Election Fraud

by Martin "Dr. Toon" Goodman

You like Ike
I like Ike
Everybody likes Ike!
Hang out the banner, bang the drum
We’ll take Ike to Washington!

- Eisenhower TV ad, 1952

Eisenhower made history with his decision to use animation for his Presidential campaign of 1952. Good going, Ike!

There was nothing very different about the spot’s animation; it was simple, stylized, and presented in black and white, quite typical for a commercial of its time. There was nothing notably controversial in it; true, some Democratic politicians were caricatured as donkeys, but vicious smears were likely not intended. The above ditty, sung by a peppy chorus, was no challenge to Gershwin. Political historians would never ascribe Eisenhower’s resounding victory over Adlai Stevenson to this ad’s influence; in fact, this spot was probably among the lesser weapons in Dwight David’s campaign arsenal. Yet, this cheerful campaign ad, run on national TV during the 1952 Presidential election year, remains to this day one of the most unusual animated commercials ever broadcast to the American public. In fact, it’s safe to say that in nearly half a century there has never been another one like it. What makes this ad so unusual? Simply this: It is virtually the only animated spot ever used to help sell a candidate for the Presidency.

True, there was a film called Hell Bent for Election produced in 1944; this 14-minute film was made in support of President Roosevelt’s campaign at the behest of the United Auto Workers. The UAW hired a firm called Industrial Films and Poster Service, the progenitors of United Productions of America (UPA). The film (directed by Chuck Jones) was extremely successful but it, too is an isolated example of animation used in the service of a political campaign. Why should this be? The reasons for the lack of animated campaign ads must surely be cultural, and specifically American. Or are they?

Animation Can Sell Anything
Since the advent of television in the 1940s, advertising agencies and animators have been comfortable bedfellows. With the appearance of affordable TV sets in the early 1950s, audiences made acquaintance with the Hamm’s Beer Bear, the Muriel Cigar Lady, Bert and Harry Piel, Markie Maypo, and sundry other ink-and-paint pitchmen who entertained us during breaks in Playhouse 90 and Our Miss Brooks. Some of these ads were made by famous animators such as Tex Avery and Shamus Culhane after they had assumed independent status from their respective studios. The next three decades witnessed a deluge of animated commercials, and they were used to sell every conceivable product that free-market capitalism could cram into our homes, garages, bodies and psyches. During the past ten years, the technological whirlwind known as computer graphic imaging took animated advertising up several levels, making it possible for 3D Goldfish crackers to cavort in a simulated environment or a kid’s face to morph into a slice of watermelon. Anything imaginable can now be sold more creatively than ever...with the exception of candidates for the Presidency.

Thomas Nast’s famous cartoon of the "Inflation Donkey." 19th Century History of Cartoons.
Father of American political cartoons, Thomas Nast.

This tendency is puzzling indeed. After all, this country does have a rich, often hilarious history of representing its politics in cartoon form. Thomas Nast (1840-1902) is credited as the father of American political cartoons. Nast made his reputation during the Civil War and created our rudimentary cartoon symbols; Uncle Sam, the Republican elephant, and the Democratic donkey all flowed from his imaginative pen. Nast was followed by visual commentators such as Bill Mauldin, Pat Oliphant, Herbert L. Block, Jeff McNelly and Garry Trudeau, to name but a few. Even the smallest of hometown newspapers makes room for a daily editorial cartoon, and frequently one good panel is worth a thousand filibusters. So...after 140 years of political cartooning, 100 years of animation, and 60 years of creative animated advertising only Citizens for Eisenhower and the UAW saw fit to run an animated cartoon spot?

The first assumption we could logically make is: Animated spots have been proven to lead to a candidate’s defeat. Not! Both FDR and DDE won their respective elections in ‘44 and ‘52; if anything, animated commercials would seem to boost a campaign. Dead end here. Could it be that the Presidency is too serious a subject to be associated with animation? That might have made a more valid point; historically, the President was rarely shown in American cartoons. The aforementioned FDR was caricatured several times (he even sang in the 1933 Walter Lantz cartoon Confidence), but by and large the Chief was shown from behind, sitting imperiously at his desk or depicted in shadow, suggested only by the presence of an arm or hand. Even the great iconoclast John Kricfalusi (in his 1992 short Powdered Toast Man) did not opt to depict Ronald Reagan nipped by his own pants; a generic stand in took a zipper for the Gipper.

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