“Keeping the World Safe from Hypocrisy” originally ran in 1992 in an issue of AIGA’s The Journal dedicated to the then-recent AIGA “Love, Money & Power” conference (vol. 9, no. 4). It’s part of a series in which we seek out and republish the best yet-to-be-digitized articles from our vast print archives.
I’ve turned down a couple thousand appearances at design conferences, but I came to “Love Money & Power” because I like its themes. Love. Anybody who doesn’t love being a designer doesn’t love putting ideas down that might change the world, and those who don’t have the talent to do it shouldn’t be in the business. Love is what pushes us all. Money. If you got into this business looking to make money you’re in big trouble.
It’s not that you can’t make a ton of money, but anybody who comes into the business trying to make money is a bum.
Power. The ability to affect change. I find these three things very exciting. In a sense, it’s the story of my life.
I’ve done some political campaigns. I wish I had done more. I wish I had done every campaign against Nixon, Reagan, and Bush, but the Democratic Party is scared of me and maybe I don’t blame them. Maybe I think I know how I can make any Democrat win. I did a campaign for Bobby Kennedy in New York in 1964, a tough, tough campaign. Bobby was a carpetbagger. Bobby was going to get beat. He was running against a real Republican stiff, Senator Kenneth Keating. We did a campaign that busted through, but it was done to the wire. It came down to the last week, when Bobby Kennedy let me run a 20 second commercial. It said, “Think about it. When you go into the voting booth, which of the two men running for the Senate would make a great United States Senator?” White type on a black background, nothing else happening, and it went off. Everybody in New York understood, especially the Democrats who were going against Kennedy because they thought he was a snotty kid. They realized what you basically have to do is vote for somebody who has a chance to be great.
Around 1976, I read a book by Rubin Hurricane Carter, a great fighter who was about to fight for the middleweight championship. It was called The Sixteenth Round. A beautiful book and an incredibly intelligent man. He was in jail for a sentence of 300 years for robbery and the killings of three white men in the fascist state of New Jersey. I was absolutely positive that Hurricane was innocent. I ran a small ad on page two of the New York Times, “From Rubin Hurricane Carter No. 01424567777,” talking about the fact that he was innocent.
That afternoon I started to organize the committee run by Mohammed Ali, Burt Reynolds, and supported by thousands of people in America to try to get Carter out of jail. We raised hell. We had marches of 20,000 people to the statehouse. I got Bob Dylan to write a song called “Hurricane.” We got Carter a new trial. He was reframed. Got another trial. The state Supreme Court of New Jersey threw it out citing the viciousness of his jailing.
There are ways that designers and advertising people can get important things done.
My work has always been a mixture of words and pictures. My job is to get words on people’s tongues. I want them to say “when you’ve got it flaunt it” and then I want the image of Salvador Dali sitting next to Whitey Ford as he describes how to throw a curve ball (below). I want an image in their minds of Sonny Liston listening to Warhol as he explains the significance of a Campbell soup can. But I want them to say “when you’ve got it flaunt it.” My job, when I did covers for Esquire, was to sell the hell out of their magazine. I chose to make statements about how content might not always be about what it was about.
My salvation in life was to work for myself, set my own rules for the kind of client I want to work for. Throw them out on their ass if they piss me off and create an atmosphere around me where no account, marketing, or financial person can tell me what the hell to do.
We all have to search for that power, find that power so that we allow ourselves to get the best out of ourselves. So the search for that power is something that many of us spend our whole lives looking for and are frustrated all our lives. It’s the only fight because if you have talent and you really think you have something to give, not getting it out is a terrible thing. You don’t want to be in this business to make money. You want to be in this business to be able to get that talent out. You’ll make enough money to eat. The important thing is that you have power in changing things and that you must have the power to be allowed to try to make those changes.