Image & language

Wednesday 29 December 2010

We've just had local government elections here in Catalonia. The campaign itself is restricted by law to a two-week period, but even before then we were being subjected to a deluge of political propaganda and advertising, of varying degrees of awfulness. The worst was a TV ad for the then-ruling Socialist party, who were worried about abstention among their disgruntled supporters. Some public relations genius came up with the idea of emphasising that voting is not just a duty, it's a pleasure. So, cut to attractive young woman entering polling station ... she shakes out her flowing hair ... she fondles the ballot paper ... shivers orgasmically ... and thrusts it into the ballot box !

No, you don't want to see it. Embarrassing isn't the word. Magnificently, it manages to suggest that voting is comical, ridiculous, and cringingly absurd.

On the other hand, the image above is rather clever political advertising. It's for CiU, the centre-right nationalist party, who in the event cruised home to victory after 7 years in the political wilderness. I suspect that they were always going to win, anyway, but their understated, elegant advertising probably contributed. To appreciate the full effect requires a bit of explanation.

The chunkily handsome gent in the photo is Artur Mas, leader of CiU. He does a good quietly-confident smile - which is reflected in the cartoon smile in the poster. See the image, think of the symbol; see the symbol, think of the image - which is why these graphics were hung in pairs like this. And the round shape at top right contains the red and gold bars of the Catalan flag - making it into a sun, all warm and optimistic. But there's more ... literally.

The word 'mas', in Spanish, means 'more' (in Catalan, 'more' is 'més', but everyone knows Spanish). So while everyone knows that 'Mas' is a name, no-one is going to miss the pun, and fail to see that 'Mas means more' (and presumably 'better', although cynics will undoubtedly mutter that 'more' can also mean 'more of the same old rubbish'). To push the point home, 'Comença el Canvi' means 'The change begins' - and of course, given the crisis we're in, any change must be good change. So, as the photo shows, the voters walked over to CiU in droves.

Neat, eh? Vote CiU, and things are going to get better - or at least, feel better. (And the day after CiU's victory, el Barca thrashed the ancient enemy Real Madrid 5-0, which just goes to show ...) But - I'm not at all clear what the sunny, smiley CiU will actually do that will be any different from the boring, blundering Socialists. What's happening to democratic debate ?

[Oh, all right - if you really want to see that 'Voting as pleasure' advert ...

[... well, it was commissioned by the Young Socialists ... ]

Tags: politics, image, language

29 Jan 2011


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