I sorta had a feeling I’d be writing this piece when I posted Ehlinger’s Janice Hahn attack ad. I know the filmmaker is a big boy. He can handle the criticism and he can answer his critics better than I can. However, allow me a few words in his defense.
Let me come right out and say it: Ehlinger’s ad is not an even-handed look at the issues surrounding Janice Hahn’s decision to run for Jane Harman’s seat. The ad is about as subtle as a bulldozer.
What we’re dealing with is a political attack ad as a blunt parody. Ehlinger is working several angles here. First of all, he is satirizing the blinged-out oversexed “money-cash-ho’s” hip-hop video style that has taken over the visual depiction of the rap game in the last decade and a half. Watch a few of these classic artistic gems of timeless elegance [sarc/]. Ehlinger isn’t advocating for this kind of stuff, he’s mocking the hell out of it. He’s turning the conventions of the typical rap video on their ear.
The thing is, I respond to this sort of broad parody because I think modern hip-hop ran out of visual ideas sometime around the year 2000. The dudes hanging out of Bentleys, flossing their ice and turning every woman they see into a sex object? Yeah, that shit is just as played out as a Motley Crue video from 1986. The problem is that as lame as it is, kids seem to buy it. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make fun of it and get a laugh out of the cliche. Anytime somebody takes the piss out of the lack of imagination in rap videos and does it well, I laugh my ass off.
The other way I see this clip is from a political angle. Ehlinger is satirizing the kind of clueless white-guilt liberalism that sees thugged-out black and Hispanic gang members as ‘authentic’ voices of oppressed minorities. What did Janice Hahn try to do? Buy off organized crime sets in the hope that throwing money at these ‘poor, disaffected youth’, they’d stop doing gang-banger type shit. Instead, they took Hahn’s dough and remained part of the criminal element.
In other words, the gang members treated Hahn like the OG’s in Ehlinger’s video treated the stripper–a fool who lets herself get punked. That’s the message here. It has little to do with ho’s or guns or makin’ it rain. It has a lot to do with illustrating the fact that Janice Hahn is a grade-A chump who shouldn’t be allowed to fail upwards just because she wants to play nice in the sandbox with hardened street hoods.
Compare Ehlinger’s clever multilayered parody with this liberal attack ad from the Agenda Project.
Again, we’re treated to a not-so-subtle political shock video. On the surface, it might seem like these ads are just representing opposite sides of the same coin. The truth is that these two clips are worlds apart in style and in the type of message they are sending to viewers.
Agenda Project’s ad isn’t satirizing anything. Unless rolling an elderly person off a cliff is hi-freakin-larious to you, there’s no humor here. It’s just a scary scenario with scary words meant to make senior citizens deathly afraid to vote Republican. From simply a matter of artistic merit, the Granny-Over-The-Edge ad is the equivalent of 70’s-era Soviet propaganda.
More importantly, Ladd Ehlinger is trying to make you laugh as he makes you think. You might not have thought the ad was funny. You may have found it crude. But the clip is far more thoughtful and thought-provoking than the Agenda Project’s piece. All they’re trying to do is turn off your brain with fear–PAUL RYAN IS OUT TO KILL ME!!!!!!!!!!!!1111111111eleventy!!!!!.
I’m perfectly fine with people disliking Ladd Ehlinger’s clip. It is a tough pill for a lot of folks to swallow. You are well within your rights to be offended by it. I guess what I’m hoping for is that even if people disagree with the ad, they disagree with it for the right reasons. If it’s a matter of taste or decorum, that’s cool. I can respect that. If it’s a matter of not liking the style, I can happily accept that.
But don’t hate it because it’s not clever. What we’re dealing with is a thoughtful multifaceted satire, far better than Family Guy and on a par with anything on South Park. Like I said before, that’s good enough for me.