In November 2023, I sent out a call for abstracts to CULTSTUD-L, a cultural studies listserv, inviting contributions to be included in the Paper Bullets: 100 Years of Political Stickers from Around the World exhibition and accompanying catalogue.
“International researchers, scholars, writers, artists, activists, archivists, librarians, and others from diverse multicultural backgrounds are welcome to submit proposals. Essays will be presented in English, though translations can also be presented in the exhibition. Graduate students are welcome to submit. The Los Angeles Center for the Study of Political Graphics’ poster of the week provides some excellent examples of the sort of image-related historical, political, and cultural context needed for the items on display.”
The deadline is March 1, 2024, but emails are already starting to trickle in. I’m posting these two abstracts from Kevin Howley, Professor of Media Studies at DePauw University (Indiana, USA) that are exactly the sort of work I’m looking for.
No Intel Inside, Subliminable Strategery, ca. 2003
This essay examines the “No Intel Inside” political sticker lampooning President George W. Bush – “Bush the Lesser” to borrow Arundhati Roy’s useful phrase – during the lead up to the 2003 US-led invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq. Ultimately, the Pentagon’s “Operation Iraqi Freedom” – infamously billed at the time as a “cake walk” by defense analyst Ken Adelman – would claim the hundreds of thousands of civilian lives, unleash decades of internecine fighting between Sunni and Shia militias, provide fertile ground for the emergence of ISIS and other militant groups, and further destabilize the region.
Viewed as a form of cultural resistance to Bush’s war on terror and his plan to invade a country that had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, this sticker is a sly appropriation of the ubiquitous and enormously successful “Intel Inside” corporate branding campaign that works to subvert the Bush administration’s march to war, and its reliance on highly questionable intelligence that “found” evidence of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Further, this sticker draws upon a reservoir of Bush malapropisms to underscore the president’s penchant for linguistic infelicity, and to ridicule his intelligence – or lack of same. Employing textual and discourse analysis, the essay situates this sticker in the long tradition of culture jamming, especially the resistant sensibilities and practices associated with cultural appropriation and pranking rhetoric. (Kevin Howley, 2024)
Watergate: The Proof Increases Everyday, V. Dinnerstein, ca. 1973
This essay examines the political sticker “Watergate: The Proof Increases Every Day,” with an eye toward contextualizing growing public distrust of Richard Nixon in the wake of the Watergate scandal, subsequent revelations about the President’s secret Oval Office recording system, and rumors of his drinking problem. In 1946, Richard Nixon employed anti-communist rhetoric to attack his opponent, the longtime Democratic incumbent, Jerry Voorhis, in the race for California’s 12th Congressional district. Nixon successfully unseated Voorhis and would continue to use red scare tactics to advance his political career. Hence, this political sticker prominently notes Nixon’s penchant for dirty tricks since 1946.
In 1972, the newly re-elected president was a polarizing figure, whose assault on his predecessor, Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society program and a brutal air campaign in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, made him a poster child for the anti-war left. Despite the protests, Nixon held firm, backed by the so-called Silent Majority of “law and order” Americans, only to be undone by his own rampant criminality and presidential imperiousness. The sticker leverages this trait to excellent effect in this Watergate-inspired political sticker, challenging a man who, when confronted with allegations of criminality in the White House, famously told interviewer David Frost, “Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.” (Kevin Howley, 2024)
Kevin Howley writes on his blog Constituent Notes. His work has also appeared in Journalism: Theory, Practice and Criticism, Social Movement Studies, and Interactions: Studies in Communication and Culture. He is the author and editor of several books, including Media Interventions and Drones: Media Discourse and the Public Imagination.