Despite the best efforts of America's professional public diplomats (no, Karen Hughes didn't solve the problem) and the election of President Obama, our country still suffers from a tainted image internationally. With the politicos having stalled, why not turn to the real pros, the advertising "creatives," for help?
Paper magazine, a downtown bible of the New York design world, asked some of its favorite image-makers and artists what they would do to rebrand America, and a number of big names donated their time to the cause. The assigned medium was a one-page magazine ad.
The theme of apologizing and starting over was a popular one. Andy Spade, co-founder of both Kate Spade and Jack Spade (and now his own branding agency), presented a simple design in which the word "Sorry" appeared in an American-flag font, against a white background, augmented with a smaller eagle crest below. It's patriotic but abject (maybe too abject). In a less stately variation on the same idea, Dan Wieden, of Wieden + Kennedy, showed a hand heartily shaking a cartoon rendering of the Continental U.S. under the caption, "Nice to Meet You Again." (For some reason, what comes to mind is a hand directly massaging a human heart, but maybe that's just me.)
Everyone's favorite street artist, Shepard Fairey, came up with a red, white, and blue representation of a wind farm set against strong Western mountains, signaling a turn from imperial ventures abroad to energy-innovation at home (one of the better efforts). Meanwhile, Alex Bogusky, co-chairman of Crispin and Porter Advertising, presented a realistic American flag with symbols representing the world's religions in place of the expected 50 stars.
Some ads were too countercultural to be useful, except as provocations: Alex Bogusky's recursive image of Obama wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt on which the Guevara figure, in turn, is wearing an Obama shirt could work as a symbol of the far-left's insularity.
And then there was the -- well, words fail. Kevin Roberts, of Saatchi & Saatchi, took the opportunity to present America's rebirth all too literally. In his ad, Lady Liberty is lying on her back, knees apart, having just delivered a naked President Obama to the world. The messiness of actual birth is not neglected.
Having gone so far toward sensationalism, why not go farther, asked the Assimilated Negro -- and put Obama's black father somewhere in the picture?
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Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.
Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.
Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.
Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.
Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."
Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.
Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.