Herman Cain’s latest Web ad shows his campaign manager taking a puff from a cigarette and blowing meaningfully into the camera. Pundits immediately chortled; one Washington Post blogger called it “the ‘Showgirls’ of political ads.” But should that cigarette become the butt of political jokes? Figaro thinks otherwise.
The cigarette represents a gesture, or rhetorical image. As with any gesture, you need to look behind the signal to the “orator’s” goal. What’s behind the smoke? What’s the motive?
In this case the motive is clear: to motivate a core group of passionate activists behind Herman Cain. The star of the ad, Mark Block, isn’t trying to convince the nation that Cain would make a good President. He’s trying to convince a few thousand Americans to get behind the candidate. So he appeals to that group’s values. What do these potential supporters value most? Blunt honesty. Anti-PC. Marlboro Man toughness.
So, while blowing smoke at the American voters may not seem like the height of honesty to most of us, to a select audience, the image is perfect.
A smoker who’s not afraid to smoke in front of other people. He represents a do-it-my-way kind of orator. Which, in turn, makes him a neat synecdoche.