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Note to Conservatives: Drop Poli-Sci, Take Marketing

"Have you noticed that all of these posters of John Ashcroft have a very Big Brotherish feel to them?"

So said my girlfriend as she dropped by with cookies this evening. (Either she wants them out of her room so she won't eat them, or she's fattening me up for a winter stew. I'm not inclined to inquire too deeply.) I'd not noticed these posters, as I'd had a rather long day of trying to catch up with tax reading I should have finished in September. But as I was due for a break, I dropped the textbook and went out to the elevator to take a look. Sure enough, staring back at me from the elevator wall was a bilious green photostat of John Ashcroft. My first thought was actually, "Wow... he looks like he's been arrested, and that's a bad photocopy of a mug shot." It had that half-grin, half-grimace begging to say, "Do I get my phone call now?"

Nevertheless, it didn't take long for me to figure out where my girlfriend was getting the 1984 vibe. The poster wasn't just in the elevator. Apparently members of the Conservative Club, the Federalist Society, and Columbia Republicans had exuberantly plastered poor Ashcroft's mug throughout dormitory lobbies, all over the student unions, and even on a couple of bus stops . [1] The posters were almost universally hung at head-height, and at times it seemed like everywhere you turned, John Ashcroft was watching you. One could be forgiven for imagining a sign like this:

There's something very dispiriting about such associations. Given that a minority of Columbia students are inclined to look favorably upon the man who threw a drape over the bare bosom of Justice, a careful marketing of Ashcroft's appearance should be the order of the day. For instance, what is he speaking about? I'm assuming he's not going to show up and assert his patriotic zeal, and indeed I was unaware it had been called into question. (A quick Google search suggests I'm wrong about this, and indeed possibly a bit naive.) I presume that "American PATRIOT," given its non-standard capitalization, refers to his involvement with the PATRIOT Act. Nevertheless, perhaps this could be made clearer to those who aren't political junkies?

But those are questions of substance, and I am more disturbed by the lack of style. Certainly college conservatives can advertise their ideals without having to either evoke fusty dead white men or the kind of propaganda used by the villains in Orwellian dystopias. I know that the "kinder, gentler conservatism" of Bush the Elder and the "compassionate" variety of his son are out of fashion, but does that mean we must adopt pea-soup green and disconsolate expressions as our style of the day?

It seems a bad sign when one's advertisements are perilously close to what one's adversaries would use for parody.

[1]: This being Columbia, it goes without saying that between discovering these posters and going back to photograph them, two events separated by less than an hour, one of the posters had already been torn down.

(The last link to Students for an Orwellian Society added 11/10, as I'd forgotten to do it this morning.)


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c.f. http://www.cafepress.com/patriotboy.12134174 and http://www.cafepress.com/patriotboy.12134622
"Do I get my phone call now?" cracked me up.

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