Texans Getting Campy

Lt. Governor David Dewhurst in cowboy attire

Image Credit: daviddewhurst.com

Hey y'all, in case you haven't heard, we're electing a new Lt. Governor this year here in the great state of Texas.  With four Texas Republicans competing for the position, a campaign is taking shape to see who can be the cowboy-iest candidate of 2014.  With a fight like that, you might expect to see some campaign ads that border on self-parody.  And what, my friends, do you get when sincerity fails?  Well, of course, a whole lot of camp!

 Incumbent David Dewhurst, who is (for real) a member of the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame, released an unusual campaign ad this week.  Before we view it, let’s take a look at a more serious cowboy call from contender and current Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples:


Ok, so we’ve got some typical campaign rhetoric going on here with a little bit of cowboy flair, but nothing too unusual.  Staples' team shows that our Texan values are threatened by the specter of the Democrats and big government (specifically, the evil Obama and his friend the state of California). And it’s no surprise that the ad finds a way to say “Todd Staples” as many times as possible while showing him practically BURST across a true Texan field on a horse.  He’s a cowboy in shining armor.  Let’s take this as an example of non-campy cowboy.  There’s nothing particularly failed about the sincerity of this campaign video—its effectiveness rests firmly in the success or failure of its polemics.  This is a candidate who’s clearly courting Tea Party conservatives and ready to toe the Republican party line, taking no prisoners.  (Perhaps it’s no coincidence that he’s considerably behind the other three candidates in a recent poll.)

But here’s what happens when the cowboy antics get a bit more theatrical: check out a favorite of mine (courtesy of Cate Coleman here in the DWRL), from current US Senator John Cornyn’s 2008 campaign:


The particular kind of camp we see here is determined by the audience:

 A youtube comment reading "LOL, I can't believe these people are serious."

A youtube comment reading "This is the funniest thing I've seen, not because it's funny, but because it's serious"

Image Credit: Screenshots form Cornyn's campaign video

It is the campaign’s attempt to be serious and the utter failure of that seriousness that makes this over-the-top cowboy spectacle campy—and it’s the risk that many conservative appeals to “traditional” Texan-white-rancher-values take.  

How, then, might a conservative campaign make the same kind of appeals to individualism and masculinity without resorting to the cowboy cliché? Take a look at Dewhurst’s recent campaign video as a response to that kind of rhetoric:

That’s right, folks.  No cowboys.  No news coverage.  No dark and foreboding shots of Washington or California.  Just a simple, sustained (nearly twenty full seconds) demonstration of bodily masculinity.  Contrast our TX t-shirt wearing SuperBeard with the California hipster literally fondling a shake weight.  Could it be that, unlike John Cornyn’s campaign, Dewhurst is intentionally using camp in his campaign rhetoric?

 A still from the campaign video showing TX and CA lifting weights.

Image credit: Screenshot from Dewhurst's campaign video

It’s a strange move that I think attempts to accomplish a few goals simultaneously.  First, in response to radical right complaints that Dewhurst isn’t “Republican” enough (perhaps because he has on occasion dared to try and cooperate with Texan Democrats in the State Senate), Dewhurst’s campaign produces a video so machismo that you almost can’t help but laugh.  The camp seems self-conscious—which we might infer from the heavily stylized camera filter and a variety of other formal elements of the film itself—but it is serious in its implications, that is, that the Texan economy is absolutely tied to strong, hyper-masculine leadership.  Bigger is better. Bearded is best. 

I dare say the video also makes sincere attempts to appeal to younger voters, although this might represent the limits of the campy aesthetic.  The crude, Instagram-like styling of the film (which, upon further scrutiny, is most interesting because it appeals to nostalgia for a time that young people in Texas never experienced outside of The Wonder Years and photo filters) has the most potential, despite its sincere intent, to fail.

Perhaps this lesser-watched Dewhurst video can tell us more about the campaign’s strange appeal to a hipster aesthetic.  Watch it and see if you think Texas is ready to “walk down the aisle” with Lt. Governor Dewhurst all over again:

Does it remind you, too, of a Royal Tenenbaums style narration?  What do you think of Dewhurst's campaign rhetoric?

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