Book Review from the April 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard
September Commando-Gestures of Futility and Frustration by John Yates (AK Press £7.95.)
While the psychological pummeling the working class receives in capitalism is both sinister and fatiguing at the best of times, during election campaigns it seems to plumb depths previously unimaginable. John Yates, an American visual artist and satirist, aims counter the insidious lies and distortions of the ruling class with a counter-culture propaganda of his own. While this is not immediately apparent from the baffling title of this work, the casual reader who perseveres may be rewarded.
Though better known for his CD, book cover and film poster designs, Yates has collected together in this volume his second edition of "politically charged satire", generally posters which use the propaganda techniques of the ruling class against the ruling class itself and their belief systems.
Yates describes his posters as "Token tantrums against the inert status quo. Desperate shots at seemingly bulletproof targets", but in this he is too modest. Seemingly more accurate is his other claim that "these protest images, these choruses of disapproval, are the skinny kid on the beach rubbing the sand out of his eyes".
His own eye for contradiction and hypocrisy is sharp indeed, especially when targeted on the horrors of war or the rantings of the US bible belt. The latter is illustrated no better than in his poster featuring a church with a statue of Jesus in the foreground, the Saviour's arms outstretched to embrace the multitude. The caption above reads "All Are Welcome", then below . . . "With Exceptions".
Some of the posters and captions do not hit home nearly as well, but given the difficulty of this art, it is not surprising. Even such skilled practitioners as the British Conservative Party can get it wrong sometimes. The main problem with this work though is its occasional lack of focus or clear political perspective, explained at least in part by Yates's for the sometime American anarchist (and sometimes reformist) Noam Chomsky.
After the visual battering of a British General Election campaign this book is worth more than a cursory glance, though revolutionary socialists will be keenest of all to separate the wheat from the chaff.