The resulting conversation contains a lot of the predictable quotes one might expect--Fairey discussing his legal dispute with the Associated Press, Pop talking about his convertible. But at some point, the two engage in a fascinating discussion on the role of propoganda and advertising in divided Berlin, communist Soviet society, and in Fairey's own works.
POP: I lived in Berlin when the wall was still up, and East Berlin was the communist zone. They had imagery there on the walls of the buildings—sanctioned imagery—that was the nearest thing to some of your Andre the Giants and some of your other larger, simpler imagery. The one in Berlin that I liked best was about seven stories high. It was a milk bottle and it had a slogan, in German, which essentially said, DRINK MILK! DRINK MILCH! It used to fascinate me, because growing up in Michigan in my particular town, we had Milky the Clown—this clown who drank lots of milk. But obviously someone in Germany must have thought, “Well, there’s advertising in the West, and we haven’t got any, so we better catch up. But how can we do this in a positive way? We’ll encourage people to drink milch!” There was another one that I remember seeing the first time I ever drove into East Germany. I still don’t know what it meant, but it was on a banner that was strung from an expressway overpass, and it just said, I AM NEAR. I assumed the banner was referring to the leader.
FAIREY: There are so many ways that could be interpreted. “If you’re thinking of defecting, don’t do it because I am near—I am looking right over your shoulder.”
FAIREY: In a paternalistic, protective way. It’s just open-ended enough to be spun whatever way is useful. When I came up with the tagline OBEY for my work, it was based on the idea that there are forces all around us that have agendas, but they are frequently unspoken. So what I was doing was crystallizing that into something tangible. I thought it would make people think about all the mechanisms of control out there. A banner like the one you’re describing is going to set you on that course pretty quickly. But advertising is often packaged in a way that’s friendly, so people don’t think about the I AM NEAR or OBEY element. The funny thing is that a lot of people have told me that my work looks communist. But that’s just because they’re associating it with Russian constructivism, which was such a powerful graphic design. A lot of people think of Russian constructivism as being all about promoting Marx and Lenin, but there were actually state-owned department stores that employed that kind of design and messaging to get people to buy things. They also did some great stuff with it for the airline Aeroflot. So I think the idea of propaganda and advertising being one and the same has been around for a while.