Herman Cain's 'Yellow Flowers' Ad Is a Dadaist Meta-Western

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And despite its delusion about only liberals playing the race card, it's strangely enjoyable



"I am sticking with the mustache," Herman Cain declared on CNN earlier this month, and can you blame him? Some may see a mere personal grooming choice, but I cannot help but be reminded of Marcel Duchamp, who in 1919 painted a mustache and beard on a postcard sized reproduction of the Mona Lisa, bringing the Dadaist movement to wider popular attention. Can there be any doubt that Cain is the closest an American presidential candidate has come to being a fellow traveler in that movement? It was only when I watched the campaign ad above, titled "He Carried Yellow Flowers," that it hit me: surf the Internet for explanations of Dadaism, and you'll find that they double as descriptions of the Cain in 2012 campaign.

"This art movement was a protest, but at the same time it managed to be enjoyable and amusing. It was sarcastic, colorful, quirky and silly," says Pauline Go. "If a person at that time had not been aware of the logic behind the movement, he or she would have been wondering what the artist was up to creating pieces like the ones that were created. However, the artist who created the Dada art was very serious about his work." Said Israeli painter Marcel Jenco, "We had lost confidence in our culture. Everything had to be demolished... At the Cabaret Voltaire we began by shocking common sense, public opinion, education, institutions, museums, good taste, in short, the whole prevailing order."

'What we call Dada is a piece of tomfoolery from the void," Hugo Ball wrote, "in which all the lofty questions have become involved." Said Richard Huelsenbeck, "Dada means nothing. We want to change the world with nothing." Kurt Schwitters insisted that "we, members of the Dada movement, merely hold up a mirror to the times." Jacob Bendien argued that "the Dadaist is serious enough to doubt his own seriousness, and to convince the viewer to doubt him as well... Dada has nothing against being outright bombastic." And one oft-quoted Dadaist manifesto affirmed that "It's not Dada that is nonsense--but the essence of our age that is nonsense."

Herman Cain may not know it, but win or lose the GOP nomination, he is the Dadaist candidate for president. And I suspect that his candidacy will end as Dadaism did: "Just as many mainstream artists were thinking about this movement seriously, the Dada movement dissolved."

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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