When Demon Sheep Attack


As my colleague Marisa Guthrie has reported, the Supreme Court’s recent decision to lift campaign-finance restrictions could mean rain showers of political-ad dollars for TV stations in the forecast. But it could also usher in a golden age of campaign-ad creativity.

Yes, I’m thinking of the just-released Web ad from former Hewlitt-Packard CEO and GOP Senate hopeful Carly Fiorina, now coursing through the Internet as the newly-minted Web meme “Demon Sheep.” It was paid for by Fiorina’s campaign, not a corporate or union entity, but it made me wonder what the Court’s interpretation of the First Amendment may yet inspire.

The 3-minute-plus ad is firmly in the tradition of bestial allegory apparently favored by Republican candidates, and takes aim at Republican Tom Campbell–Fiorina’s obstacle to challenging Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.)–by portraying him as a faux-fiscal conservative. (Scroll down to watch.)

After opening with a scene of sheep grazing in a pasture as a soothing female voiceover reads the on-screen words “Purity,” “Piety,” “Wholesome” and “Honorable,” the spot veers into an extended self-parody of an attack ad with a male voiceover that sounds uncannily like Telly Savalas reading an exhausting list of Campbell’s fiscal misdeeds (”And sadly,” he says at the 1:43 mark, “we’re just getting started.”).

A montage of Campbell, sheep, pigs, money, sheep, the word “deficit,” pigs, Campbell, pigs and sheep ramps up into such a surreal and anxiety-inducing flurry of images, I almost expected that demon child from The Ring to crawl out of the screen.

Finally, as the announcer wonders if Campbell is merely an “FCINO” (for “Fiscal Conservative in Name Only,” naturally), the ad takes the phrase “wolf in sheep’s clothing” to an absurdly literal level with the appearance of the Demon Sheep–what is clearly a man (alas, not a wolf) in a sheep costume, menacing the herd of sheep with luminous red eyes. Instant classic.

As ABC News’ chief Washington correspondent, Jake Tapper, noted in what looks to be an endless stream of pun-filled Tweets about the #demonsheep, the ad recalls earlier spots that used animals to symbolic effect. There’s the 2004 spot from George W. Bush, which showed wolves roaming the forest as stand-ins for the terrorists queuing up to strike the U.S. should Americans vote for John Kerry. An ad from Ronald Reagan’s 1984 re-election campaign used a bear in the woods to represent the ever-looming threat of the Soviet Union.

And then there’s 2008’s “Lipstick on a Pig” ad accusing Barack Obama of suggesting that VP candidate Sarah Palin was a lipstick-wearing pig (as opposed to a lipstick-wearing pit bull), though I don’t think any actual pigs appeared in it. And what about that infamous subliminal “RATS” ad from 2000–does that count?

Like many a Web-born flash in the pan, “Demon Sheep” may not even survive the weekend. But I don’t think I’ll be able to forget those glowing red eyes for a long time.