You do not need a swastika or KKK robe to brand hatred. Modern brand signs, colors and symbols—benign to the innocent eye—are just as powerful and equally venal.
Take Alternative für Deutschland, for instance. A far-right German party currently competing for votes among the working class and unemployed demographic, AfD is anti-immigrant, anti-semitic and anti-liberal (see here for analysis). They’re picking up supporters and, therefore, seats in state governments, and have grown into the largest alternative party in the national parliament, with 89 seats.
As the BBC reports:
“The AfD sits in the same political family as France’s far-right National Front and Austria’s far-right Freedom Party—as well as the populist, anti-Islam Dutch Freedom Party (PVV) of Geert Wilders. Nigel Farage, former leader of the UK’s anti-EU party Ukip, took part in their 2017 election campaign. The party’s leader in the Eastern state of Thuringia, Björn Höcke, once described Berlin’s Holocaust memorial as a ‘monument of shame’ and called for a ‘180-degree turnaround’ in Germany’s handling of its Nazi past.”
The AfD’s logo does not issue the same overtones as the neo-Nazi groups that use “action” marks that echo Nazi iconography, suggesting power, force and violence. In fact, look closely and you’ll see a mash-up of the Nike Swoosh, FedEx arrow, Obama Blue and Futura Bold—graphic elements that suggest a progressive aesthetic.
But don’t let this unthreatening visual veneer fool you. The ideology, ideologues and policies recall earlier times and crimes. With the racially motivated violence (including the murder of nine people in Germany last week), this benign graphic design hides demonstrative hatred that’s on the rise. Add to this a not-so-covertly disguised longing for a subsumed German past (cleverly modified to bypass German laws prohibiting Nazi iconography, below) and the stage is set for … well, one does not have to make a long leap of the imagination.
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About Steven Heller
Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →