in media res

Revolution: So what’s the deal? by aristea F
January 31, 2008, 6:38 pm
Filed under: aristea, media everyday media, print, semiology | Tags: , , ,

Sussex university campus has been full of them in the last week. ‘revolution’ flyerYou could see them on the pavement, on library desks, in the hands of happy distributers at Library square, at the Falmer bus stop benches, it was really hard to miss them. The ‘revolution’ flyers and the ‘revolution’ web site of the Sussex University Christian union are ventures that show some serious budget supporting an intensive ad strategy. This flyer actually needed a graphic designer and, while I have not seen the Che Guevara Christ before, I would be surprised if they came up with the idea. The site is the same way professionally designed and it contains audio files from the talks that have been taking place this week.

I am interested in the flyer layout and the conscious decisions that the creative crew took in order to deliver the message, but also who the targeted audience of the flyer is.

I will talk about the dominant visual elements of the flyer and what their functionality in terms of semiotic meaning is. The most striking element is the color red, which depending on the cultural code employed, can signify passion, love, communism, blood, heat, war, femininity, violence, sensuality. Here the color is anchored both to the word ‘revolution’ and the image of Che Guevarra-Christ, thus its meaning is limitted to two notions: passion (needed to be part of a revolution) and physical violence (the Cuban guerilla warfare). The practical function of the color red is that it is immidiately noticable. The colour of the flyer (and web site) is however a combination of red, black and white, which is considered as the most aggressive combination of colours in graphic design and can be seen predominantly in Russian avant-garde and then Soviet propaganda art, and, since then, in advertising.

Apart from the aggressiveness of the flyer due to the high contrasted colours used, the image of the man placed on the high right of the paper is that of central importance. Audiences draw meaning from composition codes so the placement of the image is not arbitrary. The design is actually an abstractive rendering of the Che Guevara photo with the addition of the haircut and the coronal that reminds of classic depictions of Christ, like the Zeffirelli film. Far from the ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ calm and humble look, the angry and determined man looks up and to the left where, following the line of the eyes, the word ‘Revolution’ is written. The font used is highly problematic and a back-set to the communicative purposes of the flyer. Two lines on the “O” are probably used to signify the coronal but are more close to horns and therefore, in a religious context, to the devil. The “E” is written with a capital greek ‘S’ which is sigma (‘Σ’), at least to my greek undersanding, in what was probably supposed to connote something aramaic or hebrew or just the greek ‘E'(which is just ‘E’). The rest is just bad design so I will stay at the concept of revolution and the text used a bit longer.

‘Revolution…starts 28th Jan’ is the announcement. There is a set of interesting assumptions in the text. One is that University students and Sussex University students in particular, are interested in revolution. Then, once attention of the reader is drawn from the header and visuals, the main paragraph goes on to explain what revolution is: ‘Revolution is a chance to ask big questions,…’. So revolution is not a set backof actions based on an ideological substratum, nor is it a chance to claim or express, it is just a chance to ask questions. The revolutionary enthusiasm ends where the patronizing tone commences. The text goes on to determine the character of questions that will be asked: ‘Who is Jesus? Spiritual Guru? Son of God? Prophet? Carpenter?’ The rest frame the image on the right. ‘Revolutionary? Good Teacher? Hippie? Myth?’ .

The back of the leaflet contains an interesting paragraph: ‘So what’s the deal? Some informal, chilled out events, with good food, with time to relax, to chat…and we’ll be looking at some conversations that Jesus had with ordinary people; religious leaders, prostitutes, friends and politicians’. This casual tone uses key phrases specificaly selected to appeal to students. The fact that it is informal and that a priest or a tutor will not be there makes it friendly and trustable. Then, it is ‘chilled out’ which means that the people running this are street-wise, they’ve been around, they can use the kind of language that is directly linked to the 90s ecstasy sub-culture. Good food and for free is surely a factor not to be under estimated for students on a low budget. It is hard for me to understand how the ordinary people are separated from the rest, do the religious leaders, prostitutes, politicians and friends constitute the ordinary people or are they something completely different? It’s hard to tell, but if that phrase was an IQ test question “Which word does not fit”, the answer would be “prostitutes”, it is the only one that is considered morally low. Since it is hard to imagine a female politician at the time Christ lived or a female christian religious leader(ever) and we alredy know that the friends of Christ were male (the women in his cyrcle were relatives), women in this sentence can only be in the category of prostitutes. Now, I am not arguing that the Sussex Christian union are sexists but the flyer is more or less addressed to boys and men, it uses the codes of politics and action, the paradigm of the big intellectual questions and the one of (outdated) slang that are traditionally used for masculinity. Interestingly, as a passer by in a cattle of students, I was not given a flyer while the boy in front and the one behind me got one. _

Aristea F. 08



9 Comments so far
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Interesting that you picked up this topic as I also felt visually overwhelmed by these flyers. Not only were they distributed amongst the students; wherever I was at lunchtime (and does this actually say something about where I stay for lunch?) these flyers were plastering the places.
When reading the concept of “Revolution” promised on the front and explained at the back, I felt very disappointed. Is that what today’s students consider revolution? Asking big questions to prostitutes? Sorry, I am a bit polemic here again.
What came to my mind reading this and finding out about this notion of “revolution” was a discussion to be had at German universities just a while ago. The old generation of students from the 68 era felt quite disillusioned about how passive and well-fitted today’s students join university and academic discourse. When the university tuition fee was introduced in Germany a couple of years ago, there were demonstrations and the cry for free education. Yes. But only of the few, the band of brothers (and sisters).
So that’s that for revolution in the 21st century.

Behold, I have yet to discuss the 68 generation itself driving big cars, living a fancy lifestyle (which you can afford in Germany being a professor and a “Beamte” on the top of that) as well as the change in time. Also the necessity of revolution.

Comment by meandomedar

A great joy of cycling in and out of the campus is that you don’t get handed flyers 🙂

I haven’t seen these ones but I’m glad I didn’t get one.

I’m interested in Aristea’s comments about Red. For me the strong association is “The People’s Flag” which I used to sing at the Labour party conference when I went to them in the 80s. I don’t know if they still sing it today.

I always rather enjoyed singing it although like nearly everyone I knew only the first verse and the chorus. This meant that at the conference the first verse was always sung very heartily, then the chorus was good and strong but each subsequent verse was sung very weakly with many people sort of mouthing noiselessly to hide the fact that they didn’t know the words. Between these weakly sung verses the chorus that everyone knew was always sung with great gusto to make up for the shortfall on the verses.

Red Flag:

Comment by giantinsect

i like the billy bragg version!

Comment by sam

I’ve never heard the Billy Bragg version. No doubt it is on an MP3 for download somewhere.

Comment by giantinsect

If I’d have known so much analysis would go in to the design of these flyers I would have thought about it a little more! These flyers were knocked up in about 20 minutes on photoshop, unfortunately no serious budget or intensive ad strategy.

FYI the Che/Jesus picture was produced in 1999 by the Churches Advertising Network (

Hugh, Sussex CU

Comment by Hugh

Ps. The Revolution font is from the film ‘Enemy of the State’
I guess the font and the film have connotations with Revolutions and it has a kindof communist style to it… perhaps

Comment by Hugh

Hugh: Beware, in media res is watching and analysing.
Thank you for your comment. Well, I’d say that professional colored print -no photocopy that is – requires a serious budget, of course the very concept of what serious budget is depends on where you’re standing, which is exactly my point. Furthermore, designing a handout for an event and distribution of that scale, even within a university community means marketing –this is intensive ad strategy , especially now that I know that there’s a ‘Churches Advertising Network’ (!).

To the blog:
Also, the fact that ‘designers’ are not aware or not intentional of the encoding process
that goes on in their product makes it even more interesting for semiological analysis, however it would be even more interesting if Hugh was actuallly an atheist designer working for this(or a christian working in the communist party as a designer).

As a general observation, the decoding revolution=communism is interesting, that went on even for Hugh himself, as the designer and then as an audience. Meaning that from a possible plethora of revolution types,(say the industrial revolution) this one was chosen. Eventually, the purpose of the leflet to anchor revolution with christianity failed and on the contrary, made the link between the notions revolution and communism even stronger.

Comment by aristea

[…] little did I know that it would be scrutinised in detail by a group of Sussex media students… see their review. The CU events week, coincides with finishing serving on committee, sad times, but after two years […]

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Hi would you mind sharing which blog platform you’re using? I’m looking to start my own blog soon but I’m having a tough time making a decision between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal. The reason I ask is because your layout seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something unique. P.S Sorry for getting off-topic but I had to ask!

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