My friend Matt and I happened onto a vintage European poster store in Berkeley last week and had a great time looking through their collection. All the posters were originals, and some had been made as long ago as the 1890’s. Matt was interested in the war propaganda posters, but I found myself drawn to posters that inadvertently advertised the social problems of their time:
On racial stereotyping (right-hand poster):
On efforts to quell labor disputes – bottom right. The scenery features a rainbow landing in a bucolic alpine valley (“Let’s Clear the Air. Let’s iron out the trouble. You’ll feel better, work better, get farther. You’ll be treated fairly.”) How creepy would this be to have hanging over your desk?
On the stigmatization of sexually transmitted infections:
On women’s subordinate status in the working world (“There’s a Man-Size Job For You in Your Navy”):
Part of what makes these old-time posters so great to look at is that the social messages embedded in them are clearer now than they would have been to most people at the time they were made. Are today’s advertisements any less explicit? In some cases yes, in others, no, but I imagine they are generally harder for people to decode because they are so much a part of our everyday life.