Occupy Wall Street poster
As a supposedly antiquated form of media, the poster is regularly pronounced to be on its last legs as a means of communication and of marginal relevance now. I have written pieces myself saying much the same thing. No one doubts that posters used to be highly effective as both advertising and propaganda, but from the moment people in wealthy economies started buying TVs and watching commercials, the role of the street poster began to decline (the billboards still flourishing like an infestation at the roadside are another matter). The arrival of digital communication and then social media appeared to leave the poster spluttering for life, and when it came to the protest poster, the prognosis looked just as gloomy. If ordinary posters aren’t much needed now, why should posters expressing dissenting views fare any better? Five or six years ago, I would have said the poster advocating a cause was barely viable.
Now I’m not so sure. Digital networks are infusing posters produced to contest an outrage or support a cause with a new lease of life. This kind of message has two places to attract attention now — out in the world and online — and the poster-making urge is benefiting from the same viral meme effect seen across our entire hyper-connected culture. Anything that happens is immediately captured on camera and uploaded, and the effect of showing these images so widely and easily is to inspire viewers who like what they see to do more of the same. Participation acts like an injectable hormone spurring yet more growth. Since the global Occupy protests, there seem to be more posters, or poster-like messages, used in demonstrations than ever.
Old Soldiers Never Die, Young Ones Do Vietnam War era protest poster. c.1968