Tuesday, 31 January 2006

Evil sells burgers

Some libertarian friends are debating the sign on the left. The question at issue: just how appropriate is it to use symbolism from a regime under which 30 million people were murdered and a whole world was under threat just in order to sell burgers? CR sees nothing wrong:
The hammer and sickle has hardly been a potent icon since 1989 so if it is deemed effective in marketing burgers......who cares? On the basis that freedom is indivisible what possible grounds do a group of freedom lovers have to question another party's sense of propriety?
If the marketing tool is effective in attracting patrons.......good luck to the business owners. If it ceases to work for them then the tool will be abandoned. Who knows the next ploy could be...."Saddam's Sausages" "Bush Burgers" (Whoops that cannot be appropriate). Years ago I knew a polio victim who ran a fish and chips shop, his own banner referred to "Cripple Cut Chips"......the pun did his cashflow
no end of good.
RT sees the funny side: "Imagine how utterly gutted the communists must be feeling seeing their beloved symbol smacked onto a capitalist burger shop." BKD objects, and puts the case against:

Using the hammer and sickle in a billboard reduces the iconography of evil into a marketing gimmick. While future evils can be prevented by ridiculing or trivializing them in the present, past evils can not, because to diminish them diminishes our historical memory of evil and its works. If we become familiar with a symbol in a happy context (and food is primal happiness), then how can that symbol shock us? And if the emblem of Stalin will not shock us, then for how long can Stalinists be stigmatized and isolated? A generation of children is growing up in a society where Che, Castro, a yellow star, and now a hammer and sickle are popular iconography: the stuff of tee-shirts and Happy Meals. Who will explain to these children just what these men did, just what was done under those banners? We are annihilating our historical memory by hiding it in plain view.

"The People Have Spoken" says the billboard. Which people? Natan Sharansky? Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn? Does nobody remember what happened to these people when they spoke? And those two lived. The Burger Fuel marketing team may consider itself brave by courting controversy. But real bravery is acting against evil that can do you harm. To the thousands and more who risked – and those who lost – everything they loved on Earth by denouncing the Soviets, by denouncing the hammer and sickle, this billboard is a contemptuous insult. What you we were willing to risk your life to destroy, we will use to sell burgers.

So yeah, I can see something wrong with this billboard. And I'm fucked if I'm going to let it go unchallenged. Who's with me?

Would it be any different if it was a swastika instead of a hammer and sickle? Would you drink at the Lenin Bar if it was called 'Hitler'? Would you?

UPDATE: Here's a discussion between two characters, Bolshevik firebrand Andrei Taganov, and the individualist heroine, Kira, from Ayn Rand's early 'Soviet' novel We the Living:
[Andrei:] "I know what you're going to say. You're going to say, as so many of our enemies do, that you admire our ideals, but loathe our methods."
[Kira:] "I loathe your ideals."
"For one reason, mainly, chiefly, and eternally, no matter how much your Party promises to accomplish, no matter what paradise it plans to bring mankind. Whatever your other claims may be, there's one you can't avoid, one that will turn your paradise into the most unspeakable hell: your claim that man must live for t he state."
"What better purpose can he live for?"
"Don't you know," her voice trembled suddenly in a passionate plea she could not hide," don't you know that there are things, in the best of us, which no outside hand should dare touch? Things sacred because, and only because, one can say: 'This is mine'? Don't you know that we live only for ourselves, the best of us do, those who are worthy of it? Don't you know that there is something in us which must not be touched by any state, by any collective, by any number of millions?"
He answered: "No."
"Comrade Taganov," she whispered, "how much you have to learn!" More here.
Interestingly, the wartime Italian Fascists made a film of this 'Anti-Soviet' novel (from which the photo above of Kira and Andrei comes) that rated so well and about which Mussolini was so proud that it was shown to Joseph Goebbels. 'You fools,' Goebbels was reported to have said, 'it's not just anti-Soviet, it's anti-all-of-us!' Goebbels at least was under no illusions about what Communism and Nazism had in common. (Stories about the film here and here.)


  1. You might like to read Martin Amis' book Koba the Dread, where he argues the very point that the Soviet Union was far more murderous and there is a hypocrisy on the part of old Commmunist Sympathisers in the UK where they vividly recall their times as Trotskyists/Stalinists/Marxists-Leninists but don't see the parallels with Brownshirts and Nazism.

  2. Damn right, Aaron. The debate at the publication in France of 'The Black Book of Communism' asked the same question. From one review:

    Nazis are banned from respectable politics, why not Communists as well? After all, communism’s death toll—100 million, in his estimation—greatly exceeded that of Nazism. With most political forces attempting to bar Jean Le Pen’s National Front from government, the implications of shunning the Communists would not be merely academic.

    The book will not produce a comparable reaction everywhere, but the issues it raises are central to 20th century politics. Is communism the moral equivalent of Nazism? Does the book dispose of “the fable of good Lenin/bad Stalin,” as its American introduction claims? Are all forms of communism essentially the same—“criminal enterprises in their very essence?”

    The answer to all three questions: Bloody right.

    However, former Nazis are rightly disgraced, whereas former communists are not -- disgusting, but bloody difficult to explain.

  3. And interestingly, the friendship between Amis and Christopher HItchens (who I do enjoy reading as well) became strained when Amis asked Hitchens to renounce his former ComSymp ways on the grounds it was just as evil as Nazism.

    One gets the impression that the evils of Nazism are magnified because they were defeated and their modus operandi dissected by the victorious allies, whereas we (English speaking Allied nations following WW2) could not bring ourselves to demonise Stalinism as the Soviets and Uncle Joe were Allies too. And to be fair, we should recognise that the evils of Nazism were defeated in part of the collossal manpower and industry of the Soviet Union.

    That did change somewhat when the cold war broke out, but it should be noted that the lies of McCarthy and the nuttiness of the John Birch Society would have made it counter productive to be heavily anti-communist for a period of time when Western Europe and America needed to be focused on the real evils of communism in Europe and Asia.

  4. Totally agree. A few thoughts around this:
    1. Communism didn’t suffer the same total military defeat, post-occupation exposure, and criminal trials that Nazism did, hence it is not perceived as unfavorably.
    2. The political left retains a romantic attachment to Marxism and Leninism and differentiate it from Stalinism, under which many (most?) of the murders occurred. But they continue to ignore the fact that any centralization of political power creates a framework were massive abuse, up to and including megacide, can occur.
    3. Nazism gets a worse rap than Communism because barbarism was expected from the Russians, but not the nation that brought us Wagner, Mozart and Beethoven. ;)

  5. Back to the original point, rather than the nazi v communism debate: the billboard is a play on communism iconography; nothing more, nothing less.

    Have a laugh, or don't. I'm laughing - just like I laugh at the guys in the Che Guevera shirts.

    Any, by the way, Burger Fuel is crap (in my opinion).

  6. I laughed when Performance Bikes advertised their "LUNATIC" t-shirt by photoshopping it onto a photo of Hitler addressing a rally.

  7. Stu, you said, "the billboard is a play on communism iconography; nothing more, nothing less."

    Maybe. It's true that the Soviets did do striking propaganda -- I always had a liking for this statue for example at the otherwise risible All-Russian Exhibition Centre in Moscow. I wondered when the Cold War ended if Russia might emerge as a poweful force in advertising and graphics, but it wasn't to be. Instead we see the recycling of iconography by others, with no hint of its blood-stained source.

  8. Am I the only one to be offended less by the advertisement's symbolism and more by its lack of a possessive apostrophe in "People[']s Choice"? Hammer feeling a bit sickle about it, actually.

  9. ^^^^^^ haha

    Yes, well it's a contingent matter. Once upon a time the skull and crossbones was a symbol to rail against but now who gives a damn?
    All the better if the iconography is redeamed by capitalism when it used to be of the dark side.

    Less cut and dry about the mug shot of Che Guevara which is perhaps something more than merely iconographic.

  10. I've encountered a number of idiots who think Nazism is part of the capitalist military-industrial conspiracy they loathe - communism will never be demonised like Nazism, because it was so loved by so many until it collapsed. Nazi Germany was so blatantly expansionist and so blatantly murderous AND was the enemy of communism - so it will always be seen as worse. Communism murdered people far less efficiently, and lasted for so long, that it was normalised - and communist expansionism was largely a postwar "carving up the spoils of war" exercise, and a rejection of colonialism.

    I find the use of communist symbolism legitimate only to abuse or to laugh at.


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