Totalitarian art and Billboard advertising (Part 1)
(This Header Photo above was taken at a Soviet Labour Camp in the notorious ‘Gulag’ around the same time that the Soviet Poster used in the article below was published – early-mid 20th century)
I have written elsewhere about how our liberal democracies crow about holding as their sacred cows the values and virtues of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all; of the greatest good for the greatest number; of the sovereign will of the people etc etc: all of which in our hallowed mediocre meritocracies boil down to the dictum: ‘money talks’.
Those who are monied have access to the educations best fitted for high office in a society or in an organisation within a society. They hold it more or less exclusively to themselves and their descendants. They have, because they occupy the high places in society and in organisations in society, access to far more consumer choice than do the ‘other ranks’ of society. They have access to more travel, more leisure, more amenities and resorts and resources able to make their lives less cluttered with the chores of ordinary lives led by ordinary people. In fact this monied educated much more free class of persons, employs ordinary persons to carry out these chores for them; so that plain and common persons not only do their own chores in their own households but also do those common chores in the lives and households of the rich folks.
Rich folks eat better than the rest of us, and dine out more often; they take more expensive and exclusive nightlife entertainments than do the lesser classes of society. And just as there are persons who are in fact wage slaves who have been hired by the rich for the rich to have their chores done for them; so too anyone who is an employee of any kind in our meritocracies, is most generally also expected to sacrifice most freedoms and most civil liberties; the very jewels in the crown of our liberal democracies and which are held hallowed: these are all suspended just as soon as the employee walks in the front gate of his or her place of work.
These freedoms and civil rights, such as they are for the ‘other ranks’ , are in fact so markedly available in greater measure to the wealthy and powerful; that they can be said to perform a step change into privileges which the richer people enjoy. As for the generality of employees, who spend commonly at least one third of their weekdays in an employer’s premises, they have restored to them their muted and curtailed versions civil rights and of liberal freedoms, just at that very time they leave their place of work and head home for the evening.
This is how it is. This is not propaganda. This is not jaundiced. It is how it is.
Of course those amongst the ‘other ranks’ who rise higher up the greasy pole of ambition and advancement in their places of work as employees; these are those aspiring ones whose aim and hope is to become like their masters and their mistresses; and eventually to become one of this hallowed monied class themselves; and so to consider themselves to have ‘arrived’. And one of the ways of establishing oneself in one’s having arrived at such a zenith, and of advertising the fact of having established oneself, may be to dine out amongst one’s new classmates at the places where the rich and privileged are to be seen dining; at exclusive metropolitan clubs and fashionable cafes.
This class of aspirant employees is allowed by their task masters and mistresses enjoyment of rather more of those curtailed rights and freedoms than are made available to the persons whom these aspirants manage and direct; those who are ranked as commonplace employees in the hierarchy below them. This ‘taster’ allowed these aspirants of ‘what it’s like at the top’ is in fact a two-edged sword. It is at once their incentive, that bait and that thirty pieces of silver, paid over to them by their employers; so as to allow them just so much of new latitude as for it to become a draw and a stimulus; but the aspirants are allowed no more than just enough; enough to separate the aspirationals from their origins and their old allegiances, and to instil the appropriate attitudes which prick them on to getting the commonplace employees working hard under their management regimes.
This is how it is. Class division; class action so as to divide and rule. Cream for the crème de la crème and a thin sour milk meted out to the mass of managed ‘other ranks’ employees. The people of privilege recruit and by seductions draw in from people amongst the classes of ‘other ranks’, and so as to help them keep their grip on their hegemonies; and in this devil’s bargain they manage their managers, ever offering these aspirant class the succulent carrots of even great heights to be scaled.
The point here I want to draw before I move on to a discussion concerning Fascist art and Totalitarian art; is that that same oppressed and highly regimented way of life which when I was younger, America, and most of Europe, as well as some smaller fry camp followers of these developed liberal democracies, all in the absolutest of terms openly and publicly reviled and condemned such a way of life as being the ubiquitous mode of life for people living under the Soviet Flag in that era. The same oppression and restrictions on freedom and on civic rights, as these kinds of curb are widely and generally experienced by one who is a common employee in any liberal democracy; is what was condemned roundly by our privileged classes in the regimes of totalitarianism like was the USSR’s.
No mistake. No lack of focus and perspective. This is how it is.
So what we have in our ‘free-world’ as it is so charmingly championed as fairy tale, in fact is a situation wherein those who are have nots, who are whom I have termed ‘other ranks’, most usually work for their employers under pretty similar conditions to those in which ordinary persons lived in under Communism in USSR and in other places. Our brand – note the word brand – of totalitarianism is merely one stage removed from government being the direct source of oppression and restrictions.
Our governments merely – to use a business-type buzzword ‘facilitate’ the employers, the rich and the privileged in their ubiquitous regime of an iron grip over their employees whilst these same employees are in their employers’ premises and are working ‘for them’.
So common people sleep 8 hours; they work 8 hours; they have 8 hours left to themselves. Some good portion of that left to themselves 8 hours has to be taken up with keeping body and soul together duties and with other necessities – washing, washing up, cleaning the house – a long list. Maybe if a common employee is lucky s/he will enjoy 4 or 5 hours each weekday of time to themselves. What economists might call ‘disposable time’; and which the sickly buzzword calls it is ‘quality time’ or even ‘living time’. I have seen ordinary people call time spent on a bus going to the shops an example of ‘dead time’. There is a critique and resume to be written here about time and its perceived value in our societies.
This pretty tight correlation between employment in a liberal democracy and common life under Soviet governments; helps to explain I believe that very striking parallel seen to adhere between Totalitarian art – and its art theories – and billboard advertising – and its back office marketing department setups – as seen in consumerist liberal democracies; and most particularly is seen in the billboard ads of the big corporations; the big corporations being those places in our economies wherein which to work as common employees, and whilst at work, – though sometimes at home too! – folk generally face most restrictions and curtailments of their hallowed liberal freedoms and of their ‘inalienable’ civic rights.
To be continued...
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