It’s a saying that’s been repeated by dutiful teachers probably since the beginning of time – don’t judge a book by it’s cover. While I’m not here to argue the upsides of that statement, I do want to pose a question using that age-old adage as a template of sorts. If we are not to judge a book by its cover, are we also not to judge a movement by its banner? I ask because I think the question is warranted, and its answer is not as simple as it may seem. Allow me to explain.
Slogans and banners have long been the trademark of political campaigning. Those of us who sat through a whole year straight of American History in high school can tell you that even before television, campaigners utilized political images and easy-to-remember one-liners as a means of advancing their candidate’s popularity (see “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” from the elections of 1840). Then, once television became an established form of media, campaigners turned to short commercials for promotional purposes. (The Living Room Candidate, a website from the Museum of Moving Image – located in Queens! – documents commercials from the elections of 1952 to 2008. Check it out if you have the time. It’s pretty fascinating stuff.)
Now, what exactly am I getting at with all this? To answer that, I’m going to need a little help from The Living Room Candidate: “Television commercials use all the tools of fiction filmmaking, including script, visuals, editing, and performance, to distill a candidate’s major campaign themes into a few powerful images. Ads elicit emotional reactions, inspiring support for a candidate or raising doubts about his opponent.” What I want to argue is that a political movement is rendered less effective if it fails to utilize images and popular slogans. In fact, a powerful slogan or poster can be of immeasurable promotional help. I’m sure we all remember those popular Obama posters by Obey Giant splashed across t-shirts, pins, and other apparel during the 2008 elections. If you wore one of those items back then, you were considered officially “cool.”
Now, enter Occupy Wall Street into the above picture. While scrolling through their website, I found their Posters and Materials page most interesting. There were fifty-some posters on the site, each original, informative, and eye-catching. What I found most surprising, however, was the little blurb to the right of the page: “We have compiled the beginnings of a Designer Toolkit for those wanting to use the Occupy Together logo and foundational WordPress theme used on this site.” Super cool, I thought. Apparently, Occupy Together is well aware of the impact a single catchy image can have. On that note, Picture the Homeless, an organization I learned about from the Homelessness in Focus lecture, seems to be on the right track as well. They already have a moving slogan – “Don’t talk about us; talk with us!” – and one quick look at their website shows that they are utilizing the image factor as well. I should note, however, that the practical difference between Picture the Homeless and Occupy Wall Street is significant. Whereas Occupy Wall Street as a political protest could always stand to use better lobbying techniques through various media, Picture the Homeless conveys a message that speaks for itself, regardless of how effective or ineffective their methods are. What I mean to say is that the issue of homelessness is one that can stir anyone into action, even if it has no accompanying image or slogan. With Occupy Wall Street, it’s not quite the same story.
To conclude my post, I turn again to The Living Room Candidate. I was so impressed with the website that I started to explore a bit. I’m glad I did, because I found this awesome link. Meet AdMaker – an educational site that allows you to make your very own political commercials (complete with videos, images, and sounds). It’s the best way I can think of to demonstrate how much artistic skill is needed in the political arena. Plus, it’s super fun!