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I Watched TV In Iowa And The Political Ads Drove Me Mad

This is what happens when you spend an hour in an Iowa hotel room wading through political TV ads. BuzzFeed UK's Jim Waterson is in the US for the primary season.

Posted on February 1, 2016, at 12:56 p.m. ET

Watching TV in Iowa has become completely insufferable, due to the nonstop barrage of TV ads.

As a British person in Iowa, nothing quite prepares you for the sheer overwhelming nauseating sensation of high-powered and completely contradictory political messages being chucked out of the TV screens every 30 seconds during the caucus season.In the UK we have tight restrictions on politicians buying adverts on TV and radio: They can't. Instead, each political party gets a handful of five-minute slots provided to them by public broadcasters during election periods, for which they produce boring and worthy films that no one watches or gives a damn about.

As a British person in Iowa, nothing quite prepares you for the sheer overwhelming nauseating sensation of high-powered and completely contradictory political messages being chucked out of the TV screens every 30 seconds during the caucus season.

In the UK we have tight restrictions on politicians buying adverts on TV and radio: They can't. Instead, each political party gets a handful of five-minute slots provided to them by public broadcasters during election periods, for which they produce boring and worthy films that no one watches or gives a damn about.

I sat in my hotel room in Iowa City on Friday night, three days before today's caucuses, and watched the local CBS affiliate station for an hour: This is what normal, decent Iowans trying to watch a talk show (in my case, Ellen) have to put up with.

In the space of an hour there were at least 17 political adverts, many of them running side-by-side with directly contradictory messages, sometimes beside identical messages from associated super PACs, and sometimes just repeatedly hammering the same message until any sane person would want to turn off the TV.

First up: an advert about how people love Bernie Sanders, soundtracked by Simon & Garfunkel's "America".

You can tell they love Bernie because the signs say "We Love Bernie".
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You can tell they love Bernie because the signs say "We Love Bernie".

This cuts to a shot of a small child stealing an animal, all in the name of politics.

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The child is apparently congratulated for stealing an animal and looks very pleased with this.

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Bernie then intones "I approve this message", despite there being no message other than some sweeping shots of people saying they love Bernie played behind a baby-boomer anthem soundtrack.

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Then there's a advert based around Marco Rubio looking guilty. You can tell he's guilty because of the lighting and the ominous music.

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There's a giant credit card, carefully created to pay for "Skipping Major Votes".

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Then there's another credit card, this time a limited edition with Rubio's face on it.

The main accusation of the advert, paid for by a Jeb Bush-associated super PAC, is there are "just too many questions" about the Florida senator. Exactly what you're supposed to do with these questions is unclear, although it presumably involves not voting for him.
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The main accusation of the advert, paid for by a Jeb Bush-associated super PAC, is there are "just too many questions" about the Florida senator. Exactly what you're supposed to do with these questions is unclear, although it presumably involves not voting for him.

Just when the average Iowa TV viewer has finally understood there are "questions" about Rubio, suddenly there are more "questions" on their TV ad slots. This time about Trump.

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*cut to ominous vintage news report of Trump pulling a face*

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*cut to another ominous vintage news report of Trump pulling a face*

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And the ad finishes with a question. No conclusion, no major direction, just an open-ended question.

This ad runs repeatedly throughout the hour to the point where the average viewer will probably be able to recite it for life.

This ad runs repeatedly throughout the hour to the point where the average viewer will probably be able to recite it for life.

Brief reminder: This is all during one hour of television programming on a typical day in Iowa late in the caucus season.

Then Hillary Clinton pops up. She's serious about something.

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She's serious about washing hands!

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She's serious about students and rucksacks and students wearing rucksacks!

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She's serious about voting for Hillary!

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The next advert is bad for President Barack Obama. Again, you can tell because he looks sad and forlorn and incapable of ever doing anything ever again.

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But then someone pops up to save the day. It's Ted Cruz.

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In conclusion, Ted's name fits very well into the word "trusted".

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Then the Hillary campaign pops up, having bought ad space for a selection of home movie outtakes from the Clinton family.

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...showing...

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...Hillary through the...

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...ages up to...

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...today.

The non-stop stream of candidate adverts on Iowan TV briefly diverts into a campaign about ethanol subsidies.

Innovatively, the citation provided on-screen for one of this advert's key claims is simply "science".
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Innovatively, the citation provided on-screen for one of this advert's key claims is simply "science".

Carly Fiorna appears to have bought a large chunk of the ad slots in the hour.

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This advert shows her meeting some old people and smiling a lot.

It is shown three times in one hour of programming in Iowa City. Three times.
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It is shown three times in one hour of programming in Iowa City. Three times.

Suddenly, there's a second Bernie Sanders advert – with Simon & Garfunkel replaced by policy commitments.

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And Bernie hugging students.

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After that barrage of left-wing adverts, Donald Trump's anti-Cruz advert immediately pops up. It's asking the big questions.

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It's making big claims.

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In a nuanced and understated manner, Trump carefully analyses the Cruz policy platform.

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Before finishing with the least flattering comparison of the two men it is possible to find.

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Then there's a Marco Rubio advert in which he declares the USA to be the "single greatest nation ever", a fact he seems pretty confident about.

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Mike Huckabee then has an advert that just consists of big letters on big pictures.

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Then a big picture of Mike Huckabee. Because.

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The "big buzzwords on screen" tactic is also used by Cruz's other ad, which also plays repeatedly and endlessly during the hour we watched TV.

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Keep your message in a nice clear font.

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Just combine it with some local farming images and you're done.

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Iowans were then rewarded with another attack on Trump, this time by a Cruz-associated super PAC.

This time the claim is that Trump wants a full public healthcare system.
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This time the claim is that Trump wants a full public healthcare system.

It finishes with a big, blunt comparison between Trump and Obama in a threatening font with an ominous picture in the background.

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Remember: This is just a selection of the political ads fitted into an hour slot in Iowa during caucus season.

Many were repeated multiple times in the same hour, many ran side-by-side with directly contradictory adverts, and all of them cost someone a lot of money for the sake of reaching potential caucusgoers in the state.

When the candidates move out of town after Monday night's caucus, one thing's certain: The people of Iowa will be finally be able to enjoy watching TV again.

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