When Fear Goes Graphic

Last week’s NY Times featured an article, When Fear Goes Graphic, about political posters that helped spur voters in Switzerland to pass a 2009 referendum to ban the building of minarets.  Among several examples, one poster created by the Swiss graphic designer Alexander Segert, depicted “three fluffy white sheep kicking a black sheep off the Swiss flag.  ‘For More Security’ was the accompanying slogan.”

(I have a similar image found recently on a sticker in Berlin, which I’ll post later.)

From the article:

“A(nother) poster was widely cited as having galvanized votes for the Swiss measure but was also blamed for exacerbating hostility toward immigrants and instigating a media and legal circus. ‘We make posters, the other side goes to the judge,’ is how Alexander Segert put it when we met here the other day. ‘I love it when they do that’.”

“[Segert] designed the poster in question. As manager of Goal, the public relations firm for the Swiss People’s Party, [he] has overseen various campaign posters. This one, for the referendum, used minarets rising from the Swiss flag like missiles (‘mushrooms,’ Mr. Segert demurred, implausibly). Beside the missiles a woman glowers from inside a niqab. ‘Stop’ is written below in big, black letters.”

“All these right-wing populist parties have learned to get TV and newspapers to show these posters over and over with the excuse of asking, ‘Should we allow such images?’ said Mr. Bühlmann [a political scientist in Switzerland]. ‘The aim in making the posters is to be as racist as possible, so then when critics complain, the populists can say elites don’t want ordinary people to know the truth. And the media fall for it every time’.”

It’s hard to know if such xenophobic images would fly in the US, though racist posters can be found online on a number of anti-Tea Party Web sites–all clearly aimed at President Obama (Obama as witch doctor, the Joker, etc.).  In the spirit of the NY Times article, I won’t post these on Stickerkitty, because doing so, one could argue, may in fact only perpetuate the dissemination of racist imagery.  (This reminds me of 1980s-1990s feminist protests against the depiction of women in major art museums around the world.)  The Guerrilla Girls put it nicely in this poster, however.

On a related note–Glenn Beck is one of the organizers of an upcoming rally this summer, Restoring Honor, to be held at the footsteps on the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., the site of Obama’s Presidential inauguration.  I should probably attend the rally to see what sorts of graphics can be “liberated.”

The parallels between the use of images in right-wing political propaganda can’t go unnoticed.  Xenophobic posters in Switzerland communicate fear through the depiction of the militant Other.  Racist posters here in the US communicate fear of the Other through ridicule.

Henny Penny cries, “No minarets in Switzerland.  The sky is falling.”  Henny Penny cries, “No African Americans as an American President.  The sky is falling.”