The TV commercial featured a little girl, standing in a field, picking a daisy. She began to count the petals, “1 …2 …3 . . .”
Then, as little girls sometimes do, she got confused by the numbers. As she mixed them up, a new voice rose in the background. It was a man’s voice, counting down a nuclear missile launch. “10 …9 …8 . . .”
Boom! An explosion.
Then a mushroom cloud.
Then another voice, quoting a poem.
Then an appeal to vote for Lyndon Johnson.
Believe it or not, this commercial was considered so controversial back in 1964 it only ran once. Once! Yet it became the most famous political ad ever. Commonly referred to as “Daisy,” it has been studied in political science classes and is revered by pundits for its one-punch impact.
A few weeks ago — 36 years after the original Daisy — a pro-Republican group made a new version. It also used a little girl, counting petals. It also ended with a nuclear bomb.
But unlike the original, this ad mentioned the enemy. The enemy was Al Gore. The message was that Gore and President Bill Clinton sold nuclear technology to “Red China” that would enable the Chinese to “threaten our homes.”
Therefore, vote Republican.
If the first Daisy ad created an uproar — after only airing once — you would figure this one, slated to air many times, would do the same, right?
What shocks us today?
The fact is, few people even noticed the new Daisy ad. It was a one-day story in the media. Little outrage. Little fear. In the end, it was pulled.
Still, it got me wondering: What has changed since 1964? How could something that once had to be yanked from view — because it was so chilling — now be so lazily dismissed?
Little girl, bomb, future in doubt — which part no longer shocked us?
Was it the children and violence thing? Have we grown so inured to true-life horror stories that we can’t get worked up over a theatrical one?
After all, with Columbine High School, with 11-year-old killers, with the recent report that a group of men and boys had molested a 13-year-old, mentally disabled girl, perhaps the clash of childish innocence with mankind’s brutality no longer startles us.
Is that our Daisy difference?
Or was it the part about nuclear weapons? Maybe we’ve seen so many “simulated” explosions we can’t get bugged by real ones? After all, the film “Independence Day” forever embedded the picture of the White House, symbol of our government, being blown to bits. The Gulf War showed us real people dying on TV — while we sat at home, eating potato chips. Movies and TV shows unabashedly feature footage of nuclear explosions. Maybe the mushroom cloud ain’t what it used to be.
Or maybe it’s the part about Red China. In the global economy, are people numb to communism? We’ve seen Russia crumble, and East Germany erased from the map. In 1964, the Cold War raged. Now the cold is in our haughty ignorance of foreign affairs.
Is that our Daisy difference?
Who lowered the bar?
Or perhaps it is something else. Perhaps politicians have dropped our standards so low, nothing shocks us.
Remember, back in 1964, what really jolted people was the image of kids and bombs being used for political gain. To win a vote? Why, it just wasn’t done! It was so …inappropriate.
Now? What is inappropriate? George W. Bush and Al Gore seem ready to do anything to shave a point. And the people behind their parties are even more desperate.
I called Tony Schwartz, who created the original Daisy spot in 1964. Now an older man, he noted, with pride, that his ad never mentioned the opponent.
“There are two types of ads, those that show what you do right, and those that simply attack,” he said. “And this new one simply attacks. They stole our idea and produced a piece of junk.”
They also failed to steal the one thing that truly made Daisy No. 1 unique. Remember I mentioned that it closed with a poem?
Well, the poem was from W.H. Auden. And the quote was this: “We must either love each other or we must die.”
“We must either love each other or we must die.”
How many of us believed that in ’64?
How many of us believe it now?
If you ask me, that’s the real difference between Daisies old and new.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org.