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TPP propaganda: John Thune's Neoliberal Realism

Let's playfully take the artwork that pro-TPP traitor Senator John Thune (R-SD) tweeted as representative of an entire stylistic school, and let's call that school "Neoliberal Realism," and let's compare it to old-school "Socialist Realism." Take a look at Figure 1 and Figure 2 and see if you can spot the similarities and differences, formally and thematically.

Figure 1: Neoliberal Realism


Figure 2: Socialist Realism



We can summarize the similarities and differences in the following two tables:

Table I: Formal similarities between Neoliberal Realism and Socialist Realism

Strong geometry
Flat planes of primary colors
Backgrounds of beige industrial structures
Highly stylized

Table II: Formal differences between Socialist Realism and Neoliberal Realism

Socialist Realism Neoliberal Realism
Geometry: Dynamic, left to right Static1, bottom to top2
Glorifies: Workers (and the social relations between them) Shipping containers (and how they are stacked)
Slogan: Beneath image, small Within image, dominant

1 Although there is open, blue sky in the background of Thune's artwork, the geometry of the image does not create a sense of movement toward it. That, combined with the dominance of the foreground shipping container, virtually breathes TINA (There Is No Alternative).

2 In fact, so anxious is Thune's artist to establish the geometry of a pyramidal power structure, he seriously distorts the shipping container's verticals.

* * *

Now let's compare the two images thematically.

If we look carefully at Thune's image, I don't think we can have much hope that TPP is intended to help working people. The artwork sends two messages.

First, in Thune's world of "Neoliberal Realism", people don't matter; there are no people in the image at all. Containers full of commodities, however, figure largely. Contrast the Chinese world of "Socialist Realism", where the social relations between workers are central.

Second, Thune places a propaganda slogan inside the picture frame, directly on the central, and dominant, shipping container. Contrast the Chinese propaganda, where the slogan is outside the frame, and subordinate.

I don't think it's too much of a stretch to see Thune's Orwellianly-sized slogan text "Trade Promotion Authority for a Strong America" as a proxy for the treaty text of TPP itself ("the rules"), which, although secret, will have a powerful effect on the material reality within Thune's world --and ours -- just as much as as the pictured container cranes, container ships, and the hidden commodities themselves. In fact, Thune's tweet says as much. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality," as "a senior advisor to Bush" famously said, although not of trade. And we might also remember (see Table 1) that part of this created reality is TINA -- a form of "realism" as well.

Readers, do you find Neoliberal Realism as disturbing as I do? Or am I reading too much into the image?

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Submitted by tom moody on

Good analysis and comparison -- the complete absence of people in the Thune graphic is very revealing. As for "creating our own reality," this led me to re-investigate Ron Suskind's NYT magazine essay where that phrase was used. Suskind didn't say the speaker was Rove so I looked at the Wikipedia entry for "reality-based community." Sorry for going so far off the subject but the Wikipedians (wingnuts?) seem to be missing the point of the anecdote: "the phrase is used as a slogan (particularly by liberal and left-wing speakers) to argue that a person is 'outside the reality-based community': that their political plan is unrealistic, poorly planned or based on ideology and unlikely to succeed." I've always used "reality-based community" as an example of the arrogance of the Bush claque, to think that their boss's faith-based judgment coupled with their own spin was an adequate substitute for the "empirical" and "enlightenment-based" principles (as counterposed by Suskind), which they laughed off. Your example of the Thune graphic shows that the oligarchs are still in the reality-creating business, and it will likely be only after the passage of TPP (assuming it can't be stopped) that it becomes apparent that the treaty, like Bush's war, was "unrealistic, poorly planned or based on ideology."

Submitted by lambert on

I remember vividly how "the reality-based community" became a catchphrase in the left blogosphere pre-2006, when blogging was not yet divided between Democratic loyalists and the rest of us.

And then came Obama, whereupon "the reality-based community" fell for "hope and change" hook, line, and sinker.

I'll correct the post, and thanks very much for recalling the history, which matters.

Barmitt O'Bamney's picture
Submitted by Barmitt O'Bamney on

Constructivism is another graphic style Neoliberals have adopted (or coopted if you prefer) with disturbing aggressiveness. If Babelfish is translating the title correctly from Newspeak to English, this composition is called
"Smash The Blue Phalanx With The Red Wedge."

nippersdad's picture
Submitted by nippersdad on

That is substantially what I saw when I first saw this logo. Now I no longer feel like I am seeing things that are not there.

Submitted by lambert on

On the one hand, in actual use, it's hard to imagine having an arrow that points left, since that would typically be, er, toward the margin on things like stationery.

OTOH, that red arrow right does send a powerful message...

nippersdad's picture
Submitted by nippersdad on

Why does Thunes' graphic remind me so strongly of a movie marquee? "Welcome to the Paradise"; looks like an album cover. Derivative, but substantively theatrical.

The Chinese poster looks like it could have been done by Norman Rockwell.

I don't really know where I am going with this, but it is interesting (to me) that he would choose as a genre something reminiscent of an album cover over the paintings of a guy who did such quintessentially American paintings.