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General Feature

Photoshop Till You Drop – Fianna Fail Election Posters, 2007

You’ll have seen the Fianna Fail election poster campaign by now. Indeed, given its ubiquity – not only on bus shelters but on the backs of buses too, as well as on billboards – how could you have missed it?) Under the unwieldy tag line ‘Together, Let’s Take The Next Steps Forward’, we see Bertie having a laugh with the kids (sometimes two of them, other times four), looking concerned and attentive with the oldsters, smiling benignly with the young marrieds, looking mature with the middle-aged parents.

Of course, it will be obvious to any halfway media-literate viewer that these happy gatherings are so Photoshopped they’re sick. By this I mean that none of the head and shoulders mannequins, least of all Bertie, are really in the same place at the same time, like having their photo taken together, much less actually talking to each other. They have been shot individually, and then superimposed as an ensemble, in a variety of groupings. Visit Fianna Fail's website to see how Ahern is flanked on his left firstly by the chubby-faced boy who, in the shot below has then been shoved out further to the right of the group to make way for the earnest-looking dark-haired girl. But chubby boy’s facial expression, and photo, is exactly the same. Curious.




What makes these images all the more startling is that no care has been taken to give the supposedly relaxed groupings even a tinge of the verisimilitude necessary to maintain the fiction that they are actually communicating with each other. None of the participants is looking directly at any of the others, and they are all focussed on different mid-distance points, thus creating the unintentional impression that they are studiously avoiding eye contact. Which prompts the question: what are these people, as a group, looking at? Our great leader may be at the centre of the poster, but he is not the centre of attention. He comes among us, he mingles with us, but he is not quite one of us. Truly, this man is the son of God. Or maybe not. For unlike God, he is not more present by his absence, but the reverse: his absence is confirmed by his synthetic, virtual presence. If only we could touch him, but we will never be granted that privilege. We can look, as long as we don’t touch.

This unbelievably shoddy and patronising campaign prompts a number of reflections. Is it perhaps an unconscious metaphor for lack of communication and human contact within the party machine (as exemplified by the fuss over party central imposed candidates in a north Dublin constituency) and, by extension, the body politic? These images, presumably designed to engender the idea of community, of one big happy family, of FF inclusively caring for everyone and getting things done, on the contrary simply serve to reinforce the distance which exists between individuals and the isolation they feel, in our wonderful new shiny economy that Fianna Fail, and Ahern as leader, have done so much to give us the benison of.

But the truth is closer to Blake Mossison’s rendering of modern-day England in his novel South of the River: ‘We kid ourselves we’re emotionally literate, that we’re truly communicating at last, thanks to mobile phones and e-mails, but it’s an illusion: real intimacy doesn’t exist; no one listens; we don’t have time for each other; we’re all too busy.’

This lack of empathy among the groupings further suggests a lack of unified purpose in the party, which in the minds of FFers functions as a synecdoche for the country as a whole. Opps! the core values are missing again. By trying to be all things to all people, Ahern, as manifest personification of the party – indeed, as Father Confessor of the Nation – is ultimately revealed as being nothing much to anyone.

And while we’re at it, for all its vaunted inclusivity, it is striking that immigrants – or at least ‘people of colour’ and those of Asian or Middle Eastern extraction – who now make up 10% of the population according to last year’s census, are unrepresented in this idealised notion of all of us pulling together. But, then again, how many of them can vote?

Maybe the party coffers are not as flush as us outsiders might be led to believe. Maybe FF haven’t got the budget for a proper ad campaign, and so have gone with this cheap and nasty one instead. On the other hand, maybe they are behaving in a typically nouveau riche fashion, and have loads of dosh but no taste.

I don’t want to be accused of putting ideas into impressionable people’s heads, by sponsoring vandalising graffiti, but these pictures are crying out for talk bubbles. Are FF secretly running a caption contest? How rude can you be? Imagine the gentleman pensioner asking, “Can you give us a dig out?” and Ahern reassuring him, “I’ll see what I can do.” Or, given the evident embarrassment of the assembled youngsters, reminiscent of that moment when your ‘old man’ put his nose around the door during your teen party, perhaps the feisty blonde girl is saying, “Don’t you have something else to do now, Dad?” If FF default, maybe Magill can step into the breach, and make this our April competition.

Finally, far-fetched though it may sound, the possibility always exists that FF and their ad agency, through this gruesome campaign redolent of The Stepford Wives in its capacity to disturb, fully intended (cue Twilight Zone theme) the above musings to form in the minds of the more savvy members of their audience. They could really be giving us a subliminal warning: vote for us, and there’ll be tough, skinflinty times ahead; society will become even more atomised and individuals even more affectless; and there’ll be more racial prejudice. At least they’re trying to be honest, for once, albeit in a highly Machiavellian way. I can just picture Ahern now, posing by himself in the photographer’s studio, attempting to act sincere: “A laugh for the young people, Bertie,” click; “A concerned look for the elderly, Taoiseach,” snap. Scary.

First published in Magill, April 2007
















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