Why posters are better than jukeboxes

NMLH 1995.35.8Today is a post from Chris Burgess, our Collections Access Officer and resident posterphile

Regular readers of PHM’s blog will be aware that visitors to the museum voted the jukebox their favourite object. I kind of understand why. The shiny lights, the opportunity to listen to a few tunes after a trip round the museum where you’ve be bombarded by words and objects; it’s enough to lull anyone into voting for it.

Third in the vote came posters, this is where my vote went. If you close your eyes and think about elections, what do you see: men in grey suits, rosettes, maybe a battle bus, but what’s on the wall of that vision? Posters I’d warrant. Watch any fictional depiction of an election and posters appear in the background. If sound bites push politics through the ear, then posters provide the focus for the eye.

At this stage a confession is needed. I love posters. I’m currently in the process of trying to finish a PhD on them; posters haunt my dreams and occupy my waking moments. Yet it remains an affliction to which more people should be affected.

The billboard is the political battle for the street. The mass outside rally may be over, the political meeting dead. Politics has slowly retreated from something we consume publically to something we consume in our home, on the radio, the television and increasingly online. But – in marginal constituencies at least – posters remind us that politics is ultimately and should be a public concern.

Electioneering and politics can be a brutal game, yet posters provide elections with moments of artistry. Who cannot be moved of Gerald Spencer Pryse’s haunting, spiritual image of a mother in a bleak industrial landscape, or simply wonder at the advertising brilliance of Saatchi and Saatchi’s iconic Labour Isn’t Working?

Admittedly posters aren’t as sexy as protest music, I get that. But by studying the history of the billboard we can learn better about how politicians speak to us and why. Posters let us know what politicians think about each other and what they think about us. If we understand posters we understand so much about our democratic past and democratic present; you may be able to say a lot about Bono, but I’m not sure whether you can say that.


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