Sunday, May 29, 2011

Nazi Iconography

I have a confession to make: I don't watch much football. But last night I watched Barcelona outplay Manchester United. Barcelona were superb with their control, possession and all round footballing play.

Something was disturbing me about Man Utd's strip. After several minutes I realised what it was. The red arm patch with the black and white logo, of the Champions League starball, evokes the image of a Nazi arm band. I'm not saying this was an intentional design conceit but I don't think you can have a red band on your arm with a white circle with a black geometric shape without it evoking a Nazi arm band.

See this image taken by Tom Jenkins for the Observer

The arm patch of the geometric ball on a red band evokes a nazi arm band.

There is a history of designers "playing" with Nazi imagery. Often it's not through any malevolent intent but purely through ignorance of the historical and political context of the imagery. An example is when Bryan Ferry apologized for liking Nazi imagery.
He told Welt am Sonntag: "The Nazis knew how to put themselves in the limelight and present themselves.

"Leni Riefenstahl's movies and Albert Speer's buildings and the mass parades and the flags - just amazing. Really beautiful."
At the risk of summarising and simplifying too much, part of the appeal of the Nazis to 1930s Europeans, was their style, showmanship, iconography and their ability to put on a show. Another part of their appeal was scapegoating and offering brutal and simple answers but here let's just say the Nazis were a criminally bad and murderous organisation with an iconography that still sppeals to some people today. It's not that most designers use the iconography because they have Nazi sympathies, it's often because the imagery, shorn of its political and historic context, looks simple and modern. To separate the imagery from the context takes an almost incomprehensible level of ignorance but we do live in a world where too many still suffer from Beveridge's five 'Giant Evils' of 'Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness'.

To summarise, as I mentioned earlier, I don't think you can have a red band with a black geometric shape in a white circle without it evoking nazism.

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