Uncomfortable post-truths

In discussing 2016 election campaigns with a student recently, I mentioned that to have a true understanding of the topic, it was necessary to research publications that they might not agree with—the Daily Mail, the Express et al. It has to be said that most of the critiques I’ve read of both the EU referendum and American Presidential election campaigns do so from a liberal arts perspective.

In considering this I proffered that, unfortunately, we might have to accept that despite any feelings of abhorrence towards the UKIP Breaking Point campaign, it was in fact a brilliant piece of propaganda on their part.

Picture source: The Guardian

Potentially it was as defining for the Brexit vote as the Conservative’s 1979 Labour’s Not Working poster, (and there are certainly visual similarities). Equally, any such controversy about UKIP’s blatant use of xenophobia only fuels the flames of such a message to those it was aimed at, precisely because it upsets bleeding heart liberals. This train of thought bought me to an uncomfortable truth that this poster, arguably, could be crowned one of the defining images of 2016.

Beyond 2016 though, Breaking Point sets itself up as a prime example of agit-prop for future design writers looking back on this tumultuous political year. By right of any definition of agit-prop, (once history has moved the term on from its Soviet origins), this poster should sit alongside anti-war, anti-fur and gay rights campaigns in books on the subject.

As someone with left-leaning views and a keen interest in protest graphics, this makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable. But I have to acknowlegde that the liberal left shouldn’t be the arbiters of deciding what is recorded for posterity in future design history books. Message aside, and as with the Labour’s Not Working campaign, the measure of any piece of graphic design should be firstly in regard to whether it actually delivers its message to its desired audience, and secondly, whether it actually affects change. And the Breaking Point campaign did both.

If those designing the Stronger In Europe Remain campaign understood this more clearly, then they might have been able to create a counter-narrative that spoke directly to the same audience that Breaking Point spoke to. But to do this they would have needed to truly understand the lives of the people who aren’t in their immediate social bubble and talk to them and with them. And ultimately, the UKIP and Leave campaigners knew their audience better than the Remainers did, and that is everyone’s loss.

The Guardian, 17.12.2016

Published by Nigel Ball

Senior Lecturer in Graphic Design

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