Aleksandar Macasev discusses the power of mass media and the “father of modern propaganda” Joseph Goebbels
Repeat message thousand times, it becomes truth
An interview by Aleksandra Cuk
“Joseph Goebbels TM” deals with modern mass communication and does not propagate the principles of Nazism or any suchlike ideology. If after visiting the website you’re left with some different impression, that’s only your problem”, says Aleksandar Macasev on the homepage of his website www.goebbels.info , launched especially for the campaign of “Joseph Goebbels TM”. As of today, the active campaign within the visual program of this year’s BELEF starts, utilizing all available media: billboards, posters, postcards you can buy in bookshops (IPS, Plato), TV and radio clips. For all those interested in the specific time and place of the opening of this exhibition, we’ve got some explaining to do. The art piece is in the form of the media campaign itself, which will go on for the next two weeks everywhere around us. All of this was the cause for the interview with the man who created this work, a Belgrade artist and designer Aleksandar Macasev.
- Why did you use the media campaign as an art piece?
- The problem with contemporary art is that it loses pace with other forms of mass communication: entertainment, movie spectacles, concerts of our folk singers and all the rest. No one is saying that it necessarily has to compete with the above mentioned forms, but what you have in offer at the same time is the advertisement for panty liners, political programs and modern art pieces and somebody’s concert. Everyone has their counter on the market place and you can either buy their product or not. This is one of the reasons why I have always wanted to concentrate my work on the use of available mass media, through a media campaign. The advertising strategies are very efficient and contemporary art can use them as both an object and means for work. Therefore, you don’t have to go to any opening or event, art will come to you, just like the advertisement you can’t get rid of unless you change the channel”.
- Apart from the aggressive media campaign as a form of an art piece, you have used a very power motif - Joseph Goebbels. Why him?
- When you google the word “propaganda”, the only thing you get is his name. Joseph Goebbels is a paradigm figure of propaganda. My thesis is that he is the father of contemporary mass communication. I know it sounds problematic, but let me explain: The Americans, Russians and British used the same strategies, but only the Nazis and Goebbels remained most remembered. Why he and not some other Russian, English or American minister of propaganda? Because notoriety turned out to be something that you would most likely be remembered by in history, rather than by what is good”.
- Which are the specific principles of Goebbels’ propaganda that make him stand apart?
- There are lots of them, but what he will be remembered by is the famous, almost apocryphal statement: “Repeat a lie a thousand times and it becomes the truth”. This is what modern mass communication is based on. Although, I would like to paraphrase Dr Goebbels and say: Repeat a message a thousand times and it becomes the truth. Hence a very clear conclusion – there is no truth. All information is irrelevant. History and all media messages are mere narratives. Truth is what you choose to believe in. Such mechanism works in 99 percent of the cases. No one ever bothers to think whether the toothpaste that is advertised as most efficient during the night really is such. No, we choose to believe what the advertisement says and cannot check the validity of the claims. This is what the power of media relies heavily on. The thick layer around the planet made of interwoven media that send messages to the receiver every day. “
- One of the recently broadcast video recordings also radically stirred the public opinion.
- Yes, the appearance of the video recording from Srebrenica is an obvious example of the power of media, particularly audio-visual. This means that ten years from the event in Srebrenica, and all that’s been written about it and talked about did not do a thing. One video recording shifted the whole situation and made radical changes in public opinion. Of course, a great question remains why the video has shown up at this moment, and why it was followed by some other recordings.
- And the graphic form of your work?
- The graphic solution of the whole campaign sprung from my previous interactive project – “The unstable portrait of Joseph G”, displayed at the web art festival in Podgorica (www.kontrola.co.yu/Goebbels). A very good photographic portrait was composed for this campaign made up of the logos of world-famous media companies. The message is clear: all the media use the principles of Joseph Goebbels. The trick is when you look from afar, the only thing you see on the billboard, poster or postcard is the portrait of Joseph Goebbels, but if you look closer at it, you will see what it’s made up of. This is also another message of our campaign: Look more closely. I’d like to underline that the whole campaign does not deal with the relations good-bad or truth-lie. Although I speak of media campaigns, this campaign is not an activist or anti-media one. I’m simply underlining a particular state.
- But you’re not only underlining, you’re also using it.
- Yes, I make comments on the media using media itself, on propaganda using propaganda. I don’t believe in anti-media activism of Michael Moore or anti-brand activism of Naomi Cline. Michael Moore uses the same strategies as people he criticizes. The same goes for “No Logo” book by Naomi Cline. “No logo” has become a brand itself (incidentally, brand this is the favorite Serbian word). Very charming inconsistency.
- And what is your attitude towards media?
- I may call myself an addict, since in my apartment all the equipment is always turned on. I am always on-line, and there is always some TV program running in the corner of my PC while I’m working on my computer. Media is something you can’t avoid, it is a powerful force. I find this whole situation very amusing.
- I would say that you have chosen the main motif for your work and campaign in a rather delicate period, in the year when people celebrate 60 years of victory over fascism.
- This is not a coincidence. The historical distance of 60 years may allow us to look back on history in a more relaxed manner. One of the symptoms is “Downfall”, the film on the last days of Hitler, where he is represented as a human being, and not only as a caricature with Chaplin-like moustaches, who yells from the speaker’s platform. We could call this propaganda also. A war criminal of such proportion could not have been portrayed in any other way but through the only acceptable form, as a caricature.
- You make obvious parallels with Nazi symbols in your work.
- People are afraid to say how seductive this concept is to them, at least on the pure visual level. The movies by Leni Riefenstahl, the recordings of military parades, Spare’s scenography, iconography, the order and ultimate power. The power that frames this whole image. Nietzsche is smiling at us with his big moustache.
- Today starts your “Joseph Goebbels TM” campaign. Are you interested in the reactions of the public?
- Naturally, this is exactly what I’m interested in. Although, it is a slightly inconvenient time for a media campaign since it is summer, people are on holidays, maybe a little drowsy, but this would cool them off a bit, to avoid saying “refresh”. What I wish to recommend now is to visit www.Goebbels.info. Apart from excellent design of the material, you will be able to track the life of the campaign through reaction of the public as well as the press-clipping.
Joseph Goebbels as trademark
Apart from the portrait of Joseph Goebbels made up of little trade marks of media companies, the whole graphic form reminds of Nazi symbols. The swastika in the white circle on the red background is replaced by four loudspeakers. The message is clear, I believe. I am making a trademark out of Joseph Goebbels. So this is not a man, or an institution or a company Joseph Goebbels TM. Or to put it plainly, a “registered” symptom of our time.