WASHINGTON, December 20, 2012 ― No, these are not Halloween decorations from the Kremlin, nor are they visual aids in a KGB class on how to stage weird accidents.
Buried in the ash heap of history for decades, these vintage Soviet accident prevention posters have recently been unearthed, digitized, and turned into a trendy item by American bloggers with a taste for all things bizarre and outlandish.
Given my ex-Soviet background, a few of my friends forwarded me the links. I brushed them off: Who cares about the depressing old rubbish from the days of barbaric, semi-feudal socialism? At best, the pictures reminded me of the vast cultural gap in time and space I was lucky enough to cross during my lifetime.
Vintage Soviet accident
Don’t leave anything
As the emails continued, I began to wonder about the fascination Americans seem to have with this grotesque phenomenon.
Apparently, the fantasy violence of Hollywood movies and videogames has confined Americans’ perception of gore to horror and action flicks – a fantasy world separated by a wide margin from the safe and mundane reality of most people’s everyday lives.
In a civil society with complex cultural institutions, public display of actual real-life gore is as much a taboo as the public display of frontal nudity. These rules are followed by both the mass media and government officials.
In this context, ghastly official posters picturing blood, mutilated limbs, and horrible death in work-related accidents – reviewed and approved, no doubt, by serious government bureaucrats – must appear as idiotic attempts at comic-book horrors, or even macabre sadistic porn as it might exist in the nutty satirical world of Borat Sagdiyev.
Vintage Soviet accident
Hide the hair.
Where does all of this fit into the Soviet reality in which I grew up?
Honestly, I had never seen these posters before.
Even having worked for three years as a visual agitation and propaganda artist, specializing in posters directed at construction workers, I don’t recall ever seeing any of these pictures.
Granted, they were meant to be displayed at production facilities targeting specific occupations, but I never saw them even while working three different jobs at various industrial facilities, starting at 17 as a metal worker apprentice at a large factory in Ukraine, and later shoveling dirt along Siberian roadsides.
This is not to say they aren’t authentic - they’re just too antiquated. Made mostly in the 1920s and 1930s, they reflect the zeitgeist of a completely different, less sensitive generation of Soviet citizens who were so used to being disciplined, humiliated, and terrorized by the authorities that the least of their concerns would be to question some silly presumptive posters that described them as a herd of bumbling idiots being gored by machinery.
Vintage Soviet accident
Don’t walk under the
The general message from the government to the public was this: terrible things will happen to you if we don’t take care of you and watch over your every step. The accident prevention posters conveyed that message perfectly. Despite the intention of their creators, they became an accurate if grotesque metaphor of the entire socialist worldview.
Luckily, by the time I entered the workforce in the late 1970s, such imagery would no longer seem acceptable even to the most callous bureaucrats in charge of work safety at state-run facilities.
As the cold-blooded, old guard of the Stalinist era began to die out or retire, the people warmed up and their hearts began to thaw. In another decade they would become too warm-blooded for the dictatorship of the proletariat to remain viable.
It was the beginning of the end of a regime as violent and bizarre as the above posters - a regime that provided the people with food, shelter, and work all the while treating and reimagining them as unthinking farm animals.
Considering the resurgence of socialist ideas in today’s United States, we might as well recycle the old Soviet agitprop - and, remembering our skills in visual propaganda, add some new touches to educate the masses about the glorious vision that is the United Soviet Socialist States of America.
At The People’s Cube, we do NOT equate all “liberals” with communists. The purpose of this website is to pick up “liberal” hitchhikers and give them a ride to the communist wonderland - the inevitable end result of their “well-meaning” policies.
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