Iconography of Contagion
February 28, 2010 6:05 PM   Subscribe

About a hundred years ago, public health took a visual turn. In an era of devastating epidemic and endemic infectious disease, health professionals began to organize coordinated campaigns that sought to mobilize public action through eye-catching wall posters, illustrated pamphlets, motion pictures, and glass slide projections. An Iconography of Contagion.
posted by Fuzzy Monster (18 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

An Iconography of Contagion

I saw those dudes at Maryland Death Fest '09. The riffs were solid enough but you can't call yourself a technical death metal band if your drummer can't get above 240 bpm.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:32 PM on February 28, 2010 [5 favorites]

Small-world-filter: this entire exhibition, apparently on loan from the NLM, is currently visible from where I'm sitting. The posters are rather desultorily displayed on close-packed easels in the lobby area of our library, without any accompanying explanatory text. I had wondered about the origins of some of these, and particularly of some of the more striking wartime ones. Thanks, Metafilter!
posted by killdevil at 6:44 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is fantastic. That is all.
posted by the_royal_we at 7:38 PM on February 28, 2010

The posters are fascinating. I just wish there were more of them in the exhibit.
posted by immlass at 7:42 PM on February 28, 2010

I'm surprised they didn't include this great poster: Syphilis: Menace To Industry.
Don't lose your pay!
posted by xil at 7:43 PM on February 28, 2010

great posters, thanks for sharing Fuzzy M.

The scary ones (and the ones with the scary STI ladies) really tie into something I'm reading called Dread: How Fear and Fantasy Have Fueled Epidemics from the Black Death to Avian Flu by Philip Alcabes. It's a really fascinating exploration of our horror and patterns of blame in our treatment of epidemics. Sounds weird but - I'm enjoying it a lot.

But you don't have to take my word for it...

“Exceptionally insightful and persuasively argued, Dread is at once a chronicle of the uses and (more often) abuses of the term epidemic and an antidote to the modern tendency to transmute fears of strangers and societal and personal failings into diseases.”

Barry Glassner, author of The Gospel of Food and The Culture of Fear
posted by Joad at 8:26 PM on February 28, 2010

The number of these involving TB is really surprising, from a modern day perspective. It's easy to forget that this was a common thing back in the day.
posted by PMdixon at 8:43 PM on February 28, 2010

I just wish there were more of them in the exhibit.
There are some more (like Juke Joint Sniper) here.
posted by tellurian at 9:55 PM on February 28, 2010

Unforgivable Mistakes is my favorite.

"This not only ensures virtue but is a gift to mankind.” Priceless.

Some of the STD ones are messed up bits of misogyny and others are just sexy.

And could you guys imagine the government publishing Man-Made Malaria today, with Arab mosquitoes instead of Japanese ones? Shit. Storm.
posted by dchrssyr at 12:07 AM on March 1, 2010

Some of the STD ones are messed up bits of misogyny and others are just sexy.

Messed up misogyny which inspired a Twits album..
posted by pompomtom at 1:29 AM on March 1, 2010

We were not the only ones wasting money. Associated with our section were those boffins who create public health campaigns, the ones that appear on television with increasing regularity: nights out turning into nightmares, measure your fat stomach, wash your hands - that kind of thing.

I was surprised to discover the minds behind these campaigns were not health professionals. They had backgrounds and degrees in marketing, communications and advertising, not medicine. Under their watch, the government became the No.1 spender on free-to-air television.

Next to those folks sat the print division. They produced hats, T-shirts, mugs and golf balls with little logos and slogans designed to make us all healthier. A huge collection of the stuff was proudly displayed in a dedicated glass cabinet in the middle of their section.
A former speech writer for the Australian Department of Health and Aging talks about the excesses of the department including spending on public health communications.
posted by Joe Chip at 3:10 AM on March 1, 2010

She may look clean, but...

This just works on so many levels. Thanks FM
posted by itsjustanalias at 5:32 AM on March 1, 2010

Oh man, I love a good epidemic. Thanks for this!
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:14 AM on March 1, 2010

Thanks, tellurian, I will definitely check that link out!
posted by immlass at 8:24 AM on March 1, 2010

I love these! The WPA/Soviet style of some of the posters. The messages, the approach to public health in general. Wonderful!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:42 AM on March 1, 2010

A whole lot of WPA Posters here are about public health issues, like syphillis, tuberculosis, and even drunk driving.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:22 AM on March 1, 2010

The Chinese one about spitting sparked a dim memory for me about something I read once about an (American? I think) journalist who used to do his morning jog through the streets of Beijing wearing a T-shirt that bore the Chinese characters for "Don't Spit!"

Thanks for a fascinating post!
posted by trip and a half at 12:56 PM on March 2, 2010

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