After letting the mystery marinate over the weekend, Democratic presidential candidate Mike Gravel explained Monday that two unusual campaign videos appearing on YouTube are meant to represent the change he hopes to effect in American politics.
“What people like you don’t understand — which I think is hilarious — is this is a metaphor,” Gravel said Monday, lecturing guest host David Shuster during an appearance on MSNBC’s “Tucker.”
The former senator from Alaska is running an unorthodox campaign and has yet to make much of a dent in the polls.
He appeared to have fun explaining the two atmospheric spots, which depict the 77-year-old candidate silently staring into the camera, throwing a large rock into a pond and gathering twigs to build a fire in the woods.
The videos appeared three weeks ago on YouTube but didn’t come to wide attention until Friday, when the NBC News political blog First Read linked to them and asked, “What the ...?”
One of the spots, cleverly titled “Rock,” shows Gravel staring silently at the camera for a few moments before tossing a big rock into a pond. It put the candidate in front of millions of eyeballs when it was the closing “Moment of Zen” on Comedy Central’s “Daily Show With Jon Stewart.”
‘Causing ripples in society’
“This is a metaphor,” Gravel repeated, sounding eerily like another cantankerous Democrat, former Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia, who similarly lectured MSNBC’s Chris Matthews about metaphors, similes and other figures of speech after his anti-John Kerry speech during the 2004 Republican National Convention.
Gravel first drew attention for his curmudgeonly, Ross Perot-like performances in early Democratic candidates’ forums.
"The point of the spot is not the rock but the ripples it leaves in the water," Gravel said Monday. They represent what he hopes to accomplish “as an ordinary citizen who’s trying to make a difference by doing something and it causes ripples in society.”
“Now, many of the pundits don’t understand that. Is that a surprise?”
The second spot, “Twigs,” shows Gravel walking through the woods picking up twigs which he then uses to build a fire.
The camera focuses on the fire for a full seven minutes.
“Branches are what people acquire in the way of wisdom,” he said. “And then he reaches down and acquires a little more experience, a little more wisdom. Reaches down, picks up a little more wisdom. And then goes out and starts a fire.”
“What does a fire represent?” Gravel asked rhetorically. “Fire represents light, heat, warmth. It’s the sustenance of life.”
Idea generated outside the campaign
Lest anyone think Gravel is channeling the Governor Moonbeam spirit of Jerry Brown, he stressed that he didn’t commission or write the spots.
They were put together by “a couple of young teachers from Southern California that approached my campaign asking if they could film me.”
Gravel didn’t identify the filmmakers, who posted the videos on May 27 and 28. However, internal postings found on Gravel’s campaign Web site by MSNBC.com identify them as Matt and Gus Bilinsi, who could not immediately be reached for comment.
Gravel labored mightily to come across as exasperated at the inability of “people older than 30” to understand his unusual videos.
But even he admitted he was mystified as to what was going on until after he shot the spots.
“I didn’t even ask, because I trusted these two young teachers, who are teachers of art and technology,” he said. “Do they not have a message to give about my campaign?”