Via Jim Treacher:
— jimgeraghty (@jimgeraghty) February 18, 2016
You’ll find a larger version in Sanders’s campaign store. Treacher calls it “fascist.” I haven’t seen enough vintage fascist and communist graphic art to know where this fits on the spectrum, but it’s obviously supposed to look retro and not in a good way. The utopian slogans (“A Political Revolution,” “A Future To Believe In”), the grandiose angel surrounded by flames holding the central symbol aloft, and the stark three-color scheme are meant to evoke the 1930s — if we’re being charitable, as a nod to the New Deal and the golden age of labor. Which, in fairness, is pretty much what Bernie’s aiming at in his campaign pitch. Liberalism’s been too timid for decades, at least since the Great Society of the 1960s, and America’s future depends upon returning it to its former glory. Think FDR and LBJ, not Clinton or Obama.
The designer is Shepard Fairey, whose name you probably know and whose authorship here makes the image interesting. As a design, it’s the polar opposite of Fairey’s most famous work, the 2008 “Hope” poster featuring the last guy to find himself at the center of a political phenomenon on the left. That poster also used just a few bold colors but the image was spare and authoritarian — Obama’s face above a single word, the avatar of the ideal. It was pure messianism. The design for Sanders doesn’t show Bernie at all. It looks like a promotion for a concert or some organization rather than the apotheosis of an individual. That’s true to the spirit of Sanders’s movement just as the “Hope” poster was true to the spirit of Obama’s. One was about the man, the other is about the movement. The left wanted radical change from Obama and got some change but not enough, so now they’re putting their faith in people power instead of one transformational leader. Sanders is the perfect guy superficially to lead that movement. He has none of Obama’s messianic qualities — he’s old where O was young, he’s curmudgeonly where O was smooth and charming, he’s very white in an age when O represents a more diverse population, and he’s a proud socialist where O swore he’d be a “post-partisan pragmatist” as president. He’s old-school in every way. If you’re all about putting people and principles over one big personality, Sanders is a perfect guy to be at the front of the parade.
Even so, the design is actually a terrible representation of his candidacy, precisely because it’s so cold and graphically stark. True to populist form, Sanders’s campaign ads have been all about warmth and people. His first spot, the Simon and Garfunkel ad, mixed crowd shots with quaint images of Americans working on farms. The next major spot highlighted the supposed diversity of his coalition by combining shots of people’s faces from across the demographic spectrum — young and old, black and white, men and women. Again: People power. The third one that’s gotten buzz is the one featuring Eric Garner’s daughter talking about her father’s death. It’s intensely personal. The message in all of this, obviously, is that Sanders’s campaign isn’t about him but about all of the Americans who’ll be empowered by his movement. Socialism isn’t something to fear, it’s a brotherhood to be embraced. That’s a strong message and the ads are well done. Now here comes Fairey, the Obama idolater, to strip the humanity out of that message and reduce it to some chilly modern version of a WPA poster. It’s completely tone-deaf, to the point where I wonder if Team Bernie even considered turning it down as too far from what they’re aiming at. In the end they probably couldn’t say no, as this is ultimately about getting donors to contribute and Fairey’s enough of a name to attract interest. A better design, though, would have swapped this nonsense out for something that emphasized Sanders’s populism instead — maybe, as a nod to the difference between Bernie and Obama, featuring a variety of smaller Obama-esque “Hope” portraits not of Sanders himself but of some of his voters. It could be that Fairey, whose inclinations in political art seem to steer straight into ominous propaganda, just didn’t have that in him.