Baker Academic

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Dog Whistling for Jesus

Last week action star Chuck Norris (and his wife) made news with a political ad containing a "dog whistle" remark.  In this context, a dog whistle is a phrase that is too vague to be understood by "outsiders" but makes a statement of ideological solidarity for "insiders".

The phrase that caused the stir was made by his wife, Gena. After quoting the (now) iconic Ronald Reagan, Gena Norris claims that Americans will send their children on the "first step to a thousand years of darkness" if they re-elect President Obama. You can view the full ad here; see especially the statements made from 1:40 to 2:00.

After reading several network reports and blogs on this statement, it became clear to me that this dog whistle was especially effective. Very few national reporters or political analysts were able to decipher what she was talking about.  Keith Olbermann (who takes himself way too seriously for a former ESPN anchor) was convinced that "darkness" was a racial dog whistle in reference to Obama's "blackness". Others suggested that the phrase was hyperbole connoting a possible era of American socialism.  But the contextualization necessary to understand this phrase is Revelation 20:1-7.

The interpreter who came closest to the mark suggested that the Bible predicts that Satan will reign for 1000 years before the apocalypse. But this isn't quite right since it is Christ who will reign for 1000 years, not Satan. This had me perplexed. Was Gena Norris drawing from some other tradition which taught that the antichrist would rule for 1000 years?

It wasn't until I read the KJV of Rev 20:3 that it occurred to me: "And cast him [the Devil/Satan] into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season."

The imagery is obvious enough: Satan will be shut up in the pit (i.e. darkness) during this 1000 year rule of Christ. Could it be that the Norris's are saying that folks who vote for Obama will be sending their children into the abyss with Satan?

What interests me most is the eschatology implicit in this claim... somehow, voting Americans can force God's hand into fulfilling Revelation 20. Are we to believe that voting republicans can stay God's hand?


  1. I watched it several times myself, not only because of the comment you speak of, but the look of "Stepford" on her face. However she has interpreted Revelation, it seemed obvious that this was a) A message specifically for the religious right and b) Meant to scare the same folks away from their ambivalence towards Romney and towards the fear of President Obama.

    Keith Olbermann is right too however, because at the heart of the Norris' fear and those they "whistle" to is that our president is "other". He's Kenyan, he's Hawaiian, he's Indonesian, he's Muslim, he's Black. All of these make him someone to be feared regardless of the fact that he's more Republican that Eisenhower and Teddy Roosevelt combined! It is his "otherness" that makes the leap from man to anti-Christ (or whatever such nonsense they believe) such an easy jump.

    Ironically, after a lifetime of struggling to understand the nature of racism, Chuck and his wife have helped me understand that these people are good people, scared to death of what they don't understand, and voting against President Obama in November will help them feel a little less afraid despite the notion of trying to out maneuver God seems futile.

    Little do they know that magic underwear will be worn by the next boogeyman!

  2. The phrase used by Gena Norris, "first step to a thousand years of darkness," is not gentle on the ears for those voters listening to the add. By utilizing this phrase from Revelation 20:1-7, she is directly using one of the strongest forms of propaganda: fear. Fear is a strong device in which it reaches our emotions and can lead people to do things they would never think of doing. By instilling this fear she is indirectly saying that if Obama were to be reelected for this term, there will be a "thousand years of darkness." For those who are not knowledgeable about the bible, in particular about Revelations, then they would be more affected by this use of propaganda. All they understand is that Obama=darkness, so we shouldn't vote for him again. This use of fear as a propagandizing tool, has been used by many like environmentalists when talking about global warming or pollution, and as seen in this add by politicians. Overall, this ad is trying to persuade others so that the "wrong" person doesn't get elected again.

  3. I thought more about this advertisement after we viewed it in class last week and I began to wonder how effective it was? How large of an audience base does the commercial reach and will it have the intended effect? It seemed to me, considering that it took me awhile of thinking about it and discussion to really understand it, that the ad would go over the head of the majority of Americans. Not to mention, it can easily be misinterpreted, as evidenced by many reporters and analysts. It is also interesting to see the influence of religion in the realm of politics. I have always believed in the separation of church and state, so for me personally, I did not really like how this ad linked religion and the upcoming election to such a great extent. However, it was interesting to see how a portrayal of Jesus continues to be used in modern times.

  4. The message that the Norris's put out has made me consider discussions about intended audiences and inside and outside perspectives. In line with some of the other comments, I too think that this message was meant to appeal to the “religious right,” but not necessarily to the exclusion of those who don't neatly fit in that demographic or to those who are on the fence about Obama and Romney. As Le Donne suggests, the vague nature of this political ad allows it to apply to more people, depending on how it is interpreted. Another commenter questioned the effectiveness of the ad, in part due to the difficulty in interpreting the Norris's message. I submit, however, that the vagueness of the ad and the difficulty in pinpointing a set perspective or agenda actually makes it more effective, insofar as its ability to reach a much larger audience. Had the Norris's directly quoted the book of Revelation or overtly condemned those who vote/voted for Obama, they would have immediately excluded certain audiences from the discussion.

  5. I agree with the blog post above that says that the majority of Americans would not be able to understand the hidden meaning behind the commercial. To be able to know what they were referring to when she says, "a thousand years of darkness" one would have to be familiar with the Bible in particular Revelation. Due to not fully understanding the meaning of the phrase, people start to misinterpret especially when it comes to reporters. I also feel like the majority of people when voting wouldn't rule a candidate out immediately just because of their religious affiliation. Yes, that particular person running for an office may have a different religion that you but that doesn't mean one should rule them out just because of that. They may be great in that certain office, despite their religious difference to the voter. Ultimately, I don't think religious views should have a role with political views.

  6. When we first viewed this ad in class, I was already looking for some sort of religious tie. We were told to watch the ad carefully and see what we could take out from it. We were given a common background where we were "told" of Chuck Norris' political stand and that it was a propaganda piece that would include religion to carry out its message. It seemed like we all found the advertisement silly.

    Watching it again now, after the elections, I found the ad to be extremely long in order to serve its purpose. I am left wondering just how many people were actually willing to take their time to view the ad carefully and whether or not they actually understood the religious meaning behind the advertisement...?