Posters distill the essence of ideas or messages to their most economical form. You glance at a poster as you walk by the wood barricades of a construction site or, these days, as you peruse the walls of the Internet. When remixing someone else’s poster as I’ve been doing with World War II-era propaganda posters for the Chamomile Tea Party, I’m initially attracted to the design and then to its message. Simple and direct is best. Then the real thinking begins.
What do I want to say? What’s my message? In order to recontextualize the image I need to break the poster down and look at each element to see how it functions. In the original 1944 poster by Stevan Dohanos, there is the award –the medal, what this medal was being given for (Careless Talk) and why. And, finally, who was awarding this “honor” (in Dohanos’ design it was the Nazis as evidenced by the ring on the hand of the person holding the medal). I would have to consider each of these parts in order to rework the image and its message.
The keystone in this poster was “For Careless Talk.” That drew me in. While the original poster referred to divulging sensitive data on troop movements and other war efforts, I immediately connected it to the rhetoric we were hearing in contemporary political discourse today. Healthy and respectable debate is good but it’s clear the “talk” has gone way beyond that. Inciting spin has taken precedence over insightful information and discussion. So who deserved to be given a medal for this most egregious tactic and who would this honor come from?
My initial thought was the American people should award this medal to Fox News. The ring would sport an American flag and in an early version of the poster the medallion was the Fox News logo. “For Careless Talk” would remain and underneath I listed all of the issues I felt Fox News was guilty of skewing. But after some vigorous discussion with friends I realized those who believed in Fox would be more than honored to receive that award. And that wasn’t my intent at all. I returned to the drawing board.
I changed the list of issues to a group of Fox commentators who should rightfully be awarded this medal. And I tried on a few different medallions to replace the Fox logo. The most interesting was a picture of a wind-up toy of chattering false teeth. I was getting closer (the medal was becoming a source of biting commentary) but it still wasn’t quite right. I created a drop shadow underneath “For Careless Talk” that was an amorphous “Fair and Balanced,” the tagline for Fox News. Underneath that notion of irresponsibility was the idea that the deeds of these commentators were being touted in just the opposite fashion.
It took me a while but I finally made the connection to the Tea Party and placed a tea bag in the role of the medallion. But it still came across as an award Glenn Beck and company would be proud to wear. The original tea bag image I used had a big drip at the bottom. And that led me on the right path: turn the tea bag symbol “upside down” by making it a sopping wet mess. I made a bigger drip in Photoshop and then showed its effects on the commentators’ names below. Stains and drips turned the tea bag and all it’s come to stand for into a symbol of something gone awry. My commentary was complete.