, BAGman; imho this is one of your best analyses ever posted, too.

the essential conceit is inherent in the FRAME that there even exists this either : or choice...

...between what? lawlessness OR faithlessness ??

the phrase: "should not have to choose" is exceptionally disturbing. in effect, it is terrifying confirmation to many of us (over here) that what you (Americans) are actually doing over there is, indeed "making a choice" between THEOCRACY and DEMOCRACY.

our reaction is nothing short of breathtaking shock. we cannot imagine anything more un-American :-/

that Americans are divided as such is now clear; our only hope is that rational conservatives will bolt from this now un-American evident THEOCRACY frame, schism the Republican Party, thus.

MonsieurGonzo: you can ask yourself why you ever though otherwise. All the elements of this poster are standard components of the nostalgic U.S. psyche, however disappointing, played out endelessly and variously in movies, television, literature, pornography, politics etc., etc., etc.: a sublime relationship with the creator who created the U.S. In short, the physical world does not exist, however much we adore it.

Excellent commentary Bag.

I have been thinking lately about the history of Christianity and the right "to choose". The phrasing on this poster is like a public Freudian slip to me. Throughout history Christianity has seemingly done its best to take away the one thing that God has given to all humans created by God. (That is of course if you believe in God) Free will - the right to choose.

Personally, thats how I know the difference between someone who says they serve God and someone who really does. The one who really serves God is not afraid to let the other "choose" their own way to God without interfering or influencing their choice.

The one whose master is fear, and hence the darker forces, is afraid for the other to have a choice and they will do everything humanly possible (as their egos tell them that they are truly doing this in the name of God) to "save" the other from their choices.

Peace. Johanna

"[Whomever] should not have to choose" is simplistic, well-worn political rhetoric used by all sides at various times for numerous causes. It's similar to terms used to label the enemy, such as arrogant, hatefulness, horrifying, deviousness, hideousness, backwards, intolerant, misogynistic, tyranny, subjection, manipulation, anti-choice, anti-freedom, lawlessness, faithlessness, un-American, and other hyperbole (that comes just as easily from the mouths of this week's bad guys). So much for nuance: let's just save keystrokes and watch FOX News instead.

This poster may be propaganda, but it's amazingly well thought-out. Whatever cunning propagandist designed this could make a lot more money by working both sides of the street. And, noting the emotional ire raised here, the poster works pretty well, too.

"Propaganda in the broadest sense is the technique of influencing human action by the manipulation of representations. These representations may take spoken, written, pictorial or musical form." — Harold Lasswell, 1937

To avoid unnecessary confusion, remember that only the enemy is sly enough to implement their evil intentions by exploiting innocent children.

The point here is not throw stones at one side or the other, but to question anyone who uses superficial emotional appeals. Before viewing any of this stuff, take a deep breath and put your red (or blue) filters on. Wearing both might create a more three-dimensional view of things.

That was an excellent commentary.
I still cannot, to this day, understand how a person can be both a christian and a republican. I can't think of anything less christian in this day and age.

Excellent analysis, but I saw the scale with the gavel as weighing more than the bible visually. Maight that have been a freudian slip?

One other point: the way to find the truth behind propaganda is often to read it backwards.

The root of the false dichotomy that the poster presents (faith vs public service) is the neocon confession that their hijacked version of faith is indeed completely incompatible with service to the public.

I knew the language rang a bell. The "shouldn't have to choose" line echoes a letter about the


Re: Language. The poster creators are stating that he shouldn't have to choose, so their goal is that there be no choice, that is, that the boy enter into pubic service without the slightest doubt or hesitation about fulfilling his mission as a Christian. I can assure you that in their minds the only way this dilemna can be resolved is if, as a judge or legislator or otherwise, he simply applies Biblical principes in place of the law.

When Abraham Lincoln said, "I do not believe that this country can continue to exist half slave and half free," he followed by saying that he did not mean that it would cease to exist, but that it would "become all one thing, or all the other."

For these people, it's all or nothing.

I think your commentary misses the point. The way you have analyzed it, reveals more of your own whiny nature than your intellect. It is obvious that you just don't want right wing or evangelical Christians to have their say in public matters.

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