Friday, November 23, 2012

"Because Somebody Talked!"- 1944 Poster

This poster is another in the Office of War Information's (OWI) "Loose Lips, Sink Ships" series.  It is currently in the museum's World War II gallery.  Titled ...Because Somebody Talked!, it delivers a powerful message about the consequences of revealing sensitive war information.

Commercial artist Wesley Heyman produced this work that almost did not make it into production.   At the time Heyman was working on the print, a government-approved group of commerical artists and OWI formed a cooperative agreement in which OWI would tell the artists what type of posters were needed and the artists would produce them.  OWI sought to more tightly control the message the government wanted to share.  Artists who were not part of this "Pool of Artists" generally had their unsolicited work rejected.  Heyman was not part of the pool, but he submitted his work anyway. 

Not only did OWI and the Pool of Artists accept Heyman's work, but they printed it in magazines and newspapers, as well as on the walls of government and corporate office buildings.  OWI received thousands of requests from private and public institutions around the country for reproductions.  OWI personnel estimated that they reproduced millions of this poster and that it "shattered all records" for previous poster requests.

One can see why the poster is so effective.  It is very simple, focusing on four items: a gold service star, a cocker spaniel, a U.S. Navy sailor's uniform, and the short text.  The viewer sees the gold service star flag and instantly knows that this home/family lost someone in the war. 

The use of a cocker spaniel instead of a human to convey loss is an important characteristic of the print.  Among other factors, due to high profile "Best in Show" awards at prestigious dog shows like Westminster, the cocker spaniel became the most popular breed of dog in the United States for much of the 1940s and 50s. Thus, it was a dog that many Americans could relate to.  Additionally, if Heyman used a crying widow or mother, OWI might have rejected it, as the office had a policy against posters that portrayed the cold truth about the war. 

Instead, Heyman used the sad-looking cocker spaniel to deliver his message. The dog's eyes pierce right into the viewer's soul. Heyman still gets the message across that somebody in the family is going to miss the sailor without being brutally honest about the horrors of war.

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