January 10, 2009

Rescuing Capitalism: Second Time as Farce

With unemployment skyrocketing, many of us have been saying that President-Elect Obama might do well to look to the 1930s Works Progress Administration as a model. Unfortunately he seems determined to give "job creation" money to the private sector, which will skim 30% off the top in profit and administrative overhead before anybody gets a job.

But guess who is looking to emulate the WPA: Saks Fifth Avenue's marketing department. Yes, the artist hired by the high-end retailer to design its new shopping bags, Shephard Fairey, says that he's been looking at WPA agitprop posters as an inspiration, "to lift morale."

[The Saks gig has doubtless already lifted Fairey's morale. He is the hot graphic artist in the country now after the success of his iconic Obama Hope poster, the main symbol of the campaign. FotM has discussed Fairey before, here.]

This was the subject on an article in the January 8 Style section of the New York Times entitled "Consumers of the World Unite." I am recapping it here because I suspect that few readers of this blog (with the exception of myself) avidly follow the "Styles" section--though perhaps this is vicious stereotyping on my part.

The article also notes that Saks' spring marketing features images lifted from 1920s advertisements for state-run department stores in the Soviet Union, and that their new slogan "Want It!' uses lettering based on the graphic designs of the Russian Constructivist Aleksandr Rodchenko. It also describes images featuring models in socialist realist poses, with raised fists. The vice president for marketing at Saks is quoted admitting that "What we do every day, really, is propaganda."

Fairey, the designer, disclaims political implications of the advertising images, saying everyone knows "this is just a way of getting attention." I am not sure of the deeper cultural-political meaning of this borrowing except to say that smart capitalists and their propagandists seem to realize that, at this point, capitalism is more palatable if it makes itself look like anything but…capitalism.

No comments: