Home > Uncategorized > Dosing up the docile body- applying biopolitics to political ads

Dosing up the docile body- applying biopolitics to political ads

In the book Campaign Advertising and American Democracy (2008) by Franz, Freedman, Golstein, and Ridout a metaphor is introduced for the American campaign advertisement: The campaign advertisement as the multivitamin. The authors argue that most Americans are malnourished when it comes to politics and political information and that “campaign ads serve as vital information supplements…[and] campaign ads can help sustain the body politic” (p. 11). The authors also argue that like supplements, people require more than just a multivitamin. “But like all vitamins, political advertisements are most effective when they are supplementing, rather than supplanting, more substantial sources of nutrition” (p. 143).

The metaphor of the political spot ad as being like a multivitamin for citizens getting a daily dose of democracy is an interesting one. This metaphor provides a solid link for rhetoric scholars interested in Foucaults idea of biopolitics and the biopolitical body. One of the main tenants to this critique is the idea that the body is marked by politics and government. The body is marked as a citizen and as such has demands placed on it by the state, such as: it is situated within particular political and legal systems, it is disciplined by the political and legal apparatuses, and it is part of the body politic. Agamben suggests that it is democracy that compels law to assume the care of the body and that democracy has a biopolitical hold on its citizens in that is suggests the body is a sovereign subject, but that its sovereignty is disciplined by the political & legal apparatuses of democracy, thus sacrificing the body to the government resulting in a body marked by its role as a citizen and member of the body politic.

Connecting the link between the metaphor of the ad as a multivitamin to be consumed by the body politic in order for it to get a necessary dose of democracy with biopolitics allows for scholars to critique the rhetoric within political ads within the context of this metaphor and its biopolitical implications. For example, Franz, Freedman, Goldstein and Ridout study ads from the 2000 and 2004 elections by combining “information on what was aired within information on the viewing patterns of respondents to various surveys” (p. 137) and they found that ads provide information (especially negative and contrast ads), they found that ads influence voters turnout, and that ads do in fact have a positive influence on democracy in that the body politic are, as the metaphor suggests, getting a “dose” of democracy. From this information this book could have taken a biopolitical route, in that: after finding out that ads from 2000 and 2004 suggest that political ads promote democracy a critique could be applied to what this means for citizens and their role as a marked body being influenced by the political process. One could argue that although people boast democracy as an inherently positive political apparatus in that it “serves the people”, the dosing up of people to be more complacent within the current “democratic” system actually creates docile bodies. Docile bodies, may be more likely to vote, as the book suggests, but docile bodies are also more likely to conform to the status quo risking those citizens who are at the disadvantaged pole of the biopolitical fracture. The biggest disadvantage to risking this section of the body politic is that the fracture has in the past and in the present been solved by exterminating and eliminating certain populations, also in everyday normalized practices, these populations are silenced, disciplined, punished, exiled, and even forgotten (Agomben 1995, Homo Sacer).

Overall, although the book boasts that ads benefit democracy, the book fails to apply a critical lens on what that actually suggests for the body politic that they want to dose up. This scholar encourages people to look beyond the “effects” research to how we can better understand the critical implications of these “effects” and what that means for populations who are at the mercy of these political apparatuses and their “effects”.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Brian Houston
    October 27, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    But the multivitamin metaphor is not necessarily a “dose” of democracy, but rather a dose of the knowledge necessary to properly participate in democracy. And I’m not sure why taking a knowledge multivitamin would result in a “docile” body. I see it resulting in a healthy and active (engaged) body. And a healthy body is resistant to attack.

    Also, a democracy does more than “serve the people,” it is the people. So a healthy body is able to participate in this system, as opposed to an unhealthy body that cannot participate and is in turn acted upon by those who do act.

    Regardless, the multivitamin metaphor is my favorite part of this book. Particularly the authors argument that multivitamins are most helpful when they are taken to supplement a healthy diet, instead of being taken as sole sort of nutrition.

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