When Alexandra Kerry first learned that a group of Vietnam veterans had started a smear campaign against her father, she was standing in front of a bank of televisions in a Los Angeles airport, and couldn't help thinking that the spectacle wasn't just perplexing and concerning, but also weirdly interesting culturally.
Kerry had just finished film school, where she'd made a short film about a girl who loses her father in the Vietnam War, and before that she went to Brown University, where she'd taken courses like "Cinema and Memory" and "Approaches to Narrative."
"What I thought was interesting was how the news story was looping itself," she said recently. "The five television screens were perpetuating the story."
Eight years, two presidential elections and many media cycles later, Kerry, a 38-year-old filmmaker, is promoting a project that she hopes could give rise to a pro-Obama version of the swift boat phenomenon. She and friend Amanda Griscom Little, a journalist who teaches at Vanderbilt University, have launched Ad Your Voice, a website that allows users to upload homemade pro-Obama, anti-Romney political ads.
To fund the project, Kerry has started a Super PAC –- "an anti-Super PAC Super PAC" called We The People Inc., she said.
Since it launched in September, Ad Your Voice has published 76 user-generated videos, some of which seem more likely to go viral than others. In one video, a tramp rummages through a garbage bag and pulls out his tax returns, before turning to the camera and addressing Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney: "Where's yours?"
That ad garnered one Facebook "Like." By contrast, an elaborate and slickly produced contribution from "The Simpsons" animator Lucas Gray generated over 2 million hits on YouTube.
Kerry and Little were both particularly excited about "My Country, My Choice," an ad shot over two days in Central Park in New York with a cast of "barely clad" female volunteers.
"It's wild that such an effective message can turn around in a couple of days on a really tight budget," said Little. "So much of the political advertising that we see is ineffective but also super high-dollar, which is a turn-off to so many people."
In addition to collecting submissions, Ad Your Voice will offer a $10,000 dollar honorarium and the possibility of a major ad buy to the maker of the DIY-ad deemed most effective. A panel of celebrity judges including actress Scarlett Johansson and TV host Bill Maher will help the founders select the best submission. Kerry and Little are also working with Funny Or Die, Moveon.org and other sites to aggregate the best pro-Obama political videos on their site.
In a recent interview, Little, whose course offerings at Vanderbilt include "The Art Of Blogging," described the swift boat campaign as an example of how the media can be used to "create a vicious cycle of untruth." Ad Your Voice, she said, could be seen as attempt to create a "virtuous cycle" of factual messaging.
Kerry conceded that some people might disagree with that characterization. "Maybe Romney doesn’t find it virtuous," she said, "but we're asking questions and challenging the platform of the Republicans and helping to call out untruths."
She summed up the effort with the same scholarly phrase she used to describe her initial reaction to the swift boat story: "It's interesting."