Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Political Power of (Set) Design

In today's Dallas Morning News there was an article about the speeches that Obama and Romney are throwing at each other (prelude to months of more political argument, sigh).

One of Romney's jabs was about the set design of the last Democratic Convention!

Seriously.  "You're not going to see President Obama standing alongside Greek Columns.  [Columns were a feature of that convention stage.]  He's not going to want to remind anyone of Greece, because he's put us on a road to become more like Greece."  Debating a stage set from four years ago?

Somewhere that set's designer smacked himself on the forehead, then muttered, "Well, at least it was memorable."

Set and stage design can be very memorable and much longer remembered than you'd expect... the designer for Berlin's Millennial Celebration discovered when they suggested columns of light for that party.

Unfortunately, Hitler's architect, Albert Speer, had done columns of light much too well for one Nazi rally, using Germany's whole stock of searchlights to form his "Cathedral of Light."  (The guy could design.)  Terrifically effective propaganda which also underlined how well equipped Germany was for war: 150 were more searchlights than any other country had.

Berlin's Millennial celebration got redesigned.

Nazi rally "The Cathedral of Light", by Albert Speer - photo from Stadtarchiv Nuremberg   

The reason, of course, that the designer of the Democratic Convention chose those columns was to associate Obama with Our American Heritage - with Mount Vernon, Monticello, the White House.  Those buildings have classical columns because their designers wanted to associate our young republic with the only other (kinda) democracies, those of ancient Rome and Greece.

The Parthenon, Athens, Greece - public domain photo

So, fair enough, Romney.   Go ahead, look at classical columns and see only debt; you've had company, since so did the taxpayers of ancient Athens as they paid for the Parthenon.  An expensive building.  But, you know, over a few thousand years I suspect Greece has lived through a few more debts and a few more political speeches than yours.

I think it's also fair to look at classical columns and see an ancient and continuing dream of democracy.  Of which even Mitt Romney is a part.

I'm guessing the designer of this year's Republican Convention just crumpled up the sketch with the columns.

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