Monday, 24 June 2013

(words, pictures, tunes...) part I

To London at the weekend to meet up with one of my sisters-in-law, and one of my nieces. I may not have had a sister, but my brothers certainly delivered on introducing really clever, funny women into the family! We don't see each other very often, but when we do it's always lovely.

The plan was to fit a few cultural bits and bobs in between the tea, cake and conversation, so we met at the British Library to see the Propaganda:Power and Persuasion exhibition.

I'm a bit of a closet fan of the old communist propaganda art from China and Russia - I quite like some of those very stylised images of glowing youth doing noble things, all very pink and perky, and usually with a wide grin showing perfect, white and even teeth. True, sometimes it's just so bad it's good, but I like it all the same. Obviously, I never confuse the reality and the propaganda - I read Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday a few years ago, and I was so troubled by what I'd read I immediately put the book into a charity shop, because I just didn't want it in the house any longer. So, I am perfectly capable of 'reading between the lines', right?

Maybe not. I hadn't really thought of Tufty as propaganda - I just thought he was trying to help me cross the road safely. Similarly, beautiful stamps - aren't they just designed to look pretty on the envelope? Perhaps I'm more of a sucker than I think I am.

A film crudely depicting Jewish men, leering self-consciously and unsuspectingly at the camera, as 'disguising' themselves in western clothes to try to 'infiltrate' German society, was disturbing and uncomfortable - but was that only because I now know the horror of what was to come in the death camps? I truly hope not. I like to think of myself as being a bit more savvy and sophisticated than that and not so easily fooled, but who knows what I would have thought in pre-war Germany if I'd been bombarded with these kinds of images and ideas? It's a chilling and sobering thought.

At the same time, I couldn't help but admire the simplicity and effectiveness of this graphic poster, used by American troops travelling through France in 1944 to tell the French that the Nazis had been driven out - would I have admired it as much if it showed a swastika imposed onto the French flag? It would have been just as simple and effective - but the message would have been quite different.

Some items raised a chuckle either deliberately, to convey a message in a humorous way, or unintentionally - such as this leaflet below sent out to 'all UK households in 2005'.

While I stood there, metaphorically scratching my head, and wondering why I couldn't recall ever receiving such an item, a chap next to me laughingly expressed a similar thought to his friend. In a broad Geordie accent he mused that perhaps 'they' weren't so bothered about 'us up north'. Much mockery (which really should be the name of a remote Suffolk village) ensued.

Would I recommend the exhibition? Not sure - we fairly whizzed through it, and there was a lot to see, so it might be better with more time. It blurs the lines between national cheer-leading, international muck-throwing, and the kind of cajoling or persuading that we're used to from advertising campaigns, so it's certainly thought-provoking, and for that it's worth it. Perhaps the whole exhibition in its entirety could be read as a propaganda tool to remind us that it's all still going on - so, wake up, people! As one of my brothers once said, in a different context, 'Be aware.'

Afterwards in the shop I was very taken with the display of Women's Suffrage items for sale, all emblazoned with the slogan Votes for Women. I wasn't so sure about the message being conveyed on a tea towel or frilly pinny - seems slightly to have missed the point! Irony, anyone? I did buy a few things tho', and my sister-in-law snuck a mug she'd bought into my bag at some point during the day! Thank you! x

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