In his first TV ad of 2008, Sen. Norm Coleman said sometimes getting things done means "bridging a partisan divide" and that "it's not good enough tuh, tuh tear somethin' down."
I agree with the sentiment.
His campaign says his second ad "highlights Norm Coleman's 30-year commitment to bringing people together to get things done in Minnesota."
But here I beg to differ. This one is about something else entirely.
I'm not going to jump in where others have already questioned the recent spot — suggesting the Colemans were edited together in the 30-second kitchen skit. Instead, I'll focus on what the ad says — visually and subtextually. It amounts to the same thing.
Campaigns can deny they've implanted suggestive images in their political ads, but that doesn't mean they're not present.
Given that "Got It" has the production values, scripting and staging of a broadcast ad, and what I know of the ad industry, I have to believe every prop, movement, shadow, stutter, reflection, camera angle and edit has been carefully considered.
The explicit theme is Coleman's independence as a Senator and his readiness to "get things done." It's one of those soft, introducing-the-candidate ads that appear early in campaigns, like Al Franken's "Mrs. Molin" and Mark Kennedy's "About Mark."
The spot begins with a jaunty intro of 50's era domestic comedy music which continues to run underneath. It cues a viewer response of "this is light-hearted, not serious" and evokes pre-sex-revolution television in which hapless husbands were subservient to their stay-at-home wives.
Coleman's wife, Laurie, has a commanding, well-lit position in the foreground. She jumps right to the ostensible message: there are "some people" who'll "say he's a rubber stamp for the president, but he's been ranked as one of the most independent senators." This is the factual hook leading to a supporting point about Norm opposing some legislation that aided oil interests and sets up a joke about his supposed lack of domestic independence.
But the subtext is really about something else — I have to agree with the green-screeners on this — the Coleman's relationship. Yes, there are unusual dimensions, but don't believe the rumors, it says. Underneath, this Ozzie and Harriet, the Cleavers, Samantha and Darren.
Laurie, dressed more primly than viewers may be accustomed to seeing her, is bathed in golden light, while the darkly dressed Norm moves from shadow to sunlight far in the background. This violates the cliche of the candidate being face-to-face and within hugging distance of others with whom he seeks to demonstrate a close relationship. (Compare the distance between Colemans at home, this industrial kitchen shot from Blogs [sic] for Norm!, and the archetypal image of the concerned candidate holding forth to wrapt constituents. )
Though separated by a dark, oddly reflective expanse, the couple has matching, pure white coffee mugs the size of soup bowls, with heart-shaped tapering sides. Laurie cradles hers with a two-handed grip designed to highlight her wedding ring, twisted slightly to show off the rock in a close up.
Norm sips. Laurie never does.
In a bit of stage business to keep Norm from disappearing until his cue, he pretends to drink his coffee, pours himself a partial refill and then goes back to the newspaper at the far end of the island. Midway between them is an overflowing bowl of fruit, a symbol of fecundity and sign that the entire family must be around to consume so much bounty before it rots.
Norm's reflection, a dark, inverted Narcissus, extends around the bowl, facing his wife across the chasm, his heart a red apple bursting in silent supplication.
Although the kitchen has all the stripped down sterility of a TV lifestyle program or cooking show set, it maintains a few tiny swatches of color to warm the scene of faux domesticity in the black and white world.
An unclaimed juice glass on the island subtly proclaims the Coleman's life together is more than half full.
As the punch line nears, Laurie tosses a command over her shoulder. Norm immediately looks in her direction and offers a conciliatory open palm. She never faces her husband.
Compare this to the knee-to-knee interaction between Mark Kennedy and his wife in the 2006 ad, where she is affectionate rather than dismissive of her husband's foolish choices.
We next see him outside at his dumpster, leather jacket zipped up against late spring chill, and I want to ask: What kind of Minnesotan puts on a coat before taking out the garbage?
Coleman actually looks better and more natural in this ad than in so many of his appearances where he alternates talking out of the corner of his mouth and insincerely flashing his milli vanilla choppers. The bags under his eyes are missing in the soft lighting. He seems less horse-faced, and his swaggering chuckle after dunking the baggie gives a better sense of the man's charm.
You can disagree with this semiotic reading. It's offered partly in fun. But I guarantee you, none of what I've described escaped someone's professional eye before this commercial was cut.