See the first post about Japanese kamishibai (paper theatre) for more information and commentary about the origins and context of these images.
Here we move into the 1940s, WWII and the dodgy, overly-positive world of propaganda. Propaganda is almost by definition absurd and deceptive; if it wasn’t so cognitively dissonant and detached from observed reality then we’d just call it informative or documentarian. But there’s still something particularly disturbing about the hijacking of a medium intended mainly for children. The slides shown here are from How to Build a Home Air Raid Shelter and from Kintaro the Paratrooper. The latter is a militaristic rewrite of the traditional story about Momotoro the Peach Boy, who joined up with animal friends to defend Japan from invading demons. You can see what they did there, obviously.
Kintaro the Paratrooper. Here come the British soldiers. Their tank seems a bit wee, but perhaps that’s intentional. I’m British but I still can’t really object to this racist caricature of us with our stupid shorts and our sunburned ears and noses. Stereotypes all have an original.
Kintaro throws a grenade at the British tank. Kawaiiiiiiiiiiiiiii.
The last scans for now from an excellent but sadly out of print book called The Public Notice. The Channel Islands, including Jersey, were the only part of Britain occupied by the Germans during World War II, from summer of 1940 until May of 1945. Even though the Channel Islands are some distance away from mainland Britain, they’re technically spoken of as being among the British Isles. These proclamations (both 1941) give some intimation of a nightmare scenario where the Nazis won and the rest of Britain fell permanently to the Third Reich; a place where a man would be summarily shot for releasing a pigeon or chalking a V onto a wall. As in all the other occupied territories, in the Channel Islands there was resistance both passive and active; there were also people who eagerly availed themselves of the opportunity to snitch and collaborate offered in the second notice below.
For those who didn’t know or realise it already, the real and occasionally fatal practice of signifying that resistance was alive in conquered Nazi territory by defacing walls and official notices with a V sign– for victory, as demonstrated by Churchill’s fat little fingers– is the direct source of its use in Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta, and in the considerably less subtle Nazi allegory (less subtle, in fact, to the point of not being an allegory at all) of the original, cheesy, shoulder pads and rubber lizard mask 1980s V.
V for Vendetta. Even though I think Anonymous is generally a good thing, won’t you all join me in trying to forget the film version ever happened? Holy Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins, preserve us from the Wachowskis’ tin ears for British speech and culture.
V. Hide yo hamsters, hide yo guinea pigs, cuz they eating all yo rodents.
Control panel and plugboards of the British Colossus computer, 1944. It was not programmable, had 2500 vacuum tubes, and it had only one hardwired purpose and algorithm: to crack the encryption of Germany’s Enigma machines, processing up to 5000 characters per second. Based on the work of mathematicians and cryptographers such as Alan Turing at the top secret Bletchley Park facility, the ability to break German codes was one of the factors that eventually turned the Second World War in favour of the Allies.
Another notable thing about this photograph is the strangely timeless/time traveller style of the woman on the left. I think she could walk down the street anywhere in the developed world at any time between about 1930 and 2030 and look like she belongs there.
Bashful, Dopey, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Sneezy, and the worst little fella of them all, Nazi.
Two of Adolf Hitler’s favourite movies were Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and King Kong. He chattered nerdily and constantly about King Kong for days after it was screened for him at the Chancellery. He also enjoyed whistling the Disney tune Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? Hitler was a bit obsessed with wolves, and was undoubtedly very well aware that whistling this tune was some creepy shit. “Adolf” derives from “Athal” (noble) and “Wolfa” (wolf). One of his early aliases was “Mr Wolf”, and he surrounded himself with Wolfshunde (Alsatians/German Shepherds). His French HQ was named Wolfsschlucht (Wolf’s Ravine), a Ukrainian one was Werwolf.
PS: While Hermann Göring was staying at the Ritz in occupied Paris, the corpulent Nazi asked Coco Chanel to design some women’s gowns in his very large size. This was to help him “relax”, apparently. Not that there’s anything wrong with men wearing dresses, of course, although some men (including other leading Nazis) were summarily murdered or sent to concentration camps for similar so-called “perversions”. But it’s certainly, shall we say, an arresting image: a big fat genocidal war criminal kicking back with the latest copy of Vogue and choosing couture dresses for himself while the world’s most destructive and total war ever rages around him. Sort of like a grisly mashup of Inglourious Basterds with Sex and the City.
Source: David J. Skal’s excellent book The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror.
A woman plays a housewife, with a surreal audience pressed against the glass behind her. 1952.
This strange image, which looks like it could be a still from The Twilight Zone, is in fact from a 1952 exhibition in West Berlin: ‘We’re Building a Better Life’ (‘Wir bauen ein besseres Leben’). It was part of the German Industrial Trade Fair; a strange human zoo where the new paradigm of civilian living was played out by two shifts of adult actors playing husband and wife, along with eight pairs of children. In the picture below you can see a bird’s eye view of the house, and of the strange– and disturbing, given that this was less than ten years on from German death camps and the devastation of central Berlin– observation tower with a white-coated narrator. What was the new paradigm? According to the US State Department, who were behind it, the new way of living was to be a “high production, high-wage, low-unit-cost, low-profit margin, high consumption system.” And so it came to pass. One of the actresses playing a housewife was perhaps in the grip of some peculiar combination of Stockholm Syndrome and cabin fever when she said “The house is so perfect that I am afraid we will not want to move out… What will happen if I fall in love with the kitchen too?” A German magazine also described it as a “white paradise”, presumably referring to the kitchen equipment but still demonstrating that sensitivity to political correctness was a long way off.
During its three week run, the simultaneously aspirational and voyeuristic exhibition attracted over half a million visitors, nearly 40% of them from East Germany. It later toured to Stuttgart, Hanover, Paris and Milan.
This stuff is from Cold War Modern, a great book about Modernist design and industry between 1945-1970 and based on the Victoria & Albert Museum exhibition of the same name in 2008. The exhibition was also good, if a wee bit gung-ho and overly gushing about the design aspects while for the most part noticeably glossing over the suffering and poverty of the millions who found themselves arbitrarily trapped behind the Iron Curtain after the Second World War.
Transparent show house at ‘We’re Building a Better Life’. West Berlin, 1952.
Magus of Locks: Paracelsus, Renaissance polymath. Magus of Wheels: Pancho Villa, Mexican revolutionary. Magus of Stars: (Sigmund) Freud, psychoanalyst. Magus of Flames: Novalis (Georg von Hardenburg), Romantic/mystical poet and writer.
Le jeu de Marseille is a Surrealist variation on the conventional deck of playing cards. It was created by a group of artistic refugees awaiting evacuation from France in late 1940. The group included André Breton, André Masson and Max Ernst. While they waited in Marseille (hence the name) for their exit visas, one of the ways they took their overactive minds off of the matter at hand– apart from drinking– was to reconfigure the traditional card game using icons more suited to the Surrealist mindset.
The four suits became black locks (representing knowledge), black stars (dreams), red wheels (revolution) and red flames (love). The court cards were transformed into Maguses, Sirens and Geniuses. I don’t know whether it’s odd or deliberate that these people were mostly Frenchmen fleeing the Nazis and yet their replacement for the court is heavy on the Germans.
I think I first read a passing reference to le jeu de Marseille in a book about the structuralist literary micro-genre of Oulippo. As with all of my HD detritus posts, I no longer have much recollection of why I collected as many images of the cards as possible, even though I did it as recently as 2010.
Siren of Locks: Hélène Smith, medium and automatic writer. Siren of Wheels: ?, perhaps Elise von Lämel the Jewish-Austrian philanthropist. Siren of Stars: Alice (Liddell, of Wonderland). Siren of Flames: “The Portuguese Nun”.
It’s Aquacade beauty Mussolini, photographer’s model Stalin, and charming salesgirl Hitler. With huge butcher knives, on Manhattan Beach. Photographed by Weegee, better known for his horrifying, stark, brutal photos of crime and accident scenes in New York City; less well known as being the vocal blueprint for Peter Sellers’ strangled, adenoidal Dr. Strangelove voice. Perhaps for Weegee, taking photos of scantily clad transsexual dictators amounted to light relief.
The caption notes that the “comely pyramid is spoiled by the faces”, but that’s quite a heteronormative assumption to make, don’t you think? Perhaps the faces are being spoiled by the comely pyramid?