The sound of silence: the contrast and paradoxes of the Stalin era in newspaper graphics

Evgeny Alekseyev

Abstract


The 1930s Soviet press is full of inner paradoxes not only due to the rapidly changing criteria applied to the evaluation of events and personalities, but also due to the drastic change in the usual worldview. Though relying heavily on everyday details, the ideological tools are far away from reality and consider it from a superior position. The paradoxes of newspaper information are illustrated by means of visual images that are meant to support the text and solve propaganda tasks, attack political adversaries, mock at household hardships as well as unconscious citizens. Being ideologically tuned, approved by certain structures and double-checked, cartoons, drawings and posters did not repeat the text of the article but provided it with a new meaning and uncovered the implications of events.

The Za Tyazheloye Mashinostroyeniye (“For Heavy Engineering Industry”) newspaper that for many years was the main media organization of the Ural Heavy Engineering Plant (Uralmash Plant) was following the uniform informational policy. The Editorial Board’s independence is most evident in the production coverage and the most academically attractive material is connected with the life of Uralmash and the depiction of local events and people. The cartoon here is an essential tool for castigating vice; for this reason, the antagonists produce a stronger impression than the stale and inarticulate depiction of pacesetters and heroes. The system of graphics in the newspaper, i. e. the poster with its relative language and its longing for extreme situations, the drawing aiming at nature and everyday realia, the cartoon with its pronounced punitive function, does not only turn out to be uncoordinated but internally inconsequential. The emphasized simplicity of drawings, noticeable carelessness and clumsiness seem intentional and one may even speak about a certain Soviet newspaper style characterized by a syncretism of images and the printed word. However defective, the visual language turned out to be more truthful than newspaper language, unwillingly disclosing the mechanisms of manipulation proper. The casualness, glibness, dynamicity and expressiveness as well as aggressiveness of drawings correspond to the intensive life of the Soviet state, the swift and heroic changes and bravura of the epoch; on the other hand, once can recognize in them the deadly petrifaction of plaster giants and the appalling recurring hypnotic sleep. These all make an impression of oppressive silence. Unwillingly, in their words newspaper artists reflected the contradictory character of the epoch that claimed victory over time and found itself coming to a moral dead-end of social stagnation.


Keywords


Soviet graphics of the 1930s; Za Tyazheloye Mashinostroyeniye Newspaper; Uralmash; cartoon; poster.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15826/qr.2015.4.127

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