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“Dear Young People, don’t vote”. Seniors in political advertisements: irony and/or legitimation


The widespread representation of older people in popular culture as passive and inert has been challenged in a range of recent studies and publications (Nussbaum / Coupland 2004, Caprara et al. 2013). In view of the increasing number of older adults in today’s society, the notion of aging has received significant attention in the public sphere where common assumptions and stereotypes are challenged and potential scenarios are presented. As it has been discussed from different academic perspectives over the past twenty years, older people’s collective condition is undergoing important sociological and cultural changes, making the elderly - among other things - an enticing political reservoir of votes and a pivotal segment of the active electorate. Guided by this evidence, many political actors have devoted specific communication strategies to such age- groups, providing both ad hoc political messages and policy activities. This study builds on previous research (Schneider / Ingram 1993; Kaid / Garner 2004; Holladay / Coombs 2004) in order to provide an overview of the ways in which older adults have been addressed and exploited in political (i.e. electoral) campaigns, especially in the USA, in the last decade. The data basis consists of YouTube videos and media libraries of TV channels, so the emphasis is thus on spoken language and the visualization of the actors in videos. Considering electoral ads as multimodal texts, Kress and Van Leeuwen’s social semiotic approach (2001) is used to examine how multimodal elements convey authority. In particular, this study draws on legitimation theory (Van Leeuwen 2008) to analyse which legitimation tactic is employed to convey meanings through the voice of elderly people (e.g. role model, tradition, expert, conformity) and what use is made of irony as a pragmatic strategy for persuasion. This approach will highlight the various characteristics attributed to seniors and should shed light on the use of aging in political communication.