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COTD: The Mitt Romney Pop Quiz: An Interdiscursive Attack Ad

October 12, 2011

Attack ads are to democracy what Bugles are to nutrition: they taste great but they’re shockingly bad for you. Nevertheless, I was fascinated by this “attack web site” created to highlight Mitt Romney’s supposed flip-floppiness on issues like healthcare, Roe v. Wade, unemployment and the Great Recession. The site is designed to resemble a pop quiz. For each question, two apparently contradictory quotes are presented and the reader is asked to choose which quote was spoken by Mitt Romney. A third option is presented as well: “all of the above.” Each time the answer is the same: all of the above. YouTube links are presented to prove that Mitt Romney said both things and the implied conclusion is that Mitt Romney contradicts himself on all the important issues.

A couple of things to notice about the ad:

1. The contradictions between the quotes becomes less clear as the quiz goes on. The quotes in the earlier questions obviously don’t fit together and require much less interpretation. It takes longer to figure out the conflict in the later questions.

2. The ad rests on the assumption that the meaning of Romney’s words is obvious and stable even without any context or information about the audience or occasion. An old trick, to be sure, but the YouTube videos add some credibility, even though their ability to provide context is limited.

3. The ad simulates user interaction by drawing on the discourse conventions of multiple choice quizzes. I’m not sure what to make of this choice.

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