“City of Lights, City of Fonts” is a blog and visual diary created by ArtSlant’s Georgia Fee Artist-in-Residence, Ali Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald will explore France’s evolving visual relationship to propaganda, looking deeply at aesthetics of nationalism and politicized otherness. With sketches, writing, and graphic vignettes, she will document fonts, signage, and France’s history of drawing as activism.
Over the last few years I’ve done comics about hungover bears, art zombies, and queer mermaids. See a particularly emo Hungover Bear below.
More recently, I’ve focused on visual interviews, comic reportage, and a non-fiction graphic novel based on immigration and bohemia in Berlin. It was while researching Germany’s political climate for this graphic novel that I fell into a *font-wormhole.
*This is when your friends roll their eyes as you lecture them about the inherent terribleness of gothic blackletter fonts over ramen.
While in the grip of this affliction, I researched fonts of the Third Reich, including “Fraktur,” an ultra-Germanic typeface revived then discarded by the Nazis.
It made me curious about the evolving aesthetics of nationalism and how they relate to our current, tumultuous moment. The AFD, Germany’s ascendant right-wing party, uses “Bold Futura,” a font favored in Wes Anderson movies, the TV show Sesame Street, as well as other bright, symmetrical, non-fascist entertainment.
France’s National Front political party, when helmed by Jean-Marie Le Pen, also used a variant of Futura in posters. Now the party deploys a variety of fonts and symbols to laud ethnic “Frenchness” and demonize otherness: specifically, immigrants. During the election last year, Marine Le Pen positioned herself visually as a new “Marianne.” Marianne, a national symbol of liberation often starred in World War I recruitment posters for France, imploring patriots to join her cause. She was usually draped in or waving a flag and cast as the defiant, topless defender of the republic.
So what are the aesthetics of nationalism and propaganda? That’s one of the questions I’ll ask in this blog. We all recognize chiseled men holding things up triumphantly from Soviet propaganda, but what visual strategies are being used in 2018?
How have politicized and weaponized visuals evolved? People have spoken a lot about the 2016 U.S. election and campaigns of misinformation, but thinkpieces have mostly focused on words, captions, and taglines. What about the images we consumed? In a world that’s becoming increasingly visual, how are images being dispersed and how are we absorbing them?
Some tropes endure. For example, giant hands aggressively gripping things seems to be a pretty consistent hallmark of political propaganda. Here is an image from a recent National Front ad, imploring French voters to “Defend Our Colors.”
Images can manipulate emotions in ways that defy rational thought, evoking nebulous and romantic ideas of heroism and morality. The term “propaganda” originated in the Catholic Church after all, helping to inspire fantastic and ecstatic belief. But despite its current, negative connotation, not all propaganda is harmful:
*Quote by Martin Luther King Jr. from How Propaganda Works by Jason Stanley
So what is the difference between harmful propaganda that appeals to *“flawed ideologies” and images that appeal emotionally to further the greater good?
*also from How Propaganda Works
I’m not sure. But Paris, the former ground zero for competing forms of propaganda, is a good place to start visual sleuthing.
This blog will be a visual diary of contemporary and historical Paris, looking at the dueling propaganda poster-wars of the 1940s, Art Nouveau metro stops, contemporary signage, and right-wing memes. What kinds of propaganda are there in the City of Lights? And what images make up the flickering Parisian mystique?
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