Last night, art lovers and history nerds alike gathered at the Phaidon bookstore in Soho to celebrate the release of Steven Heller’s Iron Fists: Branding the 20th-Century Totalitarian State. In honor of his book, Phaidon and Esopus Magazine hosted a panel discussion with Heller, Shepard Fairey, and Paul Miller (aka DJ Spooky) to discuss propaganda, modern advertising, and oppressive political regimes. Thank god for the open bar.
Heller’s book is a study of propaganda and political advertising during four 20th century totalitarian regimes: Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, the Soviet Union, and Communist China. In his presentation, he emphasized the power of facial characteristics (think Hitler’s mustache), the importance of symbols made synonymous with each of these regimes (the sickle and hammer), and the “cult of hate” that perpetuated racist ideologies. Makes for a lighthearted conversation.
Bringing Heller’s discussion to modern times, Shepard Fairey discussed his work on the Obama poster. He likened Obama’s campaign images to totalitarian propaganda, stating that the effectiveness of both campaign posters are based in similar design ideas — bold colors, minimal wording, and a single strong visual image. Just to be super clear, this in no way means that our president is a dictator. Fairey just lifted some simple advertising techniques from certain dictators.
In the hip Phaidon shop, trendy intellectuals gathered together to listen to these three eloquent speakers discuss their ideas, careers, and cultural findings. Who knew that history, politics, art, and design could come together over drinks? Smart is definitely the new sexy.