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Taking back political ads

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In a culture that limits much of its political discourse to 30 seconds of TV time, it's a challenge to communicate all of the things wrong with the Bush administration. But about 1,500 people gave it a shot in MoveOn.org's "Bush in 30 Seconds" contest. Winners were announced last week, and the political group has purchased $300,000-worth of national airtime on CNN and plans to air a 60-second version of the winning ad Jan. 17-21, to coincide with the State of the Union address.

Moveon.org said they expected about 300 submissions, but were deluged with entries from amateurs, political organizations and even some media professionals. Organizers put all of the entries online, and about 110,000 people voted for their favorites. An all-star panel of progressive celebrities (Al Franken, Michael Moore, Janeane Garofalo, etc.) chose winners from the 26 finalists -- you can still view those at www.bushin30seconds.org. The winner, "Child's Pay," was created by Charlie Fisher, creative director of the high-profile Leo Burnett ad agency, on his own time. It features children sighing and looking dreary as they wash dishes, haul garbage and work assembly lines to pay for Bush's $1 trillion deficit.

The contest has gotten a lot of attention--some of it from the Republican National Committee, which has issued statements condemning two of the submissions as "hate speech," because they drew direct comparisons between Bush and Hitler. (Neither of those ads made it to the finals.) MoveOn.org responded by saying that the RNC was "deliberately and maliciously misleading" people as to the nature of the contest and content of the winning ads.

Meanwhile, MoveOn.org pressed CBS to allow it to buy 30-second commercial airtime during the Super Bowl broadcast. CBS, which is owned by the media conglomerate Viacom, rejected the ad on Jan. 15, saying the network had a policy against running issue advocacy advertising.

Raleigh contestants Chad Halliday, Ben Fisher and Ben Halliday, who call themselves The Paperstreet Space Monkeys, didn't make the contest's final cut. But they did make a funny ad, which you can watch online at www.20dissidents.com/thankyouamerica.html

"We had more fun than I can even describe just making the thing," said Chad Halliday. "It was hilarious." He and Fisher, both 27-year-old attorneys who recently graduated from Wake Forest University law school, have no ambition to be professional filmmakers, but when they heard about the contest in October, they got excited. "We had some spare time on the weekends, and we thought it would be a great opportunity to make a difference." They wrote a song, "Thank you America," in which Bush and Cheney thank citizens for not fighting back against their agenda. Chad's 24-year-old brother, who is aspiring filmmaker, directed the ad, which was shot mostly at Chad's house in Raleigh.

In the ad, Bush and Cheney (played by Halliday and Fisher) peek into windows, play shirtless in a garage band and assault a derelict man in an alley for fun. "Our polls and the Nasdaq looking grim," they sing, "Took a lesson from my daddy and bombed a Muslim. Never mind our lies about WMDs/Hey, blood for oil--sounds fair to me!"

"We just kind of drove around and found a couple of dumpsters behind a supermarket in Garner," Halliday said, describing the site scouting. Chris Turpin, a friend who helped them Photoshop the heads of Bush and Cheney onto their own suited bodies, helped out in that scene, too: "He was the bum we were beating up on."

The project was time-consuming, but cheap. Borrowing a digital video camera, and using editing software already installed on one of their computers, they spent a total of $30, for a tripod.

"In this election, it seems like the most important thing to do is get Bush out of office," said Halliday, who likes Howard Dean but has no strong preference for a Democratic candidate. "I think the only thing we learned was that we're capable of doing something like this. We're pleased that things we thought were funny other people thought so, too. Hopefully we were able to change some minds. And the opportunity to get into the contest has spurred us to be more active politically."

"It was too much fun not to do it again," Halliday said. Maybe political ads aren't such a bad thing for democracy, after all.EndBlock

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