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At one of his regular media briefings, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York unveiled a remarkably detailed souvenir poster that he commissioned and helped design himself. The poster’s subject? Um… Well, mostly it’s about New York’s response to the Covid-19 crisis, but also it’s perhaps a treasure map left for you by an eccentric uncle? Or maybe an album cover for a 70s folk group that later quit music to devote all of their time to Area 51 conspiracy theories? A political cartoon from the late-1800s about something called the Burlap Imbroglio? All of the above? Suffice it to say, there is a lot going on this poster and every single bit of it is amazing.
Put this in the Louvre! (If we are ever allowed back in France.) The mere existence of this excellent piece of art is both perplexing and exhilarating. Who is the target demographic for this poster? Can you imagine moving into your dorm room freshman year of college and encountering this masterpiece hanging next to the ubiquitous Scarface poster? “Mom, can you pick me up from college? My roommate is a Cuomosexual.”
This pandemic-themed art piece is not the governor’s first foray into the wild and wonderful world of… whatever is happening here. (A final presentation for a group project in history class? Who can say?) In January, Cuomo distributed a poster he’d conceived, drawn by artist Rusty Zimmerman, to lawmakers after his State of the State address which depicted the Ship of New York crossing the Sea of Division underneath a smiling illustration of the governor himself.
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Eagle-eyed poster-heads will notice some common attributes between the two posters—though Zimmerman did not create the Covid piece—including the rainbow bridge from Thor, many titles and subtitles, and, perhaps most thrillingly, a menacing cephalopod in the lower left corner. And, naturally, the defining characteristic of both posters is that there is far too much to unpack, let alone comprehend. Wes Anderson saw this and was like “Hmm. A little too complicated and twee, don’t you think?”
Though the Covid response poster is an overwhelming graphic design feast, it seems prudent to begin by investigating all of the seemingly unrelated phrases contained within. Cuomo’s creation offers an abundance of explications for the inexplicable and that’s worth celebrating! In order from top to bottom, here are the phrases on the poster:
- New York Tough: This would appear to be the title of the poster but also it could just be a theme. Or, it could be a description of the difficulty of truly understanding the poster. Clear, but also unclear!
- Smart – United – Disciplined – Loving: I want this to be an acronym so badly but apparently SUDL is not a word. LUDS is a word; has the governor considered that? He could tell people “Lead with LUDS!” or have t-shirts made that read “I LUDS NY.” Governor Cuomo, I know you’re reading this. You may have this idea for free because I LUDS you.
- “Wake up, America! Forget the Politics! Get Smart!”: So many tasks here. I have to be conscious! I have to be always remembering to forget! I have to grapple with another command relating to smartness?! I don’t LUDS this very much. Also, in terms of actionable steps, beyond not sleeping, I’m not quite sure what to do here.
- -Governor Andrew Cuomo: The quote is attributed to the governor in Calibri font, which does not appear anywhere else on the poster. Mysterious!
- Love – COMMUNITY – Support: Honestly, this is too much. We’re done with smart but now we’re back to Love? Pick a lane! And why is community capitalized? Is the poster yelling at me? Nothing makes me feel more a part of a group than being shouted at by text.
What’s great about the text, however, is that despite the fact that there is so much of it, you can go on a whole different journey by just letting the images wash over you.
The caption on this image that sits at the beginning of the curve, near March 1, labels these two people Stephanie and Jim but my brain keeps telling me that this is Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt and who am I to argue with my brain? Possibly related but surely not, Leslie and Ben are in the path of a cruise ship (labeled “cruise ship”) that is narrowly escaping an octopus that has no label. We’ve barely even begun the poster but already I am certain that I’m on mushrooms. I feel like I’ll be on my deathbed in 100 years and my last words will be “WHAT DID THE OCTOPUS HAVE TO DO WITH THE PANDEMIC?” and then I will expire and then I will sit bolt upright again and shout “COMMUNITY” and then I’ll be gone for real.
Moving up, we go from having not enough information to having way too much information. So there’s a plane of 3 million Europeans flying through the Clouds of Confusion and, actually, I don’t think I’m even allowed to comment on this. It feels a little close to a conspiracy theory. So, yes. The plane. Moving on. Underneath the plane, General Zod is blowing winds of fear, all very normal. And on land, a disembodied nose sits underneath “Gareth” and “Larry”, who I believe are cast members on The Office. The nose is being swabbed vigorously and every time I look at it, I feel ill. Mission: accomplished!
What do we find at the peak of the crisis? Gay rights! Surprise! LEST YOU FORGET!
The declining side of the curve contains a veritable cornucopia of visual non sequiturs. A feast for the eyes! A man hangs off boyfriend cliff for no reason! What was his crime? We’ll never know. Who will help him? Well, there’s a lot of people nearby, but they’ve got their hands full pulling down the curve, so sorry, Boyfriend. COMMUNITY. The people pulling down the curve include, in order of appearance: New Yorkers, Health Care Workers, Essential Works, Out of State Volunteers, Cara, Mariah (Carey?), Michaela, Captain. A few things to note: How did New Yorkers get top billing over Health Care Workers? Who is New Yorkers’ agent? Also, not to besmirch but Captain isn’t doing anything to help. Captain’s inclusion here feels like nepotism and I’m not afraid to say it.
Elsewhere in the section, a train car represents the notion of subway disinfectant. Not the process of disinfecting a subway, just the idea of chemical cleaner. And the stock market reopens but it’s stuck in the little glass case where the Beast from Beauty and the Beast kept his rose. A metaphor!
The pièce de résistance of the whole poster, however, has to be Trump sitting on a crescent moon like he’s in an advertisement for a quaint 1950s Broadway musical. The president doesn’t get the courtesy of a name but is instead labeled “It’s just the flu” while the Sun on the Other Side smiles benevolently behind him. I feel that I could spend the rest of my life trying to parse the choices here. What is going on with Cuomo’s celestial imagery? Is the sky good or is the sky bad? Is the moon in America? (This is a general question I have as well.) Why are there no stars? Is it because of the collapse of the celebrity industry? How does Quibi figure into this? How did the president get to the moon? Shouldn’t he be in the bunker? Does Elon Musk have anything to say about this? Is the moon bad? (This is another general question I have.) And, perhaps most importantly, can he stay there? This is the most inspirational piece of art I’ve ever seen and, also, I never want to see it again.
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