August is a cruel month. It tricks my children into believing that they can stay up late in the knowledge there is no school or kindergarten the next day (Viennese kindergartens are open all year, except Christmas, but we decided to give our youngest a break from play and creativity). Worse it tricks my neighbour’s children into thinking they can stay up even later, creating a cacophony of squealing and arguing like a pack of cats suddenly shown the catnip stash.
Adorable little cherubs that they are, this week I have been spared their almost congenital disposition to screech by the return of an old buddy: British style weather. I know this because many people I meet keep asking me if I feel at home. Confused momentarily, I thought they were referring to the Austrian military bombing a fractious middle eastern dictatorship in the name of humanitarian rights. Which would be absurd as the neutral Austrian Air Force (die Luftwaffe – I have always wanted to write that) and its one plane do not have even the capacity to bomb da bass.
But no. They meant the rain and wind. And being the consummate diplomat that I am, when I want, (a malleable skill I have perfected by English training) I always play along, chuckling, raising my eyebrows, slapping my thighs and gently taking the piss out of all things British and myself. (This process is made easier whilst engaging in such banter as I visualise force feeding baked beans and plum pudding to my counterpart.)
Yet in spite of a few days of August still to run, there are warning signs everywhere that the number one city would prefer to graciously accede to the imminent onset of autumn. Back-to-school adverts constantly reminding me that unless I acquire all the trappings and paraphernalia for a successful pre-teen education – AGAIN – my children will end up as career criminals. The sinister creep of posters announcing the Wiener Wiesn, Vienna’s answer to the Oktoberfest – a vulgar, ostentatious display of excess and over consumption that this blogger would never deign to attend unless someone was offering him one of those VIP seats with proper toilets and a courtesy car.
But I suppose the most visual smack that we are approaching what business bores call the last quarter is the ubiquitous proliferation of party political imagery on roadside hoardings and billboards ready for the election at the end of September. Much like Germans working as waiters or shop staff in Vienna these days, such political merchandising (I am sure ad people have a technical term for it) is difficult to avoid, although the main difference is that the Piefke (the Austrian term of endearment for their oppressed cousins to the north) are still here come Halloween. And Christmas. And Easter.
In any case, I wrote about the first battle in the billboard war of words back in July and to be perfectly frank (not Stronach – this is a very weak joke that no one outside of Austria will understand and even the ones inside will not find funny) there hasn’t been much movement in the short time I have been away, hiding in the deepest recesses of Burgenland. Worse, I am crushingly disappointed to report that nobody has contacted me to advise them on their collective election strategies. So what’s new?
The Socialists are still playing it safe by harping on about pensions, jobs and education, the bores, whilst the Greens seem welded to the oxymoronic notion of “clean politics”. Team Stronach are now at the drunk lurching for the pub door stage and adopting any and every policy which has the vaguest possibility of garnering support or a free drink. That said there is much to admire in Frank’s (we all call him Frank) commendable determination to rid Austrian politics of corruption and “Freunderlwirtschaft” (neoptism). The deluded fool.
The Conservatives (ÖVP) have shifted tactics slightly with incessant references to the future and by unveiling in the its open-shirted, freshly scrubbed, youthful face of Sebastian Kurz, the Conservative ace – in German, das Ass or der Crack – untouched by the political scandals and cronyism of the past decade (because he was still at primary school). Given that conservatism defines itself by its resistance to change and the maintenance of tradition, overtures to the future seem paradoxical. But the party is in demographic freefall and in desperate need of new Blut. Also it appears the Chamber of Commerce Head Brigitte Jank seems intent on nabbing a place in parliament alongside her conservative chums, which is news to me. As a member of the chamber (a kind of legitimated protection racket for small business people which you have to join, or at least pay for if self-employed) I was never asked about this and I can only protest silently and deface her posters.
But it is the Freedom Party (FPÖ) that is causing most disquiet. According to their current campaign, frat boy leader, Heinz Strache, seems to have morphed into a caricatured, creepy version of himself (a feat in itself) and fallen in love with a teenager whilst simultaneously cheating on her toyboy style with a pensioner (obviously rich and easily swayed). This is all underscored with the rather memorable strapline of “loving thy neighbour” (Austrian neighbours) which has left me all confused and feeling rather nauseous. Which you would understand if you met my neighbours. Anyway, you decide. But you have been warned.
© RJ Barratt 2013
That Stronach looks a one
Frankie boy? Big puncher?
So is that Heinz Strache
Yo. The merchant.
He does sound like a Bond villan
Yeah, he does. Ha ha ha
The thing that strikes me about these posters is that they are nearly all just straightforward portraits of the candidate. I’ve never quite seen the point of this approach. Are they meant to look trustworthy, and therefore worthy of your vote?
This approach is seen in many European countries, but is never used in British general elections. In Britain there are posters everywhere but they are of images and slogans (e.g. the classic ‘Labour Isn’t Working’ Tory poster in 1979). I think that British political parties (or the ad agencies who work for them) have worked out that they would be very swiftly laughed at (not to mention the posters being immediately defaced) if they plastered big posters of David Cameron all over the place. The British posters assume a level of sophistication that the Austrian ones do not. Does this mean that British voters are more media-savvy, more able to interpret complex signs (in the semiotic sense), than Austrian voters? I rather suspect they are.
Woah! Great comments! I’ll get back to you. Just going to bed. In the meantime I am reading your blog.
I would hesitate to say the a British electorate is more sophisticated or attuned to political messages than Austrian in much the same way that I would hesitate to say that British humour is more sophisticated than Austrian. It is just a different cultural approach. I am not sure anyway if people pay much attention to them and I think much of it is simply a way to prod the electorate to vote or get them out to vote. Much like door-to-door canvassing in the UK – which doesn’t exist here – where in fact a lot of the dialogue focuses on both manifesto and personal qualities of candidates (with their faces plastered over election literature) which is just as vainglorious as the Austrian, more national campaigns.
That said, the current SPÖ ads are just slogans, and most of the Green stuff does not feature party heads. So perhaps there is more similarities than at first glance. And I see plenty of defaced posters!
Incidentally, your knowledge of music is quite formidable.
Well I don’t have a vote in Austria, so am regarding this thing from the perspective of an amused onlooker. Interesting that door-to-door canvassing doesn’t exist here. Maybe that’s only because no-one has thought of it!
Thanks for the kind comment on my blog, by the way. Yours is a great read.