instruction manual for wallets?
by Art Chantry (email@example.com)
You gals out there may not be aware of this, but when us guys buy a new wallet, they often come with instructions. yes, I know, it sounds really dumb, but remember, it’s us guys. there are so many niceties and customs and just plain logic that utterly escapes us.
When a guy gets a new wallet, there are usually special little cards stuffed inside. they are usually (at least) labels for simple instruction-by-example. for instance, the last wallet I got (usually a gift from a girlfriend disgusted by the shapeless brown blob of a wallet i’ve been using too long) came with no less than four (4!) little white cards stuffed into various pockets in the wallet. they were exactly the same size as a credit card, even down to the rounded corners. on the edge of each one (all four sides – the back was blank) were the words “credit card”. when you opened the wallet there were all these generic fake credit cards in there to to actually show you exactly what you were supposed to put in those little pockets! amazing, huh?
The second-to-last wallet I got (an xmas gift a couple of years back. it’s always so funny, because within six months ALL the gift wallets become shapeless brown blobs) came with a much more elaborate and wonderful set of little cards telling you how to use the pockets. this set in this particular wallet had fake seals and wording and images on each one to look like a fake driver’s license, fake credit card, fake ‘photo of your girlfriend’ (often a popular movie star!), etc. they were really crummy and crude and pretty darn sweet – almost like the ‘fantasy’ of what a guy carries in his wallet. I still have those (maybe someday i’ll use them to make a poster.)
Lots of product come with these idiot instructions built into them. It’s called ‘graphic design’. this thing I’ve posted today came inside one of those instant cheapo dime store frames you can buy to slap around your cherished diploma or high school portrait photo. these frames are designed to be boneheaded easy – you pry back the little nails and then slip you picture into the layers against the glass (usually using this cardboard ‘ad’ sheet as the reinforcing backing), bend the nails back down and hang ‘er up on the wall.
If you look closely at this great graphic image, you’ll find those very instructions printed on there. If you can’t read, you have a picture of a slightly sexy matronly woman doing it in front of you to explain how (“heck, if that milf can do it, i can do it easy!”). I have male friends who NEVER read instructions, but take great pride in only looking at the diagrams alone. they usually screw it up, too.
This stuff is wonderful. It’s REAL graphic design, not that fancy-pants decorative ‘I’m an artist in my spare time’ world of graphic design. this is the world of design LANGUAGE that I love the most. It’s created to SELL the product, EXPLAIN how to use it and (in this case) even DISPOSE of it by using as a backboard. usually we just toss this crap out. It’s so ephemeral, it makes newspapers seems like a long-term relationship.
But, look at the care and thought and sheer talent that went into the creation of this insert thingie. this is not the work of an amateur or some ‘grunt’. It’s certainly not the work of a fine craftsman or ‘fine artist’, either. It’s the work of a journeyman graphic designer – the guy who speaks to the world in this weird visual language and explains what to do, what to buy, how to think. we all understand this language fluently, but never realize that we do. the result is that graphic designers can tell us to do just about anything. we designers are the front line of coercion. we create marketing propaganda at it’s purest. we use this universal ignored language to get into your skull and fuck with your head. we use everything at our disposal (line, shape, color, texture, icon, word, form, etc. etc.) to get you to BUY something, GO to a concert, ATTEND this place, EAT this food, VOTE FOR THIS CANDIDATE. we’re very dangerous people, actually. and we do it fhomever is willing to hire us. “nothing personal, it’s just business.”
Remember Ronald Reagan? he’s the president who started the conservative revolution that resulted in the mess we live through today. Ronnie was one hell of a puppet. I mean he was a professional actor, for chrissakes, ya know? one of the easy truisms of American politics is that in a democratic presidency, the guy in the chair is in charge and the people standing around him do what he says. however, I once had this amazing history instructor point out to the class that in a Republican administration, the guys to watch are the folks standing BEHIND and AROUND the president – they’re the guys in charge and that executive chair is occupied by their FRONT.
After 57 years of observation, I actually think this is true. this observation even explains how Reagan was able to cover his alzheimer’s from us even during his presidency (remember the astonishing “i don’t remember” responses at the iran-contra hearings? we all thought he was lying. but, he seemed so sincere!). he was the puppet of those evil clowns standing around him running the show. he just did what he was told to do, like an ad campaign with a pitchman in front of the camera. he gave new meaning to the phrase, ‘acting president.’
The guy who created Ronald Reagan, molded his political public image, the guy who built the campaign that put him into office and kept him there – and thereby launched the conservative ‘revolution’ in Amerika – was a genius. he was was one of the best and brightest (and most successful) products of the west coast, Los Angeles, advertising/marketing scene. his name was Michael Deaver and he’s probably one of the most important power brokers of the last half century in America. he changed the world.
Never heard of him? he had a trophy job in the Reagan administration, but it was pretty much gravy by that point. after he built the ad machine that elected Ronald Reagan his job in the white house was simply to keep the fantasy of the Reagan presidency nicely polished and grabbing exactly the attention they wanted it to grab. he was in charge of the president’s IMAGE. Michael Deaver was the guy who SOLD us conservatism in pretty red/white&blue blister pack package- and we ate it up with a plastic spoon (provided inside). basically it’s HIS fault. HE DID IT.
So, you can never underestimate the sheer and frightening POWER that this weird language of graphic design has in this culture – in human culture. the greatest art director/marketing man in the last century was a frustrated failed architectural landscape artist named Adolf Hitler. he created most of his campaign, even carefully choosing and modifying the ancient swastika for a corporate logo. I have a book reproducing many of his pencil sketches for the entire appearance and public image of the Nazi party – the insignia, the flag, the banners, the uniforms, the posters, the currency, the architecture (along with Speer), etc. etc. etc. his hand is in EVERY thing that was even remotely useful as propaganda in his movement. he orchestrated it like a true master art director. there’s even a pencil sketch of what he wanted his ‘people’s car’ to look like – the Volkswagen. the sketch looks exactly like a Volkswagon Bug. it’s pretty amazing to see. someday I’ll show all of this to you in another essay. It’s too big to tackle here.
So, my theory is that we graphic designers actually spearheaded all that. sure, it’s a rareified and focused form of this design language, to be sure. but, it’s still part of the basic vocabulary of what we do. most graphic designers never EVER think about the larger implications of their work. they are simply working for anybody willing to hire them. they gotta live, ya know? the rent doesn’t grow on trees in America. so, we all take this massively powerful visual language that we can easily use to trick people into doing almost anything we want – and we whore it out to any scoundrel or evil empire that’s willing to fork over the cash. the very idea of saying “no” to a client is like blasphemy in the “design business book of rules.”
At this point in my life, I think we need to look before we leap. we’ve all done work we (in retrospect) maybe wish we hadn’t been involved with. there is always some client who used your work to do things you think are against any sort of common good – maybe even against your own good. hell, I even once did a project for a gun runner. talk about evil. I’m as guilty as the next guy.
We all need to be more careful. in a country that has one religion – money – we almost always overlook the larger moral implications of how we get that money. we sort look the other way, or justify with something lame like, “well, if I don’t take this money, somebody else will.’ maybe we should step back once in a while and actually think before we lunge for the cash.
I think i’ll frame up this cool cheapo picture fame insert/instruction card. I think I’ll hang it on my wall like it tells me to do.