Thursday, July 07, 2005

Got oil?

Nenad Cizl, Toni Tomasek
Got Oil?, 2004

Displayed in the NY School of Visual Arts exhibit, "The Design of Dissent," curated by SVA faculty member and designer, Milton Glaser. The exhibition celebrates the launch of the publication "The Design of Dissent: Socially and Politically Driven Graphics," published by Rockport Press.

Milton Glaser was the guest in last week's episode of PBS' Now with David Brancaccio (which I would have seen if WYES didn't keep shifting it around in the schedule!!!).

Glaser talked about the use of imagery in political propaganda, the importance of dissent in democracy, and the intersection of advertising, consumerism, and war.

In reading over that interview, the idea that keeps ringing in my mind most alarmingly is that, as citizens, humans, "we have been processed" by the machinery of propaganda to think in ways that serve commercial and political interests. It's nothing new, but I think the word "processed" gives the concept of persuasion a more sinister, industrial connotation, as though human beings are just fodder for the interests and enrichment of others. It's very disturbing.

I encourage everyone to read the full transcript, but here are excerpts from that interview:

If you examine government, those that have the least dissent are those that are most totalitarian. ...

Dissenters have, it seems to me, the obligation of referring to a central truth and an idea of fairness and a complaint about power.

In propaganda, you have no such obligation. You don't have to tell the truth. ...

The media in general has become exceedingly passive in regard to its response to government. If we don't have a vigorous questioning, aggressive journalistic community and mythology, democracy itself is in great jeopardy.

You really have seen that this last few years, that the whole democratic underpinnings of America have been threatened by a very weak, journalistic community that simply has not been willing to take on the President or the existing government. ...

When there is fear and a threat, particularly an external threat, power can do anything with impunity at that point, simply because it can justify anything by saying, "Well, if we don't do that, all of you are going to die." That threat of this external power is always the basis for intimidation and repression as far as governments are concerned.

And all of us who are good citizens and feel that there are other ways of dealing with danger and balancing our responses with our own concerns about a repressive society have to speak up in this case. I mean, there is a balance. It is a struggle. There are cases to be made on both sides, but right now, it seems to me that it's all skewered in the wrong direction. ...

We have been processed through the intersection of television and advertising to think of life in terms of what we own and also to think of our dissatisfactions in life with what we don't have and what others have.

I mean, the whole function of advertising to some degree, apart from the fact that it keeps the wheels of our civilization and our economy going, is to create a climate of dissatisfaction that can only be resolved by acquisition. I mean that is thematically what advertising lives on. ...

Happiness is very much linked in America to acquisition and to owning things. ...

There's been a kind of shift, it seems to me in America, from an idea that truth is valuable to an idea that entertainment is more valuable. And as a result of that...lying in public no longer has any consequences. ... They use the term spin, and of course spin is just a nice way to say lie. But everything is spun in order to achieve a certain result. The fascinating thing about it is that the public who has grown up conditioned by advertising perfectly accepts political misrepresentation this way.

There are more of Glaser's images and artwork from the SVA exhibit at the Now web site.


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