Semiotic Weapons: decoding the NRA’s recent controversial ad

Stewart Sinclair in Guernica:

Flag"We know that the war against intelligence is always waged in the name of common sense.”

—Roland Barthes, Mythologies

“Here’s your sign.”

—Bill Engval, The Blue Collar Comedy Tour

How do you tell someone they’re reading a YouTube video wrong? How do you reveal, without offending or seeming pretentious, that they’re trapped in a myth constructed with ulterior—even malicious—motives?

That’s what kept me up one night after a comment war with a relative regarding a recent NRA recruitment video. The ad, called “The Violence of Lies,” drew criticism from people who claimed it incited violence, and support from those who perceived a counter narrative to the “Resistance.” But the argument left me rhetorically disarmed, unable to convince or concede. I wondered what good my education had been if I couldn’t negate propaganda, or expose such obvious media biases, with what I’d learned.

The ad seemed to operate on two levels simultaneously:

A woman, attractive, dark haired, strong jawline, stares into the camera. To me, she looks like a stern mother, wife, and authority figure. To NRA members, she’s Dana Loesch, talk-radio host, television host at TheBlaze, and author of two books: Hands Off My Gun: Defeating the Plot to Disarm America and Flyover Nation: You Can’t Run a Country You’ve Never Been To. She’s the ideal woman, a spokesperson selected to arouse conservative US males seeking a partner who can defend herself, and a beautiful (white) woman under siege. She speaks directly to us, as a portentous string arrangement plays:

“They use their media to assassinate real news.” A shot of the New York Times building in Manhattan (framed so the logo isn’t seen), which from my perspective would symbolize the American free press, the fourth estate; but to the NRA’s ideal viewer, the view is inverted—the Old Gray Lady is a mouthpiece of the establishment. Then a schoolyard, indistinguishable from any other, except for two skyscrapers in the background—One and Two Liberty Place—situating it in Philadelphia. If you hadn’t noticed them, you’d still presume the school was urban based on the mural, a diverse array of faces—hopeful children, influential icons of color. From one vantage point, an homage to multiculturalism. From another, an assault on American identity—a refusal of assimilation as a core tenet of the American dream.

“They use their schools to teach children that their president is another Hitler.” Scenes in Central Park, children playing on a sculpture. Beyond the canopy, 432 Park Avenue, the second-tallest building in the western hemisphere behind only One World Trade Center; a stick of a luxury high-rise known to New Yorkers as “The Pencil Tower.” Ironically, populists on the right and left perceive this tower as an excess of capitalism and elitism. It’s a pied-à-terre for Russian oligarchs and other wealthy individuals.

Then, briefly, the White House, the only one of Trump’s residences appearing in the ad, maintaining the White House as the seat of power, occupied by a populist insurgent, fighting, in the Oval Office, for the people, while Washington insiders, special interests, and violent protesters obstruct his agenda.

“They use their movie stars and singers and award shows to repeat their narrative over and over again.”

More here.