By Annie Nocenti
From the pre-revolutionary pamphleteers of colonial America, to the Bread and Puppet Theater of the ‘60s, to the ‘80s bands that stenciled their names on sidewalks, guerilla street tactics have long thrived in this country. The idea is to instigate a word-of-mouth groundswell of opinion that tilts the balance of power away from what media analyst Noam Chomsky called the “manufactured consent” of the media propaganda machine.
In this Spirit, David Byrne created two potent white-on-white Gore and Bush posters that effectively rendered the two candidates, and by implication the two parties, as clones, and had them posted in major metropolitan areas prior to Election Day. Is there a difference between presidential candidates? In a pre-election interview, Byrne said, “In what they say, yes. But in what they do…based on past experience—not much.” Byrne, besides being a world-famous musician, is also a graphic an conceptual artist: He has made two books, Strange Ritual and Your Action World, both of which use images with an ironic twist.
Byrne launched the poster campaign because, as he said, “I feel somewhat voiceless in the present political and economic world—and I can sing pretty loud, too—so one can imagine what ordinary people less known than I must feel.” Putting it more bluntly, Byrne said, “The system stinks. We should stop just accepting it and tell these plastic men to get lost.” For the posters, Byrne photographed the white “supports” that keep rubber masks—those presidential faces favored both by children at Halloween and bank robbers sick of itchy ski masks—from flopping around in their packages. “I loved the less cartoony version of these guys, which was what the all-white support seemed to me,” Byrne said.
To plaster the city with posters, Byrne thought he’d just need “some friends and a bucket of glue.” But, ironically, he found that one has to pay for a quasi-legal service to do the job. According to Byrne, “It’s a tightly controlled advertising platform and is far from being a free public forum.” The presidential clone posters appeared on the streets of Manhattan, Chicago, and Los Angeles two weeks before the election. Asked if he planned to vote, Byrne replied: “I always do—it’s a thrill, despite my complaints.”