Tuesday, June 29, 2010

To serve, protect, and/or scare the hell out of

Birchibald T. Barlow: But suppose for a second that your house was ransacked by thugs, your family tied up in the basement with socks in their mouths, you try to open the door but there's too much blood on the knob-

Mayor Quimby: Ah, er, what is your question?

Barlow: My question is about the budget, sir.

The Simpsons, "Sideshow Bob Roberts"

The government of Sacramento County, California (Hat tip to Hit and Run), like many government bodies in that state, needs to cut spending somewhere. When it was suggested, in light of the fact that Sacramento's murder rate is the lowest it's been in decades, that part of the cuts needed to make up the county's $180 million might come out of law enforcement spending, the sheriff's deputies union decided to skip any attempt at anything even vaguely resembling rational discourse and responded with an ad campaign that included, well, this:

The ad, put out by the Sacramento County Deputy Sheriff's Association, shows a terrified-looking young girl with a large, burly arm and hand wrapping around her and clamping over her mouth. Below the image in large text are the words "Your child's safety is at risk!", followed by a few sentences in smaller print about an ominous upcoming budget meeting.

While the image as a whole is about as subtle as a shotgun blast in the face, when looked at in parts it's also a model of the use of subtly reinforcing details that create an aura of fear, helplessness, despair, and corruption. The girl's panicked eyes are tilted so far back in her head that's she seems to be looking almost straight up, suggesting the towering size of her attacker. Her own hands are partially visible, pitifully small , pushing against the hand and arm of her attacker in a clearly futile attempt at resistance. His index finger is just below her nostrils, and his thumb is poised pincer-like just above them, moments away from stopping her breath.

The assailant's hand and arm is the only part of him visible on camera, and the dark material of his shirt sleeve against the dark background makes the hand look almost disembodied. His evil is intangible, sourceless, omnipresent, and literally faceless, seemingly striking from nowhere. At the same time, the hair on the back of his hand is dark and fairly dense, his veins and knuckles bulge, his skin is rough, and his fingernails are dirty-looking; he is crude, animalistic, and brutishly masculine, especially when juxtaposed with the girl's pristine fragility.

Even the letters of the ad's dire warning, white text on a black background, look gritty, damaged, stained, and besieged. The white is irregularly speckled with little black dots that get more common the closer you get to the letter's edge, and at the outer borders of some of the letters are larger black marks and splotches that seem to be in the opening stages of invading or consuming the words.

I'm quite accustomed to public employee unions treating their budget as some sort of inalienable patrimony that ought to exist independently of the community's actual needs, and of responding to the prospect of budget cuts with hysterical threats about the catastrophe that will ensue if they are no longer kept in the manner to which they are accustomed. Similarly, images of children in peril or vulnerable-looking females being sexually menaced is hardly unknown in political propaganda. Nevertheless, this is the first time I've seen an argument over personnel cuts reach the point of "Here's a photo of what it will look like when your daughter is kidnapped, raped, and probably murdered because you reduced our budget." The centrality of hysterical fear in politics is something I've become pretty inured to over the years, so it comes as a surprise to discover that I can still be surprised by this sort of thing.

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1 comment:

B.R. Merrick said...

It is also another subtle dig to the myth that men, especially single men, essentially can't be trusted around children. If they are interested in children (as I am), then they are only sexually interested.

We are now ruled by hysterical soccer moms, whom I collectively despise.