End bad breath


Short-version post: This is funny, but it’s also a political statement.

Long-version post: There are so many things uttered along these lines every day in the news that it hardly makes sense to seize on any specific instance. But today, the odious Melanie Phillips opined about Barack Obama:

“What a disgrace that this man is leader of the free world; and at such a point in history. If he had put America stoutly behind the protesters and championed them against the regime, by now they might have toppled it,”

[In case you’ve missed it: the context is that Obama has prudently- according to every informed observer- avoided taking a high-profile stance on the disputed Iranian elections, realizing full well that any stance on his part will be manipulated by the Khameni to drum up support among fellow Islamic hard-liners. Yet, there’s still a contingent who somehow gets a fair amount of media time and can’t resist painting everything in binary terms, reducing complex geo-political situations to infantine constructs of ‘courage vs. cowardice’ and … ah, never mind.]

It’s situations like this where the application of graphic design as political commentary seems most underused and indispensable. It often feels as if one is unduly dignifying some nut-case argument if you bother to refute it on factual grounds. There’s something about a powerful graphic image that better sums up the sheerly malign psychology behind certain right-wing political attitudes. This Seymour Chwast agi-prop poster from 1967 is the strongest visualization I’ve seen to date, even though it’s over 40 years old and dates back to the Vietnam era.

Interestingly, my design students- most of whom hail from formerly Communist countries- don’t really get this one when I show it in my design history class. They tend to find it funny, and strain to get the political connotations. I imagine that there’s a political caricature that would hit them as clearly as this Chwast illustration hits me, but that the underlying psychological/visual language would be very different and speak more to the bureaucratic realities of 80’s East Bloc life.

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