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Graphic design and authoritarianism

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Some considerations about graphic design of "propaganda chavista" between 2005 - 2008.

Some considerations about graphic design of "propaganda chavista" between 2005 - 2008.


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  • 1. Graphic Design and Authoritarianism A review of the Venezuelan Government printed propaganda for the last years Elina Pérez Urbaneja* Journalist and Bachelor in Arts / Professor of Design History, “Centro de Diseño Digital” Caracas, Venezuela, perezurbaneja@gmail.comAbstract: From the classic definition of propaganda, a brief overview of its development in the world, theknowledge of its characteristics and the propaganda techniques developed since World War I in the XX Century,we reviewed the graphics of the Bolivarian Government of Venezuela over the last five years on printed media,such as: posters, flyers, billboards and banners, without recognizing the existence of messages spread throughother formats.We identify main formal aspects in propaganda printings by chavismo and we also get closer, in general, to itscontent, in which management of emotions highlights as an efficient strategy to achieve the regime’s objectives.As a complement, we review and apply to the case the concept of lovemark, relating it to the figure of HugoChávez as a political, communicational and advertising phenomenon that gives rise to emotionality beyondrationality.Key words: propaganda, communication, graphic design, authoritarianism, lovemark.1. IntroductionPropaganda can be analyzed from the sociological, political, advertising and communicational perspective,considering its conception, content, supports, audience and impact. It can also be revised under the lens ofhistory or through the eyes of graphic design, a discipline that offers its tools to give visual shape to messages asit participates in the process of codifying them.The XX Century was the era of propaganda, which is nothing else but mass persuasion techniques broadly usedin our post-industrial society. The definition of propaganda as we know it is relatively recent, although the use ofthis word goes back to 1622, when Pope Gregory XV created the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of theFaith. Back then, the Catholic Church was involved in holy wars it fought with all the available “weapons”,among which it included propaganda to propagate the doctrine aimed at procuring its acceptance.However, the use of the term propaganda spread during the XX Century from the moment when it was used todescribe the persuasion tactics used during the First World War and further applied by authoritarian regimes.“Originally, propaganda was defined as the spreading in of biased ideas and opinions, frequently by lying anddeceiving. However, as experts started getting deep into the subject, many evidenced that propaganda was not 1
  • 2. exclusive patrimony of ‘bad and totalitarian regimes… Since then, the term propaganda became ‘suggestion’ orinfluence on masses by manipulating symbols and individual psychology. Propaganda is communicating aviewpoint ultimately aimed at making the receiver ´voluntarily´ accept this position as his/her” [1].That is, the purpose of propaganda in contemporary world is to persuade masses to make them subscribe to aposition or viewpoint. The media through which these messages can be spread in are several, from a meeting toa march, static and silent printed material –but which power abides in convincingly managing images andtypography, the audiovisual sphere- radio, films and television-, until arriving to the digital era and Internet.During World Wars even clothing was used for this purpose, as shown in the exhibition Wearing propaganda:textiles on the home front in Japan, Britain and the United States.In order for propaganda to be successful it has to follow some parameters, among which we point out: the greaterthe exposure of the message, the greater the acceptance. Simplicity is also considered, as explained by JosephGoebbels, Head of the Ministry of Nazi Propaganda:“… Propaganda has to be basically simple and repetitive. In the long run, it will only find good results in termsof influence in the public opinion that is able to reduce problems to the more simple terms and has the courage tokeep repeating them as simple as possible…”[2].Distraction also accounts for propaganda effectiveness, that is, what communicators and publicists call “artistic”techniques that make propaganda pieces attractive elements. It is here where the aesthetic aspect is pointed out,mainly the responsibility of graphic designers.Another effective stunt is inciting emotions, either positive or negative, being the affective identification to aleader and the use of fear especially useful in the political environment.2. Communication and propagandaSocial scientists have interested in mass persuasion or suggestion as scope of study of communicationphenomena. According to the Mass Communication Research, from the United States, individuals part of anaudience adapt their conduct in front of the media according to the guidelines of dominant groups.The Mass Communication Research was launched by universities at the request of public and private entitiesaimed at developing instruments to influence the behavior of individuals. The “findings” of these investigationswere applied to unify the U.S. society against its enemies during the two world wars. [3]The situation of national socialism in Germany and the fascism in Italy was a different story: authoritarianregimes that kept parallel lines but not equal in the area of communication, considered as an activity that is solelythe responsibility of the State, and therefore it is completely reduced to propaganda, as “new Latin Americangovernments” are adopting today. 2
  • 3. Fascism makes propaganda services the State while the national socialist State propaganda considers it a militaryweapon. This difference determined the tone of messages. Likewise, in both cases the commercial press waswiped out and media subordinated to the government or to the sole party were created. Fascists, also, developeda legal institutionalism based on responsibility, subjugation and State control of media. [4]In parallel, the Soviet Revolution and its neighbor countries developed a politically active and excludingpropaganda, fully submitted to power and obliged to constantly rewrite history.During the first half of the XX Century, in Latin America, the skills of Juan Domingo Perón pointed out to leadmasses and used propaganda, according to the lessons learned from Italy and Germany. Other examples that havecalled the attention are the propaganda of the Cuban Revolution, and in recent days, that of new Latin Americangovernments among which we point out that of Venezuela lead by Hugo Chávez Frías.3. Propaganda Techniques of the Bolivarian GovernmentThe coup against Hugo Chávez, in April 2002, brought about consequences: the Venezuelan president and itsmilieu understood the urgent need to build up a communicational platform to inform about the governmentmanagement and to keep popular support. Since then, its communicational strategy is propaganda-orientedbecause it is embedded in the logics of the steady electoral campaign.The Venezuelan government develops integration propaganda because it has a single and vital objective:“modeling opinions, attitudes and behaviors of the population, creating an ideological unit, a political-mysticalunanimity that assures, in turn, their legitimacy and absolute authority (…)” [5]. Integration propaganda is basedon the premise that when environmental stimuli changes behavioral models are modified.This propaganda way is set up by using some techniques from the First World War. Those techniques that areused to articulate the message, we associate them to some graphic results.• The Use of Stereotypes.Physical stereotypes have been created by selecting “phonotypical models” that identify the good revolutionaryand differentiate him/her from the bad opposition. Brown skins that show the “venezolano de a pie” (regularVenezuelan citizen) are positively valued. Here, a dichotomist graphic identity separates the upper class from thelow class. 3
  • 4. Figure.1 Gigantograhy in a façade of a government building.• Replacement of Names Appealing to Emotional Connotations.Oligarchy, colonialism, imperialism are some of the terms associated to enemies, whereas patriotism, revolution,bolivarianism have gained a positive meaning because they appeal to traditions and cultural identity part of theemotional tone. The revolution has created its own symbols that have acquired a sacred connotation andsignificance, a position fully in agreement with the Latin American popular culture, richly dimensioned by thesymbolic. The symbolic foundation are settled in the worship of Simón Bolívar, however, the iconography of TheLiberator has been ousted by the image of Hugo Chávez himself during the last 5 years, thus crating a dislocationof the nationalistic imaginery also expressed in the like for the Society model –translated into the graphicadaptation of the five-edge star-, and the Cuban model, through the insisting presence of the icon of Ché Guevara,as gimmicks for revolutionary people around the world. Fig.2 Dislocation of the nationalistic imaginary: The presence of the Che Guevara icon• Selecting facts.The current official history has become an ideological manipulation of the selection of certain facts that aretwisted interpreted and presented, at the convenience of the revolution. History has also changed by changingthe country symbols, eliminating some dates to place new ones, and renaming streets, museums, parks, squares,avenues, etc. 4
  • 5. Fig. 3 Remember April: A poster launched in 2009 referring to the coup d’état in 2002.• Repetition with the Frequent Use of Slogans and Phrases.The “revolutionary moral” usually present repeatedly in propaganda, through brief and precise slogans–typographically emphasized- that reflect the ethics of the good chavista, consolidated by images that show thewellbeing of nations through smiling faces and other graphic elements implying happiness. Fig. 5 Billboard in the countryside with the motto “Uh, ah, Chávez no se va”.• Appointing an Enemy.Establishing the antagonist lines is visually expressed through the grotesque. Enemies – either internal orexternal- are caricatured, showing them ridiculous or demoniac manners. In addition, hate and scapegoatcampaigns are made. To Mucchielli, the scapegoat is “an individual or group entity, considered responsible byan arbitrary association between him and the offense that produces the collective emotion.” [6] 5
  • 6. Fig.6 Appointing internal and external enemies• Reference to the Great AuthorityThe need of a leader is a constant element that shows a mystical view of the charismatic leader. Today, theimage, name and/or words by Hugo Chávez are present in almost all the printed, audiovisual and digital elementsissued by the government. This bombarding favors the personality heading the process, leads to a change ofvalues and standards rooted in the democratic society by a personal ambition and an authoritarian orientation.Iconographic aspects of the authority are regularly shown: the military and the benefactor. Fig. 7 Two faces of the same leader: The benefactor and the military.The propaganda produced by the Bolivarian Government of Venezuela is broadcasted through all the availablemedia in order to hold empathy with followers, lash out enemies, and in general, to transmit their beliefs andvalues as well as to extol the image of the leader, thus encouraging the bond at an emotional level.After the presidential elections of 2006, the Bolivarian Government has a step forward a hegemoniccommunicational model that annuls the participation of the group as a receiver and gives the issuer, which is thePresidency, control over messages that circulate through different channels.Thus, the Communication Strategy Plan 2007 coordinated by the Ministry of People’s Power for Communicationand Information (MINCI for its abbreviation in Spanish) has been set up, which includes the expression “of 6
  • 7. People’s Power” aimed at broadcasting the feeling of closeness with more vulnerable social groups and unifyingthe State identity with logo symbols like Venezuela ahora es de todos, which objective has been: “to unite in onesole graphic representation the work of all Ministries and Organizations ascribed to the Bolivarian Government.”[7] Fig.8 Logo symbol “Venezuela ahora es de todos”4. A Review of the Chavista Propaganda DesignThere are surveys that during the last decade have been indicating the accounting of the number of hourssummed up from president cadenas presidenciales. This arithmetical process could hardly apply to the field ofprinted graphic production of the Bolivarian Government, as this activity has not been centralized at date, eachgovernment entity (we refer to ministries, entities adsorbed, etc.) has certain freedom to design and print its ownmaterial, although some parameters issued by the Ministry of People’s Power for Communications andInformation.This relative freedom has facilitated the spread of graphic material of different type, concept quality and forms,thus having a broad catalog of different pieces that go from the exquisitely designed to authentic trash. In anycase, this situation that we have referred to as “graphic hyper production” indicates in first place that there areresources, and secondly that propaganda is vital for this government of authoritarian populist nature. Therefore,the government strongly invests in propaganda production and distribution.At a graphic level the red color has been a deciding factor that acts as chromatic identifier. The country has dyedwith this color during the last 10 years, which has intensified with the nationalization process of companies.Also, the national tricolor is being used, as in the case of the logotype of the “Compañía Nacional Teléfonos deVenezuela (CANTV)” (the telephone company) that since 2007 changed the blue and orange bands for thenational flag. 7
  • 8. Fig. 9 The logo of the Venezuelan telephone company when it was a private company and after being State- owned.Part of the graphic chaos has been a consequence of the tendency to organize design contest open to allVenezuelan citizens, of any professional field, thus not recognizing the existence of qualified professionals –designers- to carry on these tasks. These contests were not awarded or several times they named winners whichproposals were never enforced, to further appoint “a dedo” the design to be used, as in the case of the imago typeof the Ministry of Culture in March 2006, which selection raised a protests of part of the designing trade.The emblem of the dog and the frog was imposed. It was designed by Emilio Gómez with the argument that it isa graphic reference that is never outdated. It is stated in the application manual: “The emblem of the Ministry ofCulture is represented by a seal prepared by members of the Panare ethnic group, situated at the NortheastGuayana, Venezuela. Its color is similar to that produced by the annatto (Bixa orelana), and it is of the same toneof one of the many colors used by the Panare ethnic group to smear their seals with, which they used for paintingtheir bodies”. [8] Fig. 10 Emblem “el perro y la rana”( the dog and the frog) that identifies the Ministry of Culture since 2005.Critiques to this emblem are several. It is argued that this graphics does not represent the Venezuelan identity asa diverse and mixed whole. It was neither understood why the Panare ethnic group was favored over otherIndigenous groups. The design master Alvaro Sotillo, commented on this decision: “What is going on is surely asymptom of a deep backward step. For decades, visual communication professionals have battled so that designbecomes a practice toward modernity. These conquers have been completely endogenized”. [9] 8
  • 9. 5. As a LovemarkFrom the advertising viewpoint president Chávez, maybe intuitively, uses lovemark tools, a concept coined byKevin Roberts, International CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi. [10]Roberts points out that current consumers want emotional connections: the lovemark, a mark that creates royaltybeyond reason, inspired by mystery, sensuality and inspiration.Hugo Chávez, an omnipresent figure in propaganda pieces produced by the government he himself leads, is theone who generates ideas that will be seen in billboards, posters, flyers, news ads, etc. Without knowing it, he hastaken shape as a lovemark, nurturing the sentimental-passionate component sown in the minds of the Venezuelanpeople through soap operas, a very popular television gender in the country.Mistery: Chávez has shaped his own myth with the continuous storytelling because revolutions always beginwith a new history. In the mythical action there is a hero with deification talents, he himself, embodies thePeople. This condition motivates him to create parables he constantly repeats to remember the audience thatthere are three times: the golden age, the age of the heroes of the XIX Century. With the physical disappearanceof these heroes comes an era of darkness that ends at the end of the IV Republic and the rise to power of HugoChávez. The third time is being built up because it is about to come: it is the sea of happiness that will providethe Socialism of XXI Century.Sensuality: Chávez is an empathetic man, spontaneous, who talk to people in its own words and gestures. Hegets away from the institutional framework while living his speeches (hearing), touches ordinary people (senseof touch). He stimulates the senses, such as hearing through his speeches and visually by his omnipresent image.Inspiration: The constant construction of his own myth allows Chávez to present to his public the utopias of theXXI Century, the promise of a better future.In general, Chávez himself shows genuine, open and easy to reach. These qualities have let him connect to partof the Venezuelan population, typical characteristics of the lovemark.6. ConclusionsThe communicational strategy of the Bolivarian Government is undoubtedly propaganda-like, aimed at unifyinggraphic criteria and ordering its image during its eleven years of administration, without being fully successful.Quantity (hyper production) has been emphasized, a variety of pieces and their wide spreading, instead of acoherent line, parameters of quality over content and form.The Venezuelan government develops an integrating propaganda that subjects to its purposes of popular support.At design level it is perceived an aesthetic heterogeneity, with only the red color as a common factor, the national 9
  • 10. flag and Hugo Chávez as main emblems. As accessory iconography we have Simón Bolívar, Che Guevara, JoséMartí and other minor “revolutionaries”. Certain unifying criteria have been achieved by using graphicidentifiers and logo themes at the bottom band of each piece.In the content the characteristic of the authoritarian populist discourse becomes clear through symbols, icons andlinguistic messages that appeal to the emotional, which ultimate expression is Chávez himself treating himself asa lovemark.The emotional tone that encourages emotionality of receivers in terms of acceptance-rejection (sharp contrast),has been essential to organize propaganda messages of the Venezuelan government that built up President HugoChávez in a revolutionary lovemark.References[1] Pratkanis, A. (1994), La era de la propaganda: uso y abuso de la persuasión. España: Editorial Paidós.[2] Rodero Antón, E. (2000), Concepto y técnicas de la propaganda y su aplicación al nazismo, III Congreso deCultura y Medios de Comunicación de la Universidad de Salamanca at http://www.bocc.ubi.pt/pag/rodero-emma-propaganda-nazismo.pdf [Accesed 18 august, 2009].[3] Rosillo, J. (2009), Metáforas de la estrategia comunicacional oficial ¿Comunicación de crisis o crisis decomunicación, Tesis de maestría inédita, Facultad de Humanidades y Educación. Caracas: Universidad Centralde Venezuela.[4] Rodero, E. (2000), Concepto y técnicas de la propaganda y su aplicación al nazismo. Texto presentado al IIICongreso de Cultura y Medios de Comunicación. Universidad de Salamanca athttp://www.bocc.ubi.pt/pag/rodero-emma-propaganda-nazismo.pdf [Accesed 18 august, 2009].[5] Abreu, I. (2008), Notas sobre la propaganda chavista, Comunicación, pp. 80-93.Caracas: Centro Gumilla.[6] Mucchielli, R. (1977), Psicología de la publiidad y la propaganda. Bilbao: Editorial Mensajero. Freetranslation)[7] Ministerio del Poder Popular para la Información y Comunicaciones. Plan de Estrategia Comunicacional2007 at http://www.inci.gob.ve [Accesed 20 july, 2007][8] Ministerio del Poder Popular para la Cultura (2005), Manual de uso aplicaciones gráficas. Caracas. (Freetranslation)[9] Objetual (2007), Dossier: Se cambia la imagen de 35 entes culturales por la del Ministerio de la Cultura”, athttp://www.objetual.com/graf/editorial/logos_cultura/dossier.htm [11 junio, 2008] (Free translation)[10] Roberts, K. (2005). Lovemarks. The future beyond Brands. New York: PowerHouse Books. 10