01/02/2006 12:28 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Reading The Pictures: FOX Fools With Pole Position


When it comes to visual exploitation, what one would automatically dismiss as a heavy-handed FOX Sports NASCAR commercial is probably a lot more crafty than it looks.

In the commercial, titled "NASCAR War Zone," a race track is transformed into a hellish battlefield scene in which a racing driver, instructed by an off-camera "walky-talky" voice, tries to fight his way toward a hill with a checkered flag.

capture flag montage.jpg

It is not just this ad-watching blogger that found the commercial in poor taste. Even the people at Ad Week were turned off. Editor Hoag Levins comments:

"The camera work, blast effect, and radio traffic are all designed to evoke the same emotions as those we feel watching news clips of the latest firefights in Fallujah or Tikrit -- where the participants don't get to sew product promos all over their uniforms."

From a symbolic standpoint, however, that's not the worst of it. In a subtle if perverse cribbing of American culture, the spot seems to associate itself with one of the most famous and heroic war pictures in history. Here's how one of my blog readers explains it:

It appears to me that the orientation of the flag -- which shows up in several different shots [in the commercial] -- is a transparent allusion to the iconic World War II Iwo Jima photo. I've played quite a few versions of Capture the Flag in video games, and not a single one of them had the flag planted at any angle at all. To the best of my knowledge, in military contexts, flags are always flown vertically, unless they're being carried in a parade, or, say, in the middle of being planted by WWII Marines after winning an incredibly brutal battle in the Pacific.

I think our culture has probably gone too far now in canonizing everything about WWII and its veterans, but this ad struck me, at sort of a visceral level, as being a bit sacrilegious. It may somehow be a subconscious thing that made the ad people fly the flag in that way, but I sort of doubt it. I personally can't think of any other context where I've seen a flagpole tilted one way, with the flag itself being blown the other way.


For comparisons sake, here is the top portion of the famous photo taken by Joe Rosenthal on February 23, 1945 at Iwo Jima. You can judge for yourself whether the usage is incidental or not. Keep in mind, however, that we're talking about the FOX network here.

For more of the visual, visit

(Special thanks to Kevin. Here is the ad link, although you have to register to view it.)

(image 1 - 5: Fox Sports/Nascar commercial. Via image 6: Joe Rosenthal/General Records of the Department of the Navy, Record Group 80, item 80-G-413988. February 23, 1945. Via