Friday, January 27, 2006

A Mean, Green Publicity Machine

At the risk of offending readers, I have to say something about the brilliant branding effort that probably contributed to the victory of Hamas in yesterday's Palestinian elections. Coming from me, this isn't praise, but it certainly was a political and merchandising coup. Any mindless aesthete would have to admire their flags, baseball caps, and scarves in the traditional Hamas green for looking great in the crowded scenes of demonstration and celebration. As repulsive as their less than zero-sum politics of violence might be, they obviously learned something about design and political crowds from the recent Orange Revolution in Ukraine.

Among those doing visual analysis, I'm obviously not alone. Recent picks of pictures at BAGnewsNotes, where complex political images are tackled daily like crosswords, include Hamas crowds.

A similar fashion statement previously made headlines locally. At last year's U.C. Irvine graduation ceremony, where I teach, green stoles bearing the same "There is No God but Allah" motto were to be worn by Muslim students receiving their diplomas. This particular form of runway apparel generated much controversy and coverage in the media.

I have probably put myself on some watchlist by doing so, but I couldn't help but visit the Hamas official page out of curiosity. This morning the English site was down, but I was able to catch up on the prose of their victory lap in French. I did find a cartoon showing the empty garment of the opposition, the headscarf of Arafat, in keeping with today's political fashion theme.

I wouldn't recommend the Hamas website to those seeking an alternative to predictable canned rhetoric from the geopolitical opposition. The wild and wooly and many-tongued blog of chatty Iranian Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi is a much better alternative. Check out his recent thoughtful criticism of filtering of political sites and his autobiographical intimate reflections ("I am happy with my marital life and have no complaint whatsoever"). Sometimes single-authored websites can have more points of view than those that purport to represent collective experience.

This is also my opportunity to put in my plug for the Golden Globe winning Palestinian film Paradise Now, which I think is the best film about terrorism since The Battle of Algiers and perhaps the best film about terrorism ever. Don't avoid it based on the loathsome rock video style trailer created by the distributor; the actual film uses no music at all and bare-bones cinematography. The scenes are intently focused on character development and economic storytelling. Paradise Now also has a lot of Virtualpolitik meta-movie moments, such as a scene about filming "martyrs" videos, but doesn't overplay the irony. And for more in the plus column, the director Hany-Abu Assad has strongly asserted, counter the position of the Motion Picture Association of America and former Hollywood copyright kingpin Jack Valenti, that he looks forward to the widespread pirating of his film in the Palestinian Authority as a way to use art to advance discussion about achieving Arab autonomy through peaceful means.

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