Deluge of posters heralds ET invasion

Mon, Jun 1, 2009, 01:00

OPINION:I KNOW that we have more important things on our minds, but perhaps this might be a good time to consider the election poster, writes ANN MARIE HOURIHANE

Here is a strange form of communication indeed. For the past 10 days, as the country was shaken to its foundations by the child abuse scandals, as grown men sobbed on the national airwaves, our political hopefuls have grinned down on us from the lampposts, telegraph poles, railings and hoardings of the nation. The effect has been most unfortunate.

They seem like another species up there on the election posters, as public life grows darker all around them. Perhaps it is because they look so happy. Perhaps it is because they all look, roughly speaking, the same. The cumulative message of all these election posters seems to be the coming not of an election, but of some sort of extra-terrestrial invasion.

Take the blue skies of Fine Gael, for example, against which all their local candidates are photographed. We realise that Fine Gael is feeling optimistic about this election, but perhaps the blue sky background is going that little tad too far. And the twinkling star above the name of the party is unsettling. It makes their younger male candidates look like magicians; it makes their older female candidates look like cabaret singers; and it makes the party’s election slogan “A Fairer Ireland” seem the stuff, not so much of dreams, as of hallucinations. There is a queue of happy people standing behind each candidate, which lends the poster a cult-like air.

The Fine Gael blue sky should not be confused with the deep, Tory blue that is the background to Mary Lou McDonald. Is this meant to be EU blue?

And Mary Lou looks so matronly, with progressive democrat hair. This poster is a far cry from the one that got Mary Lou elected in the first place, which showed her cheeky grin and raised her male vote exponentially.

All the political parties seem to specialise in making their young candidates (listen, Mary Lou is young to me) look as old as possible. They no sooner get a candidate under 30 than they wrap the boy in his da’s blazer, or the girl in a newsreader’s jacket.

Yet Sinn Féin also has one of the best posters of the campaign. An orange (interesting) diamond shape with “Fight Back Votáil Sinn Féin” printed on it in a stark yet non-violent font.

There are no surprises here, of course. Libertas and Sinn Féin, who like to think that they are surprising, are as boring as all the rest. Surprises can backfire. It was probably unwise for Fine Gael to try to look like the Happiness Party; it would do much better with a picture of a cheese parer and the cat o’nine tails. But Fianna Fáil’s posters come in nightmare green. Their candidates’ large heads and large names are crushing the name of this, the Republican Party.

“Please,” Fianna Fáil’s election posters seem to say “Don’t ask me about the Government.” Is this a good look?

The answer is firmly in the negative. The best the Fianna Fáil candidates can come up with is a collection of rueful smiles. You’d feel sorry for them in a way – but not in a big way.

We are concerned here with the overall impact of election posters, and that is why the Labour posters are so far down the list. Although red and white is a good colour combination, the Labour posters, while smaller than most, look a little empty somehow. Just as the Green Party posters look a bit, er, green.

The posters of the left-wing parties, if we may call either the Labour Party or the Green Party left wing, lack punch. Surprise! Joe Higgins has made a virtue of appearing lacklustre, which is not a quality one would ascribe to the man himself. He is the Socialist Party’s candidate for Europe in Dublin and his poster is a sort of design miracle. The photo shows two thirds of his figure, and is in grainy black and white.

The picture looks like it was taken in Bucharest 50 years ago – so not a good look. But remarkably, and bravely, the lettering on it is all in Schiaperelli pink. A roaring pink, blazing away against the monotone.

And this brings us to the best poster of the campaign, in our constituency at any rate. (I am sorry that the Election Poster Review Party has not been able to leave Dublin, or indeed even south Dublin, but times are tough.) Mannix Flynn is standing for the local elections, and his poster was recommended to me by a visually literate friend as a work of art. Its background is an acid yellow-green. It has a little lettering in shocking pink.

The background to the candidate’s name is a dirty turquoise and the words Mannix Flynn are rendered in a dark burgundy. It looks sharp. It is retro, but it looks new.

I know of one young woman who is going to vote for Mannix Flynn on the basis that his poster is cool.

In the land of the disembodied and grinning heads something new, and very good, can be done with a format which is staggering with weariness.

Let’s hope that that applies elsewhere.