Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Campaign posters are back!

In the early months of 2008--in the midst of the Democratic primary battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, a gay German (or German gay?) friend of mine invited me out for drinks at a bar in his neighborhood in Washington. It was a special night--when only show tunes are played--campy fun. But on this evening, the bar had a special guest--some performer (whose name escapes me but she recently was in "Little Shop of Horrors" or maybe the "Rocky Horror Picture Show" on Broadway). The lights dimmed and she got up on the counter (this place doesn't do performances normally), belted out a song and then asked everyone to contribute to the campaign of Hillary Clinton (the supporter of gays and lesbians, as she put it). My friend turned to me and said "this is why I love America."

He was on to something on one level. German political campaigns don't have the same slick, overly produced, (show) business vibe as in the U.S. But, they have their own charms--to this observer at least. First, I think it is wonderful that the parties actually issue formal electoral platforms and statements and that the media and voters actually mull these over and partially base their choices on these documents. American politics have not had this kind of old-school gravitas for quite some time.

Even better, German campaigns are witty--especially evident in campaign posters--that have a long and artful tradition in that country. This year we have 60 years of Bundestag elections to celebrate (See the comprehensive coverage from, yes, wait for it, Bild Zeitung). One of my favorites from 1994 (I actually stopped by the old CDU party headquarters in Bonn to get one) was the "Auf in die Zukunft ... aber nicht auf roten Socken" (Into the future, but not in red socks)--with an image of a solitary red sock on a clothesline. This was a way of demonizing the postcommunist PDS and the prospects of an SPD-PDS coalition government. (See Der Spiegel). Also memorable was the CDU's "Black is Beautiful" poster from 1972 and the famous "Keine Experimente, Konrad Adenauer" from 1957. The Left has some doozies too--but in my opinion, the SPD's artistry pales in comparison to the CDU over the years. One good one from 1980 said "Viele Blumen aber keinen Strauß" (Many flowers but no bouquet)--obviously trying to co-opt the Greens and criticize CDU/CSU chancellor candidate, Franz Josef Strauß.

This year already has not disappointed. My favorite (thus far) is CDU candidate Vera Lengsfeld's poster showing her and Chancellor Merkel in cleavage-revealing décolletage--with the caption "wir haben mehr zu bieten" (we have more to offer). See The Telegraph. Although criticized by some feminists and others, no one seems to have a problem with the amount of flesh revealed. This poster would be absolutely unthinkable in the still prudish US of A. Actually, I quite like the CDU's series of posters "Wir haben die Kraft ..." (we have the strength) that highlights ministers like Wolfgang Schäuble, Ursula von der Leyen, and current favorite Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, but culminates in a smiling image of Merkel. Another provocative (but also cliché) poster comes from the Greens who have portrayed a naked African woman's buttocks being held by a white woman--apparently indicating the party's support for same sex rights and marriage. (Der Spiegel). Die Linken also have some noticeable ones--bright red with simple ideological messages such as "Reichtum besteuern!" (tax wealth!). (Die Zeit). Talk about a blast from the past! I wonder if this 19th century rhetoric will resonate in the 21st century? The SPD (again) disappoints.

--Eric Langenbacher

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