Of Sheep & Wolves

Not long ago, before the 2007 Saskatchewan provincial election, there was a controversial political ad involving animals. But in what appears to be classic decision-by-committee, the ad was diluted and unfocused. The resulting mishmash unintentionally communicated a narrative that subverted – even countered – the NDP’s intended message.

Perhaps the NDP felt the message would reverberate in Saskatchewan, because the wolf is a traditional enemy of the Farmer. But in a pull-your-punches move, the ads are softened by the addition of a large tongue dangling from the carnivore’s mouth. Instantly the animal is transformed from vicious killer to a cartoon, looking actually somewhat stupid rather than evil. This cartoon-ish shift instantly produced a mixed message, which didn’t help the NDP. For whatever reason, we rarely associate stupidity with evil. Perhaps because to be truly evil you need to be intelligent, not hapless. Certainly there is a long history in storytelling of the heroic and wholesome “idiot”. In any case, it wasn’t the only unintended message conveyed. Bubbly music and a woman’s voice are also used in the television commercial, again softening to mush what is supposed to be an attack-ad.

If your strategy is to make your opponent look scary, to accuse them of having a hidden agenda, making them look like a dufus dog with champagne music and sweet vocals isn’t the way to do it.

But perhaps the most confusing part of the campaign was that it apparently asks voters to vote for a party of sheep. We don’t usually associate sheep with being excellent leaders or representatives. Indeed, the common metaphors associated with sheep are the opposite: unthinking herd, meek, vulnerable.

And on another complimentary level, the ad campaign’s loose message can be interpreted as the NDP calling the *voters* sheep. And that’s never a compliment.

There a few pretty solid fundamentals in politics. Here’s a basic one: never insult the electorate.

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