Analyzing Graphic Design Artifacts from a Socio-Cultural Perspective

William M. Tyler

A History of Communication Design Michael Gibson 02/21/12


AEAH 4842/AEAH 5842 | A History of Communication Design | spring 2012, UNT CVAD | Michael Gibson, Instructor Assignment 01: Analyzing Graphic Design Artifacts from a Socio-Cultural Perspective

01. William M. Tyler 02. Metropolis, UFA Films poster, Designer - Jósef Bottlik, Berlin, 1927. Designed for the release of the film in Hungary in 1928. 03.



AEAH 4842/AEAH 5842 | A History of Communication Design | spring 2012, UNT CVAD | Michael Gibson, Instructor Assignment 01: Analyzing Graphic Design Artifacts from a Socio-Cultural Perspective

04. The general state of Hungary in 1927 was a dark one filled with uncertainty and political strife. In 1920 the Treaty of Trianon required Hungary to surrender more than two-thirds of its land based on the territorial provisions before the treaty. This placed over three million Magyars, the formerly native hungarians, outside of the new territorial bounds and disconnected them from their homeland. The current prime minister of Hungary, Bethlen, tried to restore order to the country by making political deals with extremist parties to end their hateful campaigns against the Jews and leftists. Many landowners were forced out of work by political changes whose process they were never involved in. Hungary, after Russia and Poland, was the third country in which an Intelligentsia developed though the nobility’s influence on the growing middle class. This furthered the social stratification of the Magyars and partially is responsible for creating the temporary emancipation of the Jews at the time. This would not last though, as the political mood shifted more towards the right extremist while the standard of living continued to drop. Labor laws were non-existent and minimum wage was only influenced by how small of a compensation someone was willing to work for continued to plummet. Peasants and the working class were both in terrible shape, even worse than they had been before World War 1. Peasants also had no political influence and as such their political voice was restrained and nonexistent. Magyars saw themselves as abandoned and failed by the social and political leaders of their time and extreme dissatisfaction was very common. From a country currently in turmoil, a better future would always be a welcome, although uncertain ideal. The design of the Metropolis poster specifically communicated with these common and middle class people. The figure is a man, although strong and determined, buckling under the pressure from the weight he is carrying. This clear struggle of man versus society and the future ideals would specifically apply to the concerns of the working class in that time. 05. The spatial arrangement of the forms mostly revolve around a central vertical axis. This was distinctly done to enforce the main visual message that the poster conveys. With the geographically scattered Magnars, the powerful and centered word “Metropolis” was a very contrasting ideal for people to see and consider. The distinct serif typeface Metropolis is set in, was Fritz Lang’s idea to use design of the future, the art-deco movement instead of traditional and more common typography in Hungary at the time. The limited range of colors, dark background, and mostly bright orange and red figures also serve to reinforce the aspects of the piece that should have the most emphasis. The clear vertical hierarchy of the metropolis city on top and the hard working “people” underneath connected and resonated with the people who felt powerless and almost enslaved by the sociopolitical issues they dealt with in their life. The figure who is strong and muscular is seen facing or possibly even walking towards the left edge of the poster. The main light source of the piece also seems to be coming from the left, although off the spatial plane, as alluded to by the highlights on the left side of the city towers and the underside of the

man facing in that direction. The distinct lighting reinforce how the working class will have to carry the weight of society into a hopefully brighter future. The idea of a brighter future would have been one to resonate well amongst the uncertainty of the people in Hungary, but the concerns that this route would take were also very important. This poster presents a positive idea, but based on the form and color it is also very indicative of something else involved slightly beneath the surface. Uneasy concepts and warning signs presented under a shroud of progress and combined achievement. Society moves forward and “up” to and at the cost of whom? One people group will always be stratified to the bottom and at this point in time, these were the people of Hungary. 06. In 1929 Hungary, jobs were scarce and the working class in addition to peasants flocked toward cities like Budapest to look for work, competing for almost any wage they could get. This poster was an advertisement that was most likely placed in crowded streets and market areas for people to see. It seems to have been either printed or applied with a wooden backing in some situations and was to stir interest in viewers minds about the topics further contained within the movie. The people in these settings, the peasants and working class, would have taken a distinct interest based on the feelings that resonated in themselves with the figure on the poster. It could have empowered people in the sense that they, being the working class were the ones carrying the future utopian society so reliant on them, but in other aspects they were enslaved to the very idea. The poster demonstrates a division and distinction between the people it empowers and those that it does not. As the tallest tower on the poster suggests, the light or “enlightenment” as the city increases in height, continues to become unobtainable by those on the bottom. The serves as a metaphor for the social stratification at the time between the noble class and the peasants. It connected with the cultural aspirations at least within regards to cities in general, a deep sense of real estate and land meant everything to the Magyars whose own land had been taken away. Even the concept of a future in general, albeit possibly uncertain was an intriguing concept at the time. With so much political unrest and opposing schools of thought, wondering about how the future would unravel, even who might perhaps be crushed underneath along the way, were all pertinent to the feelings of the people that walked the very streets gazing up at the poster. 07. A very strong example of a technological and economic phenomena were addressed in this work is that of rationalization as a manifestation of modernity. Something that would become increasingly relevant over the next twenty years or so, but was just starting to find a distinct concern in society at the time. In 1919 Károlyi, after having failed to deal with the rampant discontent, resigned as the leader of the people’s republic of Hungary. This allowed the Communist Party of Hungary, with their leader Béla Kun, to come into power and instate the


AEAH 4842/AEAH 5842 | A History of Communication Design | spring 2012, UNT CVAD | Michael Gibson, Instructor Assignment 01: Analyzing Graphic Design Artifacts from a Socio-Cultural Perspective

Hungarian Soviet Republic. This new power carried out the “Red Terror” which was a series of atrocities committed against opposing political parties and led to the death of nearly six-hundred scientists and intellectuals. They promised to return Hungary to its “former glory” and increase the territorial provisions back to the way they were before the Treaty of Trianon. This directly aligned with many of the goals of the Nazi party coming into power before World War II. Hungary passed laws restricting the number of Jews that could participate in specific jobs and this eventually later on led to the full deportation and death of thousands of Jewish Magyars. The poster addresses the Nazi ideal of a perfect society and a perfect future. It directly relates in that in order to achieve this “perfect” end result, morals and rationality are thrown aside and instead pure efficiency is given prominence. This rationalization referred to a determined outlook towards goals that eventually could function to the detriment of society as a whole into a dystopian society instead of the envisioned utopia. In this way the movie poster directly foreshadows these concerns and would become increasingly relevant as time went on with Hungary's alignment with Germany and the Nazi leadership. 08. The imagery of the cityscape on the poster is taken directly from the movie scenes and set itself. So to understand the architectural references involved, the inspiration for the movie’s set must be taken into direct consideration. The silent-film Metropolis itself takes place in the distant future, the year 2026, amongst a science-fiction and semi-plausible imagery of a futuristic urban dystopia. In order to depict this future, Fritz Lang, the director of Metropolis, used the most modern thing that existed at the time and then overly exaggerated this to create his “basis” for the future. This is a common/obvious mistake for people who are attempting to imagine the future, purely because their only main option is to take the current concerns of their day and then amplify them to their extremes. Fritz Lang took a trip to New York in 1924 and was fascinated by the Manhattan skyline, most distinctly the art-deco Chrysler building which was being built at that time. It was the tallest building in the world and the most advanced depiction of a society that Fritz had seen. He used this as his spark of inspiration for the building and city design in Metropolis and as a result this carried the distinct art-deco architecture from the chrysler building and other parts from the Manhattan skyline and implanted itself as a core aspect of the style of metropolis and coincidentally the poster. The other distinct visual reference that has greatly influenced this poster is that of the Atlas Myth. As a part of Greek Mythology, Atlas was one of the titans and carried the entire earth on his shoulders. This task of holding the earth was a punishment for atlas in taking the side of the Titans in a war with the gods on Mt. Olympus. The name “Atlas”, is supposedly derived from the Greek root “tel” meaning “to uphold”, or “support others”. This is a direct correlation to the premise of the movie and the visual of the man on the poster upholding the “new” society to his own detriment.


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