Image is everything

Metaphor is a powerful thing. In literature, it can invoke powerful imagery or emotion. In common discourse, it can express the inexpressible, breathing life into the abstract. And in advertising, it can say so much with so little, reinventing the familiar. It is a powerful little thing like metaphor that may–and that certainly should–debase the Students’ Union’s entire tuition campaign, beginning and ending with their two newest posters.

First, the SU distributed posters, created ads and currently have on their website a modified “Rosie the Riveter,” fist clenched, stating “We Can Fight It,” instead of the original “We Can Do It.” The image of Rosie, having since been appropriated by many facets of modern popular culture, and even in a recent SPCA campaign, was originally featured in a poster as part of a rather subversive and, at times, frightening Second World War propaganda campaign by the American government.

While Rosie’s original meaning may be lost, she was designed to bring women of the era out of the domestic sphere and into the workforce, replacing the nation’s men who were overseas. All this only to be pushed away and again forgotten once the war ended–undoubtedly a proud American achievement. In the same campaign were posters designed more to scare than to empower. “Loose Lips Might Sink Ships” graced one, while a shirtless German soldier planting sculls in blood filled another, since dubbed “The Sower.” Perhaps most frightening was a poster urging Americans to “Stay on the job until every murdering Jap is wiped out!”

Whether the SU realizes it or not, using an image from this campaign aligns them with it, its images and its messages. While they may not endorse the campaign’s original themes (and I’d venture to say they probably don’t), Vice-President External Nick Vuckovic said he didn’t realize where the image came from, but that they did pay for the rights. After all, he added, other organizations have used the same image. With this said, perhaps an organization relying entirely on public support for its cause should be more careful which images it uses to identify itself.

Another quality example of advertising genius can be found in their latest series of posters, playing on the U of C’s slogan for the new Academic Plan, “Raising our Sights.” The SU-crafted posters feature a student w alking calmly, books in hand, behind a set of crosshairs. An interesting image, especially considering recent events in the U.S. While most people on campus weren’t personally affected by the sniper attacks in the Washington, D.C. area, many were touched anyway. Watching communities live in fear for weeks, seeing dead bodies on the front page of the Globe and Mail and hearing the eye witness accounts can be enough to stir emotion in even the most removed individual.

SU President Matt Stambaugh quickly noted that this wasn’t a big deal anymore. Apparently, a month is long enough to forget this event and move on. The idea was pitched before the attacks, he said, and the sniper issue was discussed. In the end, however, it was considered a non-issue and pursued anyway.

While these two incidents may seem trivial, and even though they have since removed the sniper ad, these are indicative of larger problems. According to the SU executive, these ideas were the results of both elected officials and SU communications staff. While the people involved were busy looking for something eye-catching and popular (everyone loves pre-1950s pop-art), they neglected to question what greater consequences these images might have. And when you’re in student politics, relying so heavily on public and political support, you need to be more aware of what your actions convey,

On the other hand, maybe the SU is on to something. Simply debating the posters shows effective attention-getting. Maybe they can go further, undoubtedly stirring more debate. They could liken U of C President Harvey Wiengarten to a murderous dictator (there have been many–they could make a whole series). Or better yet, have an illustration of two random towers collapsing after a terrorist attack. Underneath, reads: “Bring down differential tuition.”

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