When Did Posters From A Defeated Murderous Dictatorship Become Pop Art?
Over the weekend, the Internet had some fun with the photos that appear in a new profile of White House Press Secretary Jay Carney and his wife, ABC News reporter Claire Shipman, in the new issue of Washingtonian Mom. In addition to the photo with the ridiculously huge Jenga set and the mock press conference in front of a set of photoshopped bookshelves, the profile also includes the above photograph of Shipman and the Carney children in what I assume is the kitchen of their home. Leaving aside the levitating egg, the absurd amount of food sitting out on the counter, and the looks on their faces, more than a few people noticed the fact that there are two posters in the Carney kitchen that just happen to be Soviet era propaganda posters. You can see the posters in better detail in this enhanced photo at The Week.
Here’s one of the posters, which is essentially a recruitment poster for the Red Army since it asks, in Russian of course, “Have You Enlisted?”
The second is a World War II era poster about factory workers:
The other poster features a female factory worker. According to this eBay seller, who is offering one for $1,660, the poster was printed on June 26, 1941, days after Russia began fighting the Axis powers in World War II. It encourages women take jobs vacated by men who have gone to fight. The woman in the poster is switching out a tag with a man’s name to one with hers and the text says: “Women! Learn production, replace workers who went to the front! The stronger the hinterland – the stronger the front!”
Given that Carney and Shipman met while the two of them were younger reporters covering what end up being the final years of the Soviet Union’s existence, it’s not surprising that we’d see some reminders of that country in their home. In addition to the posters, for example the photograph of the bookcase noted above seems to include what may or may not be a Mikhail Gorbachev bobble head doll. Given that you can find posters like these, and others representing designs from the Soviet era, on sale on eBay suggests, though, that Carney and Shipman aren’t the only ones who have things like this in their home and that these propaganda posters from the era of Lenin and Stalin have become some kind of kitsch pop art akin to Che Guevara t-shirts and prints of Andy Warhol’s famous painting of Mao Zedong. Except for wingnuts on the right, nobody is going to seriously suggest that the fact that Carney and Shipman, or anyone else, have posters like these in their homes means that they are in fact Communists or some such thing. Obviously, they’re just posters. The question is, how this came to be and why propaganda from a regime that murdered tens of millions of people over the course of its existence is now seen as little more than a cute addition to kitchen decor.
For example, if someone had propaganda posters from Nazi Germany hanging in their home we would, quite rightly, consider that to be beyond the pale. If that person was a government official like Carney, they’d no doubt be forced to resign from office in the wake of the media uproar. The reaction would likely be the same if it were something from North Korea, or the apartheid regime in South Africa, or the Jim Crow south. The Soviet Union, however, was just as bad as all of these regimes, if not worse, so I find myself honestly puzzled as to why it is that propaganda from that regime is considered pop art rather than offensive representation of a regime that was thankfully sent to the dustbin of history.