Nasty Nature: Rick Perry’s “Strong”

How are the connotative associations of nature put to work in Rick Perry’s controversial “Strong” Youtube campaign video? This post proposes an answer.

“You don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know there’s something wrong in this country [USA]”, preached Rick Perry in his “Strong” video, launched as part of his 2012 Republican presidential nominee campaign. The source of Perry’s now notorious problem is that “gays can serve openly in the military but […] our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school”. While Perry’s first problem seems to be a win for equality, and the latter seems to be a rally against America’s constitution (which mandates the separation of church and state), what I wish to draw attention to is the video’s insidious use of nature to promote Perry’s poisonous point of view.

Not set in an office, not set in a church, this video is set outdoors. Sturdy trees, rustling leaves, still water and green, green grass are the backdrop for Perry’s speech. Why? Because they are nature, and nature is objective and good! Moreover, nature is inevitable and universal!!

At least these are common ideas attached to the concept of nature. They are associations the video-makers attempt to exploit to lend credence to Perry’s sermon. In this video, nature is more than a backdrop or setting. It operates to subtly reinforce the “naturalness” and “truth” of Perry’s message. This edenic paradise supports Perry’s claim to “show things the way they really are and have always been” by penetrating all the pesky ways that civilisation distorts and corrupts clear-sighted truth—which, this video’s setting suggests, are readily apparent in this prelapsarian nature.

What I am suggesting is that the nature in this video is in fact rather unnatural. Of course the trees, leaves, water and grass exist in nature, but once co-opted by Perry’s political campaign, their status as Nature—in the sense of being objective and untouched by culture—have been transformed. They have become tools in Perry’s political ambitions, strategically chosen and deployed to make his message seem natural and therefore objectively true and right. This setting was most likely chosen as suitable because of its likelihood to encourage the audience to unwittingly make this chain of associations—associations which culture, not nature, has constructed and continues to reinforce.

Nature as it is used in “Strong” is not objective, inevitable or universal, rather it is deployed to help construct a version of reality that excludes and demonises people based upon their sexuality. This is a “nature” that should be contested and rejected.

Have you seen any examples of nature being used to “auietly” legitimate political positions in campaign media? Share and discuss below.

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3 thoughts on “Nasty Nature: Rick Perry’s “Strong”

    • Thanks for your comment. I hadn’t considered it before, but your comment got me thinking that this staged eden version of nature doesn’t do biodiversity any favours either. Nature’s not-so-aestheically-pleasing aspects (but which are nonetheless an essential component of biodiversity) are conspiciously absent from this video. I imagine the blob fish would be equally unwelcome in Perry’s sanitised and exclusionary “nature”.

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