Flirting With Fascism: The Design World’s Bizarre Romance With Totalitarian Imagery

Earlier this week, complaints regarding a J.C. Penney billboard in Culver City resulted in the removal of an expensive piece of signage. Apparently, it looked too much like an evil dictator; viewed from a certain angle, the ad for a Michael Graves-designed Bells and Whistles Stainless Steel Tea Kettle featured a handle that looked like a neatly parted mop of hair, a spout that resembled a saluting arm, and a lid knob that looked like Oliver Hardy’s adorable toothbrush mustache.

jcpenney-hitler-billboard-hed-2013[Image via Adweek]

It’s hard to think of a more postmodern topic of conversation than the changing power of a dictator’s likeness. If the ambiguously threatening image in Culver City was accidental — commenters on Reddit and Adweek have speculated that it wasn’t  — this wouldn’t be the first time the design and advertising worlds have bumped into the legacy of totalitarianism.