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    What a Drag!

    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.

    Want to know more? See my explanation of the belonging trope on my Word Hero site.

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    Reader Comments (6)

    Brilliant! I too had laughed at that ad. Now I'm crying inside.
    October 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRichard Wallenberg
    Smoking as trope. Interesting. So is every image a kind of trope? Every gesture?
    October 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSaldana
    Not necessarily, Saldana. A gesture can simply accompany a message--a smile, the wave of a hand, a gift. And an image is a trope only when it's a symbol, standing for something else. Sometimes, as Freud, said, a cigar is only a penis. I mean, a cigar.
    October 26, 2011 | Registered CommenterFigaro
    smoking is what separates us from the animals
    October 26, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterswampthing
    I appreciate your use of "synecdoche," but I'm not sure that the thing he represents is entirely flattering.
    October 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMotivational Speakers
    Maybe you're not the target audience, MS. It's not about a "flattering" image but one that doesn't appear to care about an image.
    October 29, 2011 | Registered CommenterFigaro

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