“I saw a man ripping those posters apart. Asked by a friend of mine if he liked the posters, this young man of about 30 years of age, same as mine, said “Well, this is Joseph Goebbels and my name is Levi”, said the man without any apparent display of anger or any emotions whatsoever. Having said that, he turned around and left”. This is one of the reactions to a controversional provocative art campaign “Joseph Goebbels Trade Mark”, created by Aleksandar Macasev. We spoke to him towards the end of this campaign on August 8.
The posters portraying the image of Goebbels are part of BELEF (Belgrade Summer Festival) programme, whose motto this year is “Concentrate”. In an explanation of his work, Macasev says that it is an art piece in the form of a media campaign: “Its main motif is Joseph Goebbels. His portrait is made up of little logos of international media companies. The message is very clear - today’s media culture and mass communication rely heavily on the principle of Dr Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Minister of Propaganda”.
The rest of the campaign was, for a good reason conducted, in a “Nazi” manner, the author explains: “You have to have a strong image to get people’s attention. The logo of the whole campaign has been done in the form of “Nazi” symbols, but instead of a swastika, there are four loudspeakers, which is quite evident. Apart from this main thesis that Josepsh Goebbels is the father of contemporary media culture, it is essential to underline that nothing is being sold here, there is no event, nor am I talking about the man Joseph Goebbels, but this is only a trademark or brand. That’s what this small TM in the corner stands for. This implies the state of media, which is the Joseph Goebbels state. I’m not painting anything black or white, I do not judge media, nor am I pointing my finger at anyone in particular. I’m just trying to point out one particular thing, the state of media culture today”, Macasev explains.
- Do you think that it is clear that your campaign does not judge anything?
- My personal opinion is that it doesn’t. I personally neither accuse nor defend.
- What is it in the picture that confirms this thesis?
- The campaign itself can easily be seen as the one in which I see all media as Goebbelsesque - and that’s that. But, one should look beyond that. One should question how capable we are of taking one step back and seeing how his principles are basically the principles of today’s mass media. It is very easy to see the campaign as negative. When you look at the poster from afar, you will see the portrait of Joseph Goebbels and you think it’s very clear to you – Ok, some Nazi guy has put up the posters! The point is, however, that you should look more closely. People are used to swallowing media messages in a split second.
- How do you imagine then to keep people’s attention on the poster and make them look “more closely”
- If you get close enough, you can look more closely and see more. Right after the launch of the “Goebbels campaign”, B92 website published a commentary of some person who couldn’t believe that Goebbels’ poster was put up, and some other person reponded with “Well, did you see what it’s about?”.
- I get the people’s attention with image and words just my attention was caught with the posters of Mirko Marjanovic (former Yugoslav PM in Milosevic’s government). These days I saw a campaign for pressing charges against Mirko Marjanovic again, against whom the charges have apparently been dropped. The poster next to the picture says “October 6th”, with the slogan ‘”If he isn’t guilty, then all of us are”. The images of Mirko Marjanovic were put up over my posters of Goebbels, and the “Goebbels” sign remained and could be seen underneath. I found this merge very interesting.
- In the video-clip for “Goebbels TM” you exlusively use the symbols of Nazism, then the logos of different world media with the slogan “There is no truth”. Don’t you think that apart from other things, you are launching the idea of a conspiracy theory?
- I don’t believe in conspiracy theory, but it’s interesting how conspiracy theory is connected to this story of mine – that we cannot reach the truth. I cannot know whether something is true, unless the event took place in my nearest surroundings, so that I was able to see it for myself. We can receive messages, adopt them and choose a story to believe in. There is a difference here that people often neglect and this makes the power of media. And there is a clear strategy in media campaigns: you have to be concise, clear and aggressive. I could have produced a poster that says “There is no truth” and no one would pay attention to it, but the point is to use the media of advertising campaign in the best possible way – with a strong image and a short slogan.
- Have you thought about using the slogan “There is truth: across the image of Joseph Goebbels? Wouldn’t that make us think?
- My personal attitude in the whole story is that there is no truth, really, that it has become irrelevant. Growing up surrounded by media, I became a sceptic. I virtually swallow media, I love media. One professor told me at university: “don’t believe a thing I say, think for yourself”, and it was a very exact science involved, geometry. Therein lies the recipe for healthier life in the media surroundings – scepticism and questioning. I don’t take things for granted. I accept them as narratives, as a story. The problem is that a man has to come through the strength of information, but he usually gets tired and stops somewhere, never goes to investigate it to the end.
- Why do you deal with media and design?
- My motive is artistic and visual. I love to communicate through pictures. I left the last advertisting agency about a year and a half ago, and now I teach students at university, I do my artistic projects and deal with commercial design. I take great interest in the media issue, because on one hand people are aware of the enormous power of media, and on the other they do not know how much their opinion is shaped with the help of the same media they watch.
- Have you ever been manipulated by media?
- Yes, I have. Very often. A friend of mine has recenlty suggested that we go to Albania, because, apart from other things, it has a very nice coastline. I said: “Why in the world should I go there!?”, and at the same time I thought to myself: “Can you hear yourself speaking, have you ever been there?”. What I’m trying to say is that we are manipulated on a daily basis, from the tiniest detail like “You should buy toothpaste that saves your teeth at night”. It takes a lot of strength to come through the unconsciously adopted prejudices.
- Have you had a moral dilemma concerning any campaign you had to produce?
- Of course, many times. This often shows how professional you are, how unscrupulous, and how strong are your personal beliefs, and of course how much money you need.
- How unscrupulous do you have to be in the advertising business today? Does this profession include manipulation?
- Oh, yes. A lot. I have seen the way campaigns are made. When you are a designer you are just a small part of the machinery. The question is whether you’re going to work or not. After a while, I realised I didn’t want to do it. There were other reasons, it was too uncreative, too narrow and with a lot of things I didn’t agree with. I decided to work from home what I like to do most. Designer Mirko Ilic said that the advertising industry has great responsibility, and that designers are usually not aware of that responsibility. I’m not saying that designers and advertisers sell nothing, that they are bad and that no one should listen to them. There are quality things there, very well designed things, but generally the whole mechanism works that way.
- When did you have your biggest moral dilemma?
- In the campaign against piracy. I buy bootlegs. We all do, we just don’t want to admit it. It was embarrassing. In the end, my work wasn’t accepted. Luckily (laugh).
I think that the best thing is to look at one thing from as many angles as you can, I think that in that way our lives would have more quality and would be much happier. My intention with “Joseph Goebbels TM” campaign was to take a step back in time and to state what’s happening to us. I think we’ve become more mature 60 years after the fall of Nazism. We can only get richer with more knowledge and possible angles of looking at things if we question things. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings and on the eve of launching the campaign I notified the Jewish Community of the campaing.
Incidentally, after the campaign had been launched, several messages were posted on our website www.goebbels.info where some people accused me of being a Nazi, but there were no messages by neo-Nazis in which they supported me, which was rather interesting. There were some very commendable messages. Rambo Amadeus (Serbian rock singer) wrote: “A very good project. Are you interested in cooperating with me?”. Some people told me “Why, he is a war criminal. Do you know how many Serbs died in that war?”. My response was: “If the Serbs can put up the posters of Karadzic and Mladic on every corner, Goebbels will come as a refreshment to them!”. It’s well designed, if nothing else.