AMMI Explores Presidential Campaign Commercials with "The Living Room Candidate"

by Sandra Ogle

A screen shot from "The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952-2004," presented by the American Museum of the Moving Image. Image provided by AMMI.

"The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952-2004," a new online exhibit of more than 250 TV commercials and online ads from presidential campaigns presented by the American Museum of the Moving Image (AMMI), lays the history of political advertising on TV out for examination and delves into the important, and now necessary, role of the Internet in the campaign process. And as David Schwartz, the Museum's Chief Curator of Film noted, the exhibition is not just a history of American politics, but also a great time-capsule view of the evolution of filmmaking styles."

"The ads featured on the site are, in effect, short films that reflect the state-of-the-art cinematic techniques of the times in which they were made," Schwartz told indieWIRE. He noted that many of John Kennedy's ads from 1960 use the same American direct cinema style pioneered that year in Robert Drew's campaign documentary "Primary" and that Richard's Nixon's 1968 ads are collages of stills and music made in the same style of experimental films of the time. He added that this year, the ads reflect an interest in digital technology, multiple screens, and a move to the Internet.

The exhibit features ads from every presidential campaign from the Eisenhower v. Stevenson campaign in 1952 to the ongoing Bush v. Kerry race. A quippy summary of the evolution of political TV ads, full of historical tidbits that emphasize the way politics are framed and shaped by advertising, appears on the home page where all ads can be streamed. Commercials are divided by year, types (biographical, children, fear, etc), and issues (war, welfare, taxes, etc.). Results maps with electoral and popular vote tallies are just a click away, along with overviews of the major issues at hand that year. From Lyndon B. Johnson's notorious "Daisy Girl" ad in 1964 to Reagan's "Morning in America" ads to Bush Senior's attack ads in 1988, the exhibit proves to be a comprehensive resource for analyzing the still shifting landscape of advertising in politics and cinematic techniques.

"This timely exhibition comes during a year when the major parties will spend hundreds of millions of dollars creating and airing commercials," said museum director Rochelle Slovin in a prepared statement. "'The Living Room Candidate' combines the museum's three key subjects - film, television, and digital media - to create an exhibition that is entertaining and educational."

In addition to the streaming TV ads, "The Desktop Candidate" section has web ads from this year's election race created by the major parties and groups like and the National Progress Fund. Also, an archive of campaign web sites that dates back to 1996 is available, courtesy of the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.

The exhibit is currently on view at and the interactive installation, which opened June 30th, can be viewed at the American Museum of the Moving Image Café. A traveling version will be in Dallas, Texas at the Sixth Floor Museum in Dealy Plaza from July 2 to January 30, 2005.

[For more information, please visit:]