Candidates swap schoolyard taunts in a Web site parody

Video is from brothers' animation studio

July 22, 2004|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

In a summer that has seen politics turn nasty and profane - from Whoopi Goldberg's scatological jokes about the president to Dick Cheney's vulgar outburst on the Senate floor - an overheated nation has finally found relief courtesy of a 60-year-old Woody Guthrie tune updated for today.

The song is "This Land Is Your Land," a left-leaning vision of America that evokes the golden valleys of California and the food lines of the Depression. But the song has been rewritten to trade those earnest couplets from the Dust Bowl's poet laureate for schoolyard insults - Botox-user! Dumbbell! - sung in the voices of the sparring presidential candidates.

The parody was written by Evan and Gregg Spiridellis, brothers and business partners who run a small animation studio out of a warehouse in Santa Monica, Calif. They posted their three-minute video of the song on their Web site, jibjab.com, and it quickly resonated with Americans of all political stripes.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Today section about the Jibjab Web site's parody of Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land" incorrectly stated that the creators were producing an animated film for Disney. They are producing the film independently. The Sun regrets the error.

The video opens with Bush standing in front of a map of the country ("Mass-uh-chew-sits" he writes over Kerry's home state) and singing: "I'm a Texas tiger/You're a liberal weiner/I'm a great crusader/You're a Herman Munster/This land will surely vote for me."

Cut to Kerry, scrawling calculus equations on a chalkboard while Bush, nearby, adds 9+3. Later, Kerry sings, "You can't say nuclear/That really scares me/Sometimes a brain can come in quite handy/But it's not gonna help you because I won three Purple Hearts/This land will surely vote for me."

Only after production work began on the film did the brothers learn that Kerry had been playing Guthrie's song at fund-raisers. Gregg Spiridellis said, "Seeing him strumming with Bon Jovi, raising millions of dollars singing `This Land Is Your Land,' that's kind of funny."

The brothers Spiridellis make their money doing animation for ads for major corporate clients including Sony, Revlon and Disney. Then, in their free time, they make political cartoons because they like to and they think it will help promote their company. Their last short film, "Ahnuld for Governor," was shown at the Sundance Film Festival. (Schwarzenegger makes a cameo in the film, as does Bill Clinton, in a hilarious bit with a swimsuit model.)

But nothing they've done has hit a nerve like "This Land." It was posted on their site July 9 and had 5 million visitors in its first week. They stopped counting after that because their server couldn't handle the load. They've since switched to a larger server, and many millions more have seen it, many repeatedly.

"We do these things as a labor of love," Evan Spiridellis, 30, said in a phone interview yesterday. He thinks the appeal stems from the even-handed approach of the film - both Bush and Kerry get equal time and are equally ridiculed.

"It pretty much cuts down the middle and there's something in there for everyone to laugh at," he said. "As silly as the political discourse has gotten, this is still the best process in the world. There are big issues at stake."

The brothers won't say who they support in the election, and it's impossible to tell from their cartoon - probably a good thing given their big-name clients. They're working on an animated movie for Disney called Grumpy Santa, based on their children's book of the same name, though work has certainly slowed with the crush of responses to "This Land."

They've received more than 25,000 e-mails, almost entirely supportive and grateful, and appeared on national television in recent days. Evan said he got a call yesterday morning from his mother-in-law in Holland, saying the film was on the news there, complete with Dutch subtitles. They also got a hundred dollar bill in the mail from an anonymous donor.

It's not at all what they expected.

"We're just two guys in a warehouse in Santa Monica," Gregg said.

He thinks part of the film's success is the levity it provides in a campaign that is certain to get nastier and uglier as November approaches. As one fan posted on their site, "With months to go in the campaign, I needed something like this to put it all into perspective."

The film ends with Bush and Kerry trading insults.

Bush begins, "You're a liberal sissy."

Kerry: "You're a right-wing nutjob."

Bush: "You're a pinko commie."

Kerry: "You're dumb as a doorknob."

But then the candidates put their arms around each other in a spirit of camaraderie we're certain not to see this side of Nov. 2, and they sing together, "This land belongs, this land belongs, this land belongs to you and me!"

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