NO! (2012) is a fantastic film about the “soft power” of creative media and its ability to influence major social and political happenings—in this case, to delegitimize the dictatorship of Chilean President Augusto Pinochet. Starring Gael Garcia Bernal as advertising director René Saavedra, it is loosely based on true events:
In 1988, a marketing campaign was developed as a lead-up to a nationally mandated referendum in which the public were asked to vote YES or NO for the continuation of Pinochet’s regime.
Over 27 nights, artists, designers, and producers for each campaign were given 15 minutes of television airtime to state their viewpoints in as direct or abstract a manner as desired. Much tension ensued as both sides vied for votes through grander and flashier productions. Below is an actual commercial aired from the NO! campaign which also plays in the film. I watched this movie months ago and the chorus is still stuck in my head:
If you’re into thrillers with beautifully styled cinematography, engrossing plot-lines, and all things “Latin American 80’s”, this film is not to be missed. And if you don’t see it for the political drama, at least see it to catch a glimpse of Bernal’s mullet blowing in the breeze as he pensively skateboards down the winding streets of Santiago…(heart emoticon).
What strikes me about NO! is how swayable we are in the face of well-crafted media, and how the language of advertising can be used to sell more than products like toothpaste and detergent—it can also “sell” things like social commentary, ideology, even hope. Politicians, for better or for worse, have long used visual language to their advantage while campaigning for our votes, or perhaps even reinforcing their rule. I mean, how else do you explain this?
Now that‘s a profile pic if I’ve seen one. But I digress…My point is, if marketing and visual rhetoric can be used to further the agenda of those in power, what if more and more designers, artists, filmmakers and advertisers used it on a mass level to question systems that might be failing us? To call for meaningful cultural exchanges, dialogue, and offer alternatives to these dynamics?
No! is a terrific example of this: a powerful piece of media about the power of media. (Or, “meta-media” if you will…Those are my tuition dollars at work right there!) Produced in part by CANANA Films—a studio started by Bernal and fellow artist Diego Luna to generate and showcase Latin American stories on a large scale, it provides a fine model for those who wish to be creative ambassadors for our own cultures. To tell stories and share perspectives that might not otherwise be heard on a mass scale. To inspire those in a position to change things for the better to do so, even if at the most miniscule level…
The more I learn about Latin American culture and history, the more I realize how glaring the similarities are to where my own origins lie (the Middle East/North Africa, or “MENA” region.) Colonization, theft of resources, poverty, erasure of indigenous culture, foreign meddling and the installation dictatorships, torture, revolutions, war, migration out of desperation…it’s enough to make one wonder if after (how many?) millennia of existence we’ve come far enough in terms of how we structure our societies (we haven’t.) And I can’t help but think that as people who work in creative industries, we have a shared responsibility to produce work that drives audiences’ attention to such important and unresolved issues.
Art and media have the tangible ability to open minds, share new perspectives, and influence opinions. Combined with the mighty language of marketing, we can use them to ask/push for more human-centric media, industries, and systems of governance, much like the real-life NO! campaign did. And with all these new technologies we have so many platforms to choose from…
I’ll leave you with this interview between Gael Garcia Bernal and The Economist’s Robert Lane Greene, in which both ruminate on the “Soft Power of Art”. In his introduction to the topic, Greene notes that elements of soft power can include culture, sport, music, film etc. and that through these means we can influence others to act a certain way “through attraction—perhaps rather than the coercive means we’re quite accustomed to seeing on our news screens and unfortunately for some of us, in locales we call home…”
In other words, let media inform our views, not shape them for us. For me design, is one of the many intersections where visual rhetoric and social justice can meet to attract others to both seek and work to “do better” at being human. (Unless you’re a dog…in which case, how are you reading this?!!)
Mundo, la alegria ya viennnnneeeeeee!!!