The Truth About Freedom

This piece of political art, stamped on a metal surface (perhaps a post office drop-box) in Manchester, England, uses the famous phrase, “Man is born free, but is everywhere in chains” by Jean-Jacques Rousseau to make a statement.

CONTRADICTION - This stamped message uses a famous quote from French political philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau to send a message about the truth of freedom.

Rousseau, a French political ideologist of the 1700’s, originally coined the phrase while referring to governments at the time, which were organized under the divine-right theory. Under this structure, rulers were thought to have been appointed by God, and being so appointed, were given authority to do virtually anything. Rousseau was one of the first philosophers to openly disagree with this model.

With this rather cryptic phrase, Rousseau asserted that states at the time were in fact repressing the physical freedom that is the peoples’ birthright and were doing nothing to secure civil freedom for citizens. In other words, while man was free in theory, the number of social, political, and civil restrictions placed on him could not amount to true liberty.

The use of the phrase in modern society carries the exact same meaning: freedom isn’t really as free as it’s advertised.

Author of The Social Contract, Rousseau theorized about the most appropriate relationship between individuals and their government. Legitimate political authority, he suggests, can only be derived from a social contract agreed upon by all citizens for their mutual protection. Individuals assemble into a political society only after agreeing to abide by common rules and accept corresponding political duties to ensure a long-term effective government.

ON GOVERNMENT - Rousseau's highly influential book, The Social Contract, theorized about the best possible and most effective relationship between a government and its people.

Rousseau deems the collective group of citizens the “sovereign” and claims that it should be considered in many ways like an individual person. While each individual has a particular will that aims for his own best interest, the sovereign expresses the general will that aims for the common good. The sovereign only has authority over matters that are of public concern, but in this domain its authority is absolute.

Rousseau’s Social Contract outlined four basic premises:

1)     Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.

2)     The Sovereign, having no force other than the legislative power, acts only by means of the laws; and the laws being solely the authentic acts of the general will, the Sovereign cannot       act save when the people is assembled.

3)     Every law the people have not ratified in person is null and void — is, in fact, not a law.

4)     The legislative power belongs to the people, and can belong to it alone.

As is clearly evident from the premises, The Social Contract argued against the idea that monarchs were divinely empowered from God to rule and legislate. Rather, only the people, or the “sovereign,” are granted this all-powerful right. Rousseau’s ideas inspired political revolutions in Europe, particularly the French Revolution in France.

Furthermore, Rousseau’s social contract theory of government played an important historical role in developing the idea that political authority must derive from the consent of the governed, a principle regarded with the highest degree in American political ideology today.

STOP! In the Name of War…

It’s a sign.

This is clever art. Think of it. Think of the idea formulating in the back of the artist’s mind. Think of the him planning a perfectly-cast shadow. Think of him etching in the letters “W-A-R” in the same font and height as the word “STOP.” There’s just something intriguing about the process of creating this. And a note of jealousy too—like wishing you’d been the one to think of it.

STOP! IN THE NAME OF WAR - Using a shadow concept, this anonymous artist created a clever piece of political art with a strong message.

Some degree of respect deserves to be awarded to this graffiti artist. Rather than haphazardly scribbling “war” on the stop sign, an act which most assuredly would be considered common vandalism, he created a piece of art.

In effect, more than a sign.

Dreams Slashed, Dashed in Banksy Stencil

Banksy is probably one of the most obscure famous people in the world: very few know him, but thousands know “of him.” It’s remarkable, really, given the nature and popularity of his art.

This London piece is another powerful example of Banksy’s identity as an artist. Staying true to his characteristic themes—which often include greed, poverty, hypocrisy, despair, and alienation—Banksy depicts a freshly painted “Follow Your Dreams” inspirational message that is promptly crossed out with a big, fat, red “CANCELLED” sign. Reminiscent of “No Smoking” signs, Banksy’s stencil says it all: dreams not allowed. And the poor painter, looking rather stunned to be standing next to his altered art, is subjected to a harsh reality.

NO DREAMS ALLOWED - Another Banksy stencil graffiti, this one dashes the hopes of Brits without a worry in the world.

Imagine if dreams really could be dashed this easily. Like a class, flight, or CW television show, cancelled with the quick slash of a decision made by someone who cares not. Thankfully, in our world of ideals derived from the ever-inspiring American Dream, such a hope-shattering outlook is unlikely.

A British graffiti artist, political activist and painter, Banksy introduced himself to the art scene in the late 1980’s and has since progressed into a prominent artist, political activist, self-published author, and film director. His politically-charged works typically evoke an array of political and social themes, including anti-War, anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism, anti-authoritarianism, anarchism, and nihilism.

Considered a common vandal by some and a closet genius by others, he is no doubt a talented artist. Despite his oftentimes controversial opinions and political views, Banksy produces overwhelmingly creative pieces and deserves to be recognized for the contributions he has made to both the political art and graffiti genres.

Conservative Con Men

Bubbly letters always look so innocent. They’re Comic-Sans-esque: reserved for cheesy party invitations and middle school notebook scribbles of “I heart Joey.”

But in this instance, the bubbly’s are carrying a lot more weight—much like what you see from Arial Bold or Impact.  The capitol “CON” and “MEN” are really packing the punch, but the masqueraded “S” is pulling its weight as well. Despite their rounded edges and soft lines, the letters in this piece are expressing a pointed message.

PLAY ON LETTERS - This New York political graffiti piece criticizes conservative government by playing up some letters and using symbols for others.

This cloud of judgment is hanging low over the Brooklyn Queens Expressway in New York City. Having attracted a lot of attention over the years, photos of the image are plastered all over Flickr, some of which date back to 2004 and others of which are as recent as 2011. That’s astonishing long for a piece of graffiti to remain untouched, especially in a city where the art runs rampant.

Evidently, no one has objected strongly enough to the art’s message to want to paint over it. The notion that conservative government is composed of a lot of lying con men whose primary concern is money is apparently well received in this neck of the woods. And while there may be some truth to the fiscally-conscious stereotype attributed to conservatives, the idea of republicans as a bunch of con men looking to dupe people over issues concerning money is obviously over-the-top.

But no matter the message, if nothing else, this piece is a great play on letters. It’s not often that they speak louder than words.

The Propaganda Remix Project

“Propaganda is the use of magic by those who no longer believe against those who still do.” – WH Auden

And Micah Wright, an artist specializing in the remix of old propaganda posters, is a magic master.

Wright has created an ongoing poster project known as the Propaganda Remix Project, a satirical collection of old military propaganda posters repainted to feature modern anti-(fill-in-the-blank after the dash) messages.

After 9/11, Wright became interested in the work of WWI and WWII poster artists and the patriotic messages they extolled. While this interest contributed to his idea for the project, he didn’t officially begin the Remix project until after seeing posters from the Bush Administration which reused old Nazi propaganda imagery.

Wright has worked in videogames, film, television, animation, graphic novels, and comics. He has released three books of political commentary which also feature his graphic posters: You Back the Attack, We’ll Bomb Who We Want!; If You’re Not a Terrorist, Then Stop Asking Questions; and Surveillance Means Security!!

His work has been featured in the New York Times, The Progressive, the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, and on Fox News.

Below are some of his remixed and re-messaged posters.

Wright's line, “a message from the Ministry of Homeland Security," adds a laughable satirical touch.

OPINIONS ARE DANGEROUS - A poster urging citizens to keep quiet.

A typical anti-war poster of Wright's, this one protests spending for the War in Iraq.

Another anti-war poster makes a mockery of U.S. policy.

Another poster comments on soldiers' usage of their GI bills.

A World War era support-the-home-front poster remixed to reflect modernity.

To view more of Micah Wright’s remixed war posters, click here.

Propaganda Flourishes on Banknotes

In search of material for a post today, I came across the interesting tidbit that banknotes have historically been commonly used mediums on which to pass propaganda to the public.

In almost all propaganda battles whether political or revolutionary, leaflets in the form of banknotes were produced by both sides.

It makes sense, really. In the form of posters, page-sized flyers, or brochures, propaganda leaflets may be easily avoided by patriotic or frightened citizens of a target country. But why should anyone be wary of a banknote? It’s the perfect way to distribute insidious propaganda messages to unsuspecting passerby.

The Americans, British, Germans and Russians all used this technique in WWII. Half a decade later in the Korean War the United States once again prepared banknote leaflets. Although usually prepared by civilian organizations, these notes were almost certainly sponsored by a higher intelligence agency or branch of the government. The habit of using banknotes as propaganda leaflets especially increased during the Cold War, a time when there was no actual combat by arms. With a relatively low level risk for escalation, both sides were able to attack the philosophy and beliefs of the other without fear of retaliation by force. Propaganda is, after all, a mental game rather than a physical one.

Commonly called, “Political Banknotes,” there are hundreds of these types of notes across multiple countries (with messages in as many languages, of course). For the purpose of keeping things simple, I’ve found an American “Political Banknote” attacking former president Richard Nixon.

ONE FOR THE MONEY - Former president Richard Nixon was once targeted on a banknote issued as public propaganda. Responsible for the 'Inflated States of America,' he is blamed for the country's economic downturn.

In caricature form, Nixon resides in the center of a “frozen” two-dollar bill, making a peace sign with one hand and crossing his fingers with the other—probably in the hopes of escaping the Inflated States of America and returning to whatever State existed before “Phase Two Cash” was necessary.

Promotional TV Poster Undergoes Remix

You can’t get a much more straightforward message than this—a TV poster promoting the show Reaper modified to show Dick Cheney, George Bush, and Condoleezza Rice starring as “Satan’s Biggest Tools.”

Talk about harboring a grudge.

REAPING - A remixed television promotion poster for the show Reaper features Cheney, Bush, and Rice as its main characters in a satire of the Republican Party.

Both national parties undergo constant scrutiny, but in recent years, and especially in the 2012 election cycle, the Grand Old Party has taken some big hits. In a Gallup poll released just last Wednesday, a higher percentage of Americans reported having a more favorable view of the Democratic National Party than of the Republic National Party.

And, given the GOP’s recent struggles—inability to produce a quality, front-runner candidate who can hold his own, squabbles within the party, candidates’ personal attacks of opponents, and the entire party’s failure to unite unanimously behind any one candidate—it’s no wonder the boys in red are targeted by a wealth of angry citizens.

While the label “Satan’s Biggest Tools” is an obnoxious stretch, and unwarranted, it wouldn’t be surprising if the faces of Romney, Santorum, and Gingrich replaced these three soon.

‘Cain’t’ Take My Eyes Off You

Presidential elections are optimum hunting grounds for political artists. With candidates tripping up daily, opponents slandering one another, and important policy questions being answered in all the wrong ways, material for mockery and criticism abounds.

Republican Senator John McCain (Arizona) didn’t miss out on his fair share of abuse back in the 2008 presidential election against Barack Obama. Calling home Austin, Texas, this work of wall graffiti features three smiling “McCain’ts” in a fashion which reflects a flag wavering in the breeze.

"MCCAIN'T" COULDN'T - John McCain received his fair share of mockery in the 2008 presidential election, including being tagged with the nickname "McCain't".

With his outdated ideas—much like his years—McCain was not the young and fresh-faced chap the Republicans needed. Support for policies similar to those of Bush didn’t throw much favor his way either.

In the race against Obama, “McCain’t”, despite the clever new campaign slogan, had no hope of being anything other than the little engine that couldn’t.

The Pose Goes On

In keeping with the Uncle Sam tradition, I chose this spin-off as my next subject.

When you think about it, all politicians DO exhibit a characteristic Uncle Sam pose at one time or another, don’t they?

WE WANT YOU - Channeling Uncle Sam's favorite pose, modern-day politicians use it for the same effectiveness, primarily to encourage citizen involvement in politics.

Looking straight at the American public, they point their promises and emphasize alignment with U.S. citizens. Emphatically swearing to change this, better that, and improve everything, they sound good to eager ears.

Just as Uncle Sam recruited millions into the army, politicians today are encouraging involvement in politics by making citizens feel obligated to participate, else be viewed as lackluster patriots.

Uncle Sam wanted citizens to be on board with America and support the land of opportunity. Modern politicians recall his methods to rally support for themselves and lure the American public into feeling engaged in the political world.

With meaningful expressions (although Obama and Clinton don’t achieve the same level of sincerity as Uncle Sam), politicians remind the public that their votes matter, their ideas matter, they matter. And the people, unaware that this showing is mostly a put-on in modern day politics, naively eat it all up.

Rhyming Illustration Makes Obama Shine

Using the Obama ‘Hope’ poster by Shepard Fairey as inspiration, this illustration shows George Bush and John McCain in the same style, but with less than confidence-inspiring messages.

Bush, in characteristic ‘Bushism’ guffaw, looks rather a dope indeed. And Cain is certainly unlikely to haul in the necessary votes with such a clueless expression, and his prospects of taking office after the 2008 presidential election are summed up concisely with the word ‘nope.’

LINE 'EM UP - In this set of three similarly drawn illustrations, Obama shines next to then President George Bush and 2008 running-mate John McCain.

Only Obama, full of intention and contemplating a vision, shows any promise. He stands in sharp contrast to the two Republicans, which is the primary reason this illustration is so powerful. Bush and McCain look like amateurs next to Obama’s obvious sense of identity and purpose. Obama’s ‘Hope’ poster alone is effective, but stacked up against these two, it positively shines.

Obama is hope personified in this illustration—hope for the people, the country, and the future.