Artifact

News From Airstrip One

Credit: Perry de HavlilandCredit: Perry de Havliland

These astonishing posters first graced London in October; this one was photographed by blogger Perry de Havilland of Samizdata.net. Although some Londoners originally perceived the posters as a clever protest against the state's intrusion into citizens' privacy (Brits are among the world's most closely monitored people), the unhappy truth is that the images are just what they seem. They are a celebration of intrusion, via supposedly all-seeing surveillance cameras on London's buses, in the guise of increased security.

Not only is the campaign's message Orwellian, according to critics, but so is its retro style. The posters' antique Modernism may have been intended to evoke positive memories of a stalwart and determined Churchillian Britain. During World War II, London was plastered with similar-looking graphic messages from the Ministry of Information.

But while Britain's wartime posters were calls to action and courage, this imagery calls for the acceptance of and submission to power. Its dated look thus evokes a graphic language not of wartime but of the mid-century idea of the benevolent power. That threatening concept was indeed Orwell's target. As Samizdata.net reader Peter Schiavo posted, "I know what they're powering the cameras with. They hooked a turbine to Orwell's spinning corpse."

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