By Thomas Casey
‘You Can’t Stump the Trump Volume 4’ won’t reach the campaign advertising Hall of Fame. Daisy, 3 O’clock Call, and Willie Horton will never have the seven minute YouTube video amongst their ranks. Yet, the absurd, thinly veiled propaganda piece sets an interesting precedent for the future of offbeat Internet advertising. ‘Can’t Stump’ reached thousands of eyeballs, including those of its subject matter. Mr. Trump saw enough promise to tweet out the video’s URL to his millions of followers. On a superficial level, ‘Can’t Stump’ seems frivolous. However, an insidious undertone makes the pseudo-parody montage a fearful gateway.
The establishment’s relationship with the Internet is prodigious and flawed. The first major attempt I witnessed of an organization leveraging Internet vibes for consumer connection occurred during the 2015 Super Bowl. Coca-Cola hedged 6 million dollars on an advertisement hoping to connect spunky cyberspace with its fizzy product. Coke failed.
The 60 second spot, titled #MakeItHappy, opens with a series of cuts that demonstrate the dark side of the Internet. Rampant name calling and virulent net users bombard the information superhighway. The ad pulls away towards an enormous server room. A clumsy NSA employee spills Coke on DARPA’s Internet Mainframe. The bottle’s sheer willpower and 65 grams of sugar per serving transform the web into a cordial, carbonated wonderland. The camera spotlights the lives of Janes and Johns in the real world as they interact with a happier Internet. In one particularly poignant moment, an inspirational message pops onto a bus stop shelter. A woman sitting nearby smiles. The viewers gag.
Coke’s use of populist Internet culture was fairly transparent. We all knew it was an advertisement when it started. We all shrugged it off as poorly implemented Millennial targeting when it ended. ‘You Can’t Stump the Trump Volume 4’ lurks in a shadowy sphere of Internet based marketing. YouTube user Can’t Stump the Trump made her eponymous web-series in summer and autumn of this campaign cycle. Her fourth entry garnered major notoriety when Mr. Donald Trump himself retweeted the video. Mr. Trump tagged the likes of Drudge Report and Breitbart News. The video surprisingly follows the same formula as #MakeItHappy, to wildly different results.
The montage opens with Mr. Trump in the second Republican primary debate. A narrator with a voice from a text-to-speech program informers the viewer of Mr. Trump’s rivals’ quests to stump the Republican frontrunner. Mr. Trump stumps his first challenger, Rand Paul, with a disparaging remark about Mr. Paul’s appearance. He proceeds to annihilate Megyn Kelly and Jeb Bush with an incredibly stumping. The video creator uses numerous filters and sound effects to distort the footage. The video culminates with Mr. Trump at a No Labels, a centrist political group, town hall. A young woman challenges Mr. Trump with the question “If you are president, will I be paid the same as a man?” The text-to-speech narrator laments Mr. Trump’s inevitable stumping at the hands of the woman. Mr. Trump miraculously avoids the stumping by responding, “If you do as good a job!” The video celebrates Mr. Trump’s victory.
The seven minutes of absurdity seem harmless initially. The creator simply lampooned an interesting national event. She used Call of Duty, Team Fortress 2, air horns, text-to-speech, and the Illuminati to generate laughs. A deeper investigation is more unsettling. Just as Coke used Internet comment sections and macro images to sell viewers soda, ‘Can’t Stump’ uses Internet tropes to sell viewers a more devious product, Donald Trump. One of the top replies to Mr. Trump’s tweet nails the sentiment. “This isn’t a parody. It’s a tribute.”
Of the nearly 6,000 retweets and 300,000 views, how many were un-ironic? Of course, there are no disclaimers, no “Paid for by Donald Trump for President.” But, ‘Can’t Stump’ is most definitely a homegrown campaign material, a fan-made homage to Mr. Trump. On a first viewing, the propaganda is unnoticeable. The ridiculousness of the rapid pacing and unconnected imagery overshadows any political endorsement. A second viewing shows that Mr. Trump himself is never the target. There is not one ounce of sarcasm within the jokes. ‘Can’t Stump’ celebrates Mr. Trump for its entire duration.
Be careful about what you share online. Political, corporate, or otherwise, online creations can have ulterior motives. Understand that videos like ‘You Can’t Stump the Trump’ exist for purposes beyond satire. With the understanding of its insidious nature, you can finally watch ‘Can’t Stump’ the way people have always viewed online content, with a sarcastic, skeptical, postmodern, yet humorous frame of mind.
You can see the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MKH6PAoUuD0 or by Googling ‘You Can’t Stump the Trump Volume 4’ and selecting the first result.