Wednesday, 28 March 2018

The Good Fight

Until very recently (until the Trump-phenomenon, that is), I took democracy and what it implies (equal rights, for instance) somehow for granted. Sure, I knew that women do not get equal pay for the same work as men do and, needless to say, I was also aware of the fact that real democracy nowhere really exists („The best democracy money can buy“, journalist Greg Palace called his book on American democracy) yet I somehow believed that nobody in their right mind would question the fundamental principle that all human beings should be entitled to the same opportunities. And then Trump got elected and it became increasingly apparent that not everybody, as I had erroneously assumed, shared the same principles.

 For the full review, go to 

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

20th Century Alcohol & Tobacco Ads

100 years of stimulating ads, the subtitle of this formidable tome aptly says. Moreover, "Alcohol and tobacco are huge industries that produce massive wealth for many, and one of the most profitable beneficiaries, the advertising industry, has made certain of that."

Jim Heimann's and Steven Heller's 20th Century Alcohol & Tobacco Ads is not only a fabulous collection of telling pictures that reflect the manners and mores of American society in the 20th century but also a highly informative work. It describes, for instance, how Edward Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud and the author of the influential Propaganda (1928), managed to encourage women, an untapped market, to purchase cigarettes. He "organized a women's protest up Fifth Avenue in New York City for which he paid 'progressive-leaning' women to light so-called 'torches of freedom' on March 31, 1929, during the annual Easter Parade. Bertha Hunt, Bernays's secretary, and the other women lit up Lucky Strikes in full view of men and women on the street, igniting a flurry of publicity and scandals. The more women began to light their 'torches', the more stories nespapers ran, which increased Lucky's sales – their defiance was monetized." As always in advertising: You do no sell a product, you sell a longing  – "the primary approach was to establish a mood wherein the customers were given aspirational messages."
Carta Blanca, 1943
Courtesy Jim Heimann

It was new to me that the "Christian temperance groups across America comprised primarily of females." They were so successful that new legislation was enacted (the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constituion) that prohibited the production and sale of liquor and beer. Interestingly enough, there was no outcry against tobacco during the nearly 14-year Prohibition that came to an end in December 1933, when it was repealed.

Advertising liquor came to a virtual standstill during the prohibition. After the repeal, some states remained dry and "advertising liquor was restricted in magazines and newspapers published there; only periodicals published outside these states were allowed to advertise alcohol."

There is no question that alcohol and smoking are vices. The advertising industry helped to transform them into virtues. "These products brought gratification, if not escape. So the job of mass advertising was to increase desire and encourage their standing as symbols of status." Judging from the examples in this tome, advertising has done a most impressive job.
Asti, 1952
Courtesy Jim Heimann

It never really occurred to me, when glancing through the pages of this volume, that I was looking at products that could cause harm. In fact, I wasn't product-oriented at all, I felt taken to some fantasy-land – and I've admired the artwork.

20th Century Alcohol & Tobacco Ads is also a visual history book that reflects the spirit of its particular period in time. In 1969, the now famous "Warning: The Surgeon General Has Determined that Cigarette Smoking Is Dangerous to Your Health" was introduced; in the 1980s and 1990s, the designs  of liquor bottles and labels became invaluable brand signifiers.
Marlboro, 1973
Courtesy Jim Heimann

20th Century Alcohol & Tobacco Ads is simply a joy to spend time with. Moreover, it provides valuable insights into how clever arrangements of images and text can influence our consuming habits. Editor Jim Heimann and author Steven Heller have done a superb job.

Jim Heimann
Steven Heller
20th Century Alcohol & Tobacco Ads
Taschen, Cologne 2018

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

In Valparaíso und anderswo

Als Fremder in einem fremden Land hat man das Privileg, sich daneben zu benehmen, aus dem Rahmen zu fallen, Dinge zu wagen, die man sich zuhause niemals trauen würde.

Auch nimmt man in der Fremde Sachen wahr, die einem in vertrauter Umgebung selten auffallen. Und lernt dabei wieder zu staunen – über eine Autofahrt in der dünnen bolivianischen Luft, die sich anfühlte, als sitze man auf einer Wolke; über eine Kleinstadt in der südkalifornischen Wüste, von der die Bewohner sagen, das sei nicht das Ende der Welt, doch von hier aus könne man es sehen; über die Stille in Westfinnland, die nicht alle ertragen.

Von einem begabten Schnorrer in London ist die Rede, von pünktlichen Italienern in Amsterdam, von in der Mittagshitze zerplatzenden Coca Cola Flaschen im brasilianischen Maceío wie auch von der Lebensweisheit einer Thailänderin, die einem deutschen Ehepaar in Phuket erklärte: 'When men finish love, they go“.

Davon und noch von vielem Anderen – von Charakterfragen über die allmähliche Zerstörung des Vertrauens bis zu der eigenartigen Tatsache, dass der Mensch die Wahrheit nicht erträgt und sich deshalb ständig selbst belügt – handeln diese Kolumnen, die Alltägliches zum Anlass nehmen, um über Grundsätzliches nachzudenken. Über Meinungsäusserungsfreiheit und Selbstzensur, Radikalisierungen und Integrationsgeschwafel sowie über Geneviève aus Lausanne, die für ein Wochenende nach Paris fuhr, um dort ihrem ultimativen Luxus zu frönen: Im Hotelzimmer Bücher zu lesen.

Hans Durrer
In Valparaíso und anderswo
neobooks, 2018

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Sometimes I see what's in front of me (1)

Santa Cruz do Sul, Rio Grande do Sul, Janeiro 2018