Fascinating Fascism

As you’ve probably heard by now, a Russian design firm has been condemned for…well…evoking fascism in a recent advertising campaign.

Russia's Winter Olympics slips into controversy over 'Nazi images'
Tom Parfitt
The Guardian
16 May 2011

A promotional campaign linked to the 2014 Winter Olympics is stirring debate in Russia because of its use of allegedly "fascist" imagery.

The campaign employs images of blue-eyed, blond sportsmen and women which have been described by critics as "neo-Hitlerite" and "like something from a Leni Riefenstahl film".

Images of an Aryan-looking snowboarder and an ice-skater gazing into the middle distance dominate giant billboards in Moscow and feature on the cover of brochures to advertise Gorky Gorod, an elite housing complex being built at Krasnaya Polyana near Sochi on Russia's Black Sea coast. The complex is a private-public partnership which will be the Olympic media village at the 2014 Games.

"Without doubt the authors of this advertising were inspired by Nazi art," said Ekaterina Degot, a well-known art historian and former curator at the State Tretyakov Gallery.

When the billboards were put up, the Russian art collective Voina, itself known for its controversial painting of a 65-metre penis on a drawbridge in St Petersburg, tweeted: "On Pushkinskaya Square opposite Gap, there is a huge advertisement, openly fascist in style, for elite housing in Sochi."

Degot and others said the style and pose of the subjects in the images was heavily suggestive of Nazi art which stresses racial purity and superiority.

The Guardian has learned that the images of the sportsmen were produced by Doping-Pong, a St Petersburg-based design company which uses a swastika as one of its online "banners".

One of the company's recent projects is a series of erotic photographs of two young women, one called a "fa" (fascist), the other an "antifa" (anti-fascist activist), who grapple with each other in a wrestling ring and tear off each other's clothes. The "fa" appears to win the fight and triumphantly wraps herself in a Nazi flag.

Winged helmet

I have no doubt that the Dopingpong firm was, in some fashion, gesturing towards the “fascist” aesthetic of the '20s and '30s. A glance at its catalogue reveals that it does quite a bit of this. The degree to which these references are ironic or tongue-in-cheek, I’ll leave up to the reader. Since the images are overtly “retro,” Dopingpong has certainly applied at least one layer of irony. One might also add that the connotation is more of an era than an ideology: Stalinists were also keen on evoking a certain strong, wholesome, defiant aura; moreover, some public architecture of the New Deal era is cut from the same cloth of Albert Speer’s “Nazi” Classicism. (The offending poster also reminds me of those vintage mountaineering posters I always see on sale every winter.)

But in the end, all of this is besides the point.

What we glimpse in this episode is the degree to which egalitarianism is propagated—and the war on Whiteness, waged—aesthetically. A poster that displays blond, blue-eyed Slavs in heroic postures is deemed, by our opinion- and culture-makers, as a few steps away from Auschwitz. Other cultures are allowed to be grand: Martin Luther King Jr., for instance, can be glorified in gargantuan kitsch. Heroic art featuring White people, on the other hand, is viewed as immoral.

This trend in public display mirrors that in high art, in which centuries of neo-Classicism and Romanticism were, in essence, cancelled in favor of abstraction and modernism’s anti-aesthetic. As Wilmot Robertson noted, “In the dispossession of the [American] Majority, it is the Majority artist who so far has been the greatest casualty.”

The converse of this sad development is the utter tastelessness of current self-styled “conservatives,” whose sole aesthetic seems to be oversized billowing flags. (And they’re capable of muchworse.)

Regardless of whether it’s “fascist” or not, the image of healthy, strong, defiant Europeans is what a truly pro-Western propaganda poster should look. And that’s why it’s attacked.