Trutanich Crime Ad: Tempest in PC Teapot
Until last Sunday, many if not most Los Angeles voters had probably only heard of one of the City Attorney candidates, the somewhat annoying Westside City Councilman Jack Weiss. But then the Los Angeles Times endorsed Carmen "Nuch" Trutanich and we suddenly realized a race was on. The Times assured its readers that "Nuch" was a man of vision and solid virtues. Weiss' backers have found more faults than virtues, however, accusing Trutanich of being either a member or sympathizer of the National Rifle Association, while also, as an attorney, having defended a man charged with shooting sea lions off Catalina Island. Perhaps the worst charge, though, was that a Trutanich television spot depicted L.A. gangbangers as menacing Latinos.
A word of advice to the Weiss campaign: Don't go there. Trutanich's
ad was just one in a historical library of law and order ads (i.e.,
"Riordan: Tough Enough for L.A.") that depict criminals as the enemies
of society. Where these ads get sleazy and truly divisive is when they
showing Mexicans stampeding across dry river beds or past border
checkpoints. The Horton ad was sleazy because Bush's campaign staff had
a choice of cases and images to choose from, but picked one for which
Dukakis bore no responsibility - simply to use the image of a scary
Wilson's attack on illegal immigration did not have such a choice,
because no Canadians were climbing over fences to reach the Lower 48.
It was divisive, nonetheless: "They keep coming," the voice-over
intoned over scenes of Hispanic invasion. What made Wilson's commercial
so odious (and effective) was its telephoto shots of the "they" who
kept coming like a faceless herd. By focusing on teeming hordes, the ad
dehumanized the immigrants and played on the racial fears of
The Trutanich spot ("A True Crimefighter"), which emphasizes the
candidate's credentials as a former prosecutor, uses actors in a
rapid-fire, half-minute montage of images. The actors appearing in one
urban tableau certainly look like Latino gangbangers attired in
sunglasses and Pendleton shirts. But the image is gone in about two
seconds, before the eye can really focus on it. Is the spot reductive?
Yes, but that's the function of any political ad. More important, it
presents a statement about Trutanich's history in visual shorthand
without harping on its targets' backgrounds. Weiss' supporters should not
want to play a PC game about stereotyping that can only
backfire. The fact remains that L.A. has an entrenched
gang culture and most of it is Latino. The people who deny this reality
might as well picket West Side Story because one of its story's gangs is Puerto Rican.