Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

flag flower bed

parker basket thumb
Princeton, MAINE USA

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

‘Daisy Girl’—The First Attack Ad

Lyndon Johnson’s nuclear daisy game may have clinched the presidency.

imageLBJ’s “Daisy Girl”

aired September 1964

Probably the first political attack ad was painted on a cave wall somewhere in France. But the one we first remember was aired on U.S. television September 7, 1964.

“One, two, free, four…” A tiny girl pulls petals off a daisy. Birds chirp in the distance. Then her count up is muffled by a bellowing countdown. The camera closes in on her dark, innocent eye, where a nuclear bomb blast swells.

Johnson’s voice runs over the image of a mushroom cloud. These are the stakes! To make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die.

Follow this link to watch it yourself.

People were appalled by the ad, which never aired again. But it drove home the idea that Johnson’s Republican opponent for the presidency, Barry Goldwater, was trigger happy, and in an age of hideous weaponry could bring world holocaust. In our view, the use of the simple daisy game is what makes this such powerful propaganda. A childhood custom so simple it seems born of Nature is blown apart by technologies of hate. 

Daisies have been associated with women and children for many centuries. By the “logic” of the ad, a vote for LBJ was an act of sanity first, but also of chivalry. “I think LBJ would have won without it. It probably didn’t win or lose him any states,” says Sean Wilentz, “but it was a real moment in advertising history.”

Here are a number of commentaries about both the original ad and a new version, created by MoveOn in 2003 to oppose George W.  Bush’s reelection.  This article suggests that the TV attack ad has had its day (and certainly the failed MoveOn experiment suggests that’s so).

If you’d like to watch a bunch more political ads and snippets, including Bush Senior’s appallingly effective “Willie Horton” commercial, have at it.


Posted by Julie on 06/28 at 12:48 PM
Art & MediaPoliticsPermalink