Hell Is Other Liberals

Hell Yes!If you were looking for a thought-provoking opportunity to “investigate how graphic design, visual persuasion, and the media will influence the 2004 election,” you would probably have walked away disappointed after this evening’s “Hell Yes!” event, sponsored earnestly by the New York chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts.

To their credit, the organization made it perfectly clear that the panel session would be biased in favor of liberal politics and, specifically, against the policies and track record of the Bush White House. So in that sense, I should have had lowered expectations for the content of the presentations, but I still felt like the whole affair had a sour taste to it.

Everyone Starts at a Hundred Percent… and They Work Their Way Down from There

When I walked into the auditorium a bit late and halfway through Steven Heller’s characteristically sharp and witty assessment of historical trends and strategies in campaign graphics, I held a good measure of respect for all of the guests on the event’s bill: Rob Corddy, of The Daily Show, Lizz Winstead, co-founder of The Daily Show and of Air America Radio, cartoonist Tom Tomorrow, author of the great This Modern World, and the one and only Sir Milton Glaser. I even had a modestly healthy respect for Billionaires for Bush, a ‘grassroots organization’ using satirical methods for campaigning against Bush’s re-election.

But there was something about the air of consensus that pervaded the room that just bugged me. It was the idea that everyone had assumed that everyone else was more or less in complete agreement with their own political agenda which made me nervous at first — I was pretty sure that very little would be said that would be innovative or that would really broaden the political discourse this evening, and I was more or less proven right.

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It didn’t make matters any better when, aside from Heller’s introductory slide show, the presentations proved to be uniformly disappointing. Now, I should say that I’ve become accustomed to a certain lopsided ratio of self-satisfaction and inherently interesting content in most anything Milton Glaser does, so I can’t say that I was surprised that his unconvincing if earnest ideas for graphic activism left me nonplussed.

But, almost right out of the gate, things took an almost immediate turn for the worse when Billionaires for Bush took the stage and assaulted the audience with their poorly mixed musical comedy. They were looking for a kind of riotous laughter — almost desperate to get it — and it just made me uncomfortable to watch them not earn it. They are an example of an idea that seems funny — almost brilliant — on the Internet, but that falls apart miserably in the flesh.

The biggest disappointment was Rob Corddry, who, in his segments on the Daily Show, has proven to me that he is genuinely funny and hilarious. He almost literally phoned in his appearance this evening, opting for a 10-minute snippet of a rerun from his show rather, than putting together anything of substance or substantially adding to the evening’s discussions. To make it worse, he left early from the question and answer session at the end — a gesture that made his entire appearance seem definitively without commitment. If one of the four panelists couldn’s get worked up about the show, how I was I supposed to?

All of this left me feeling queasy, as if I’d just squandered two hours. It’s a shame, really, considering what the event could have been. If you go back and read the description, you might see what I saw — a chance to hear some really interesting insights about the current and past political climate from the perspective of visual communicators. Unfortunately, I saw almost none of that this evening. Boo hoo.