Another one for the retro posters file.

Mothman of Tokyo.
Is "vintage steampunk" an oxymoron?

Pink Tentacle has posted a great collection of vintage posters from Japanese industrial expositions, which Cyriaque at io9 describes as “Fritz Lang partying with Jules Verne in the Harajuku.”  This Da Vinciesque flying machine example surely appeals to steampunk* geeks everywhere, but it’s not representative of the gallery.  From this larger sample, you can see a definite increase in militaristic imagery in the 1930s, but is there really something about the design that makes them “downright fascistic” (as Cyriaque describes them) or do we read them that way because they share some formal elements with the constructivism of early Soviet propaganda?

The new Soviet woman.
Down with kitchen slavery!
All your base are belong to us.
Japan-Manchuria Industrial Exhibition--Toyama, 1936

The former is from the 1920s, when the Soviet authorities were pushing the feminist aspects of Bolshevik ideology, which promised to liberate women from the drudgery of housework through collective habitation, cafeterias, and daycares.  As numerous Sovietologists have pointed out, it didn’t quite work out that way.  The latter comes after the Japanese invasion of China in the early 1930s.  I don’t want to overdraw a comparison, but I think they have some things in common aesthetically, but not being a specialist in this area, I’m not sure how much that could have to do with printing techniques or international art movements.  In any case, I’d be reluctant to say that there’s anything you could call a broadly “fascistic” aesthetic, as I think you’d find the same formal elements in poster design of the future Allied nations during the same period.

I’m sure there’s a good research project on transnational poster design, but what I’m really wondering is…

…does an unironic affection for totalitarian propaganda make me a bad person?

*Wondering what the hell steampunk is?  The A.V. Club has you covered.


One thought on “Another one for the retro posters file.

  1. Other times of great turmoil also produced great posters. The 1960s saw the rise of pop art and protest movements throughout the West; both made great use of posters. Perhaps the most acclaimed posters were those produced by French students during the so-called “événements” of May 1968.

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