Going in for the Kill
i became aware of Aleksandar Macasev when I was introduced to The Joseph
Goebbels™ project. I was both seduced and appalled. Was this the Dr. Frankenstein
who took the brain of the evil propagandist, Herr Geobbels and joined it to the body
of conceptual satire? In fact, the project was a multimedia attack on the information
and disinformation glut that used the infamous Nazi minister of mind-control and so called
enlightenment as its poster child. Dredging up the Nazi past is always charged,
but plastering Belgrade's streets with posters featuring Goebbels was asking for trouble.
Macasev, who was graduated from the faculty of architecture, University of
Belgrade, in 1998 and teaches interactive design at the BK Academy of Arts in
Belgrade, understood the issues raised and the responses received. He is no wanton
gag-maker, his work is a marriage of wit and savvy, anger and skepticism.
In a 2006 interview I asked him, "Why didn't you base your iconic image on Hitler
himself?" "Joseph Goebbels was the media mastermind, not Hitler," he said about
ultimate opportunist. "He was a left-wing (almost Communist) activist at the beginning.
Realizing that he didn't need a weathervane to tell which way the wind was
blowing, he switched to a much more plausible option: the fascist one. And he was a
totally non-Aryan type: crippled, refused from the army service, black-haired and
brown-eyed. But he had a hypnotizing voice of a messiah–spooky, but fascinating. You
can easily recognize the type in many of today's politicians and media personas."
This was the response of someone who has done his homework — who understood
and could manipulate word and image for best advantage. "But," I asked, "doesn't this
project run the risk of making a villain into a hero?" "Part of the point is that I can
create a heroic icon out of a villain," he explained, "by using the power of an iconic
advertising image. You place a convincing huge outdoor image in front of the masses,
presented in the form of a positive campaign, and people are likely to perceive the
image as heroic. But I think the majority of the people who saw the campaign still
perceived him as a villain. My attitude in the whole project was to avoid dichotomies:
villain-hero, truth-lie, good-bad ? I am just offering imagery and a broad statement.
Joseph Goebbels is much more about the Joseph-Goebbels state of media culture and
not about the man himself."
I have to say, as much as I try to avoid making Nazis the symbol of anything but evil, I
believe Macasev is not just flagrantly playing with matches. His work may have shock
value — indeed it may ignite some fires in the mind (and elsewhere), but his work is an
expression of cynicism and hope. It is the audience's job to determine which is which.
As an explanation of his motives, Macasev told me: "The power of the media is such
that people often believe what they are told. That's the power of media. You cannot
see with your own eyes or experience personally every single detail about some news
that you have heard or seen. In theory, you can choose to believe in it or not by using
your common sense. My message is that there is no truth or lie. Everything is just a
story or a message and you can choose to believe in it or accept it. Healthy skepticism
for a healthier life."
And yet there are dichotomies in Macasev's work — or at least profound contrasts.
Page after page of this book is peppered with ideas, but an idea alone is nothing without
a means of communicating it. On one level, this book is a real beauty, a model of
good design. But that's the big lie (as Goebbels would say) of Macasev's strategy. Make
it pretty, seduce the prey, then go in for the kill.