Dissenting Conditions (Milton Glaser interviewed by Steven Heller)
"Eat" Poster by Tomi Ungerer, 1967. Anti-Vietnam War poster that depicts the Statue of Liberty being shoved into the gaping mouth of a yellow man by an arm emblazoned with the word “Eat.”
Excerpts from the Interview
Heller: Challenging an established order is the goal of dissent. But is it done in a constructive or deconstructive way?
Glaser: It can be either. Dissenters usually have the idea that their dissent is an attempt to improve an existing condition. Although I suppose in the American South, when racist Southerners were demonstrating against the Civil Rights movement, from our point of view, we might say that the reaction was motivated by self-interest rather than a sense of fairness.
Heller: Where they using "dissent" s their operative term, or was it a blatant rejection of the federal government's imposition of equal rights?
Glaser: I'm not sure it's relevant whether people use the word "dissent" or not. They certainly disagreed with the government and an aspect of dissent is disagreement. We like to feel dissent is about a notion of fairness that is being violated by the existing power structure.
Heller: Dissent can be curtailed by official decrees and regulations. If dissent offers positive alternatives, why is it so terrifying?
Glaser: The loss of power is terrifying to all of us. If you're the king, and you have a life for yourself and your cronies that is very happy and satisfying, and all of a sudden people are turning out by thousands in the street and you realize you could lose everything, well, you're not going to leave quietly. So in the case of institutions like the church or political systems, those in power spend their life holding on to it, and those who threaten that power are in for a very hard time, depending on just how much pressure the power can wield.
Heller: Let's discuss the art of dissent-which is, of course the topic of this book-and the role of the designer as a propagator of dissent. True dissenters are activists. Is creating a poster, button or ad campaign real activism?
Glaser: It's certainly a form of activism. Should designers be more involved in this activism than others? For years, my response was that a designer's role is not any different from that of any good citizen. From my point of view, good citizens are those who participate in democracy and who express their point of view, and who realize they have a role to play in the life of their time. Being a designer doesn't suggest that you have any MORE responsibility. We all have the responsibility to be good citizens. We can either embrace that responsibility or withdraw from it. The passivity of many Americans has endangered our democracy.
Heller: The role of the designer is clearly to be a good citizen, but how do you feel graphic design as a profession can influence or support dissent?
Glaser: Graphic designers know how to communicate. We've had experience that has trained us for a role in the culture.
One of the things evident in this book is that the work of amateurs very often is as powerful as the work of professionals. Our times are characterized by the erosion, if not the disappearance, of professional practice in certain categories. Almost everyone is obsessed with the idea of design and being a designer.