Since I started this blog back up again with a new direction it’s got me thinking a lot about images, culture, and politics. I obviously think a lot about that stuff anyway in my own fine art photography practice which tends to focus on those things, but I had never really examined it in great detail in outside of that. I’m finding all sorts of ways that the image becomes a political tool or object, either deliberately or accidentally. It’s also interesting the subtle ways that images are present in our culture too.
This post is one that looks at how an image is going to potentially cause a political upset. Does David have a crystal ball, I hear you ask? No, dear reader, he does not. He just knows that people have a tendency to get a little upset when certain things collide. Some of those things are sexuality, the government, the public, and pictures. How are these things going to collide this time? Through something that millions of people are going to see, that millions of people are going to receive (whether they want it or not), and through something over which they have absolutely no control over whatsoever. This is a thing that will be used as a tool to wind people up, to debate the use of public funds, and that will please some people and drive others totally up the pole. What is it, I hear you cry?
It’s a postage stamp. Due to be released in 2014 by the United States Postal Service, it will feature Harvey Milk, probably the most famous gay rights campaigner in US history and the first openly gay politician to be elected in the US (I think). Yesterday the USPS announced that the stamp will be released next year. They didn’t give a date but it was confirmed in a posting via the Harvey Milk Foundation. I should stress that the image here is NOT the actual stamp; this is just a mockup from a blog. Hopefully he won’t look like a cheesy country-western singer as in this example…..
Here we have almost the ultimate combination of visual culture and politics for this blog. We have the image of Harvey. That’s bound to create some discussion to start with. Visually what will they use? Will it be a drawing, a photograph, a painting? People can never agree on these things anyway and I am sure that this will no different. Culturally he is important to LGBTQ people everywhere as he is someone who people look to as relevant in their history, whether they agree with him politically or not. He was the first gay elected official in California, regardless of political position so he instantly becomes a cultural symbol for many. Politically this has the potential to become a (heated) discussion point as we have an independent agency of the United States government producing a stamp of a figure that represents a very current and controversial political and social battle taking place. Three points that are hugely relevant to this blog coming together.
The practical aspects of this are interesting. People will use this stamp as a tool. You can be sure that LGBTQ organizations will buy it in droves for use in their mailings. People will use it to send letters to people who they KNOW are against LGBTQ issues just to wind them up. Some people will go in to the post office and will ask for stamps that contain anything BUT Harvey Milk. People will object to the USPS printing a picture of Harvey Milk on a stamp, even though there have been countless dead heterosexual politicians on stamps in the past. You can bet that this will come up in church as well. Conservatives will scowl at their mail and Liberals will rejoice at theirs. People will pay more attention to the stamps on the envelope than the contents. It will be fascinating to watch.
The media love a good controversy. It sells advertising space and generates clicks on webpages for both sides of the debate so you can be sure that this will dominate the airwaves. Just like in the Pasta Wars talked about earlier you can be sure that this will be whipped up into a frenzy online. . All over an image of a dead person. People will imbue this image with so much stuff and baggage that it will fill days and weeks of time.
Harvey would have loved it.