A history of the modern world as told by posters, handbills and propaganda

Flyer found by Alina Simone in New York City, late 2013 (Photo: Alina Simone)

Flyer found by Alina Simone in New York City, late 2013 (Photo: Alina Simone)

Here’s a guest post from Big Show contributor Alina Simone.

A couple of months ago a weird flyer appeared all over lower Manhattan. “Connect With Another Human Being Naked Over Tea,” it said. A guy named Koji was looking for a more interesting way to cover rent and this is what he came up with. So I pried the flyer from a pole and took it home.

I’ve spent half my life saving things most people associate with the recycling bin — zines, playbills, ticket stubs — and it turns out I’m not alone. The collection of “ephemera” is on the rise, as are a new wave of rare book dealers punking up the definition of what it means to be a literary collectible.

Philipp Penka is a Berlin-based dealer with a special focus on Eastern European samizdat — illegal, self-published material that circulated during the Soviet era.

“Often you would only have a night to read it,” Philipp says. “You’d have to squint really hard to make out the text, and then you’d pass it on. So they weren’t made to be…kept or to put on your shelf or to look pretty, right?

Special issue of a Russian emigre periodical, published from 1963-65. This issue was published a week after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The issue begins with an article entitled "Black Friday," describing the view of an Orthodox Russian emigre on the tragic events. The editors were associated with the Russian Orthodox Church abroad. (Photo courtesy Philipp Penka)

Special issue of a Russian emigre periodical, published from 1963-65. This issue was published a week after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The issue begins with an article entitled “Black Friday,” describing the view of an Orthodox Russian emigre on the tragic events. The editors were associated with the Russian Orthodox Church abroad. (Photo courtesy Philipp Penka)

Ten pieces of rice paper stuffed into a typewriter — you’d be lucky if you got a copy made from the top sheet. That’s how my Dad, who grew up in the Soviet Union, described the samizdat he read. He laughed when I asked him whether he took any with him when he left for the US. This was the analog equivalent of Snapchat. You read it; it vanished.

“I had a wonderful copy of Mikhail Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita,” Philipp told me, “that as it turned out was actually published on one of the first computers that they had in the Soviet Union. So this was printed from a mainframe computer and then later bound for circulation.”

I wish I could play some kind of audio for you here, to illustrate how samizdat was made and shared. Instead you’re hearing the musical equivalent — a song by Russian dissident Alexander Galich recorded in the 60s, that circulated illegally on cassette tape. But today in the age of the over-share, the distributors of this mysterious medium — whether musical or print — remain anonymous. That’s part of what makes collecting it so exciting, as Philipp explains.

“There’s a sense now for many people that everything has already been collected, everything’s been digitized, it can be found on Google Books, and people are realizing this just isn’t true. That’s, I think, where some of the thrill comes from in collecting ephemera, that you are able to find these things and in many cases sort of document historical phenomena that aren’t recorded, that aren’t in libraries.”

I was surprised when Phillip Penka told me that most of the samizdat he sells goes right back to the former Soviet bloc, to native collectors eager to reconstruct the Communist era’s hidden history. Not all ephemera was published by dissident freedom fighters though — mass-produced government propaganda is just as sought after.

Alex Akin became the house expert on Asian ephemera at Bolerium Books in San Francisco, when he discovered one of the earliest gay travel guides to Taiwan buried in their storage room. He told me a story about a family yard sale where he tried selling some extra copies of Mao’s ‘Little Red Book’ and was confronted by an elderly Chinese man.

“He pointed to his mouth and said, ‘You know why my teeth are like this?’ Because red guards who were waving these books around kicked me in the face until my teeth were gone. And it really drives home the fact that these are things that had consequences in their time, these are not just playthings.”

I have to admit, I’m one of those people who finds Communist propaganda mysterious appealing — even beautiful. And a lot of kids decorating their dorm-rooms apparently agree. I have a closet full of Stalin-centric Soviet magazines flea-marketed during my last trip to Russia. As the daughter of political refugees, I’m not sure what accounts for my attraction to dictator kitsch, but according to Alex, it doesn’t make me a Stalinist:

“I think one mistake a lot of people make is they assume that someone’s collection reflects their own values,” say Alex, “but in fact you often see, for example, the most serious collectors of anti-Semitic propaganda in the US, almost all of them are Jewish. The biggest collectors of anti-Chinese material, say from the 1880s, some of them are Chinese-American lawyers.”

The most ephemeral ephemera, however, wasn’t published by groups, but handmade by a single individual. To Adam Davis, whose shop, Division Leap in Portland, Oregon deals in post WWII ephemera, it’s all about democracy.

“When you look at a photocopied punk zine, or a flyer for a show somebody made themselves in the middle of the night at Kinkos, it has this aura of a participatory culture. The message seems to be, ‘You could do this yourself.’ Like, you should go out and do this, you should start a zine, you should make a flyer. It’s amazing because in a way it’s also local too. Like a flyer on a pole in a major city is a way of exposing your work to somebody who wouldn’t see it otherwise because they’d never think to type your name into a search engine.”

Members of the hacker collective NYC Resistor at taking part in a zinemaking workshop. (Photo: Alina Simone)

Members of the hacker collective NYC Resistor at taking part in a zinemaking workshop. (Photo: Alina Simone)

Ok, but given this stuff is so easy to make, how does the collector who paid Adam $2500 for the original flyer advertising the first New York performance of John Cage’s ‘Silence’ know he’s getting the real deal, not a copy made at Kinkos yesterday? It’s not easy — authenticating ephemera requires getting scientific about stuff like vintage staples and the thickness of Xerox machine ink.

But the ephemera of today is more likely to involve jpegs and text grabbed from tumblrs:

“Ok, so we’ve heard ‘lasercut,’ we’ve heard ‘pop-up,’ some stuff about sowing…Should we try to sow the binding…?”

That’s Garnet Hertz, leading a zinemaking workshop at NYC Resistor, a hacker collective based in Brooklyn. Hertz has led workshops like this all over the world, often at hacker spaces, from Chile to Canada, with China up next. I just assumed people who spend a lot time with micro-controllers and blinky tape wouldn’t geek out over something so… primitive? I was wrong.

The collective uses a mash-up of high and low technology to document their story. A laser cutter, computers, an etching press, scissors, glue, and Kinkos, all play a role in bringing Resistor’s zine to life.As a snapshot of Resistor’s history, it’s probably ephemeral, but as an artifact, it might just be an illuminated manuscript of the 21st century. In any case — I won’t be throwing it away.

See a slideshow of ephemera from The World’s newsroom (including the brochure below). And see a slideshow of some of the items mentioned in this post here.

Booklet on West German neo-Marxist militant group the Red Army Faction, also known as the Baader-Meinhof Group. The RAF staged a series of violent attacks in the 1970s. The booklet, published by a radical press in San Francisco in 1979, calls for global resistance to fascism and capital: “ We must broaden the fight world-wide, form revolutionary cells and build up the Red Army!”

Booklet on West German neo-Marxist militant group the Red Army Faction, also known as the Baader-Meinhof Group. The RAF staged a series of violent attacks in the 1970s. The booklet, published by a radical press in San Francisco in 1979, calls for global resistance to fascism and capital: “ We must broaden the fight world-wide, form revolutionary cells and build up the Red Army!”

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    During the Olympics, Canadians are willing to drop their language arguments

    Charles Hamelin kisses girlfriend Marianne St-Gelais after winning the gold at the 2010 Winter Olympics (Francesco Cataldo/Flickr)

    Charles Hamelin kisses girlfriend Marianne St-Gelais after winning the gold at the 2010 Winter Olympics (Francesco Cataldo/Flickr)

    Canada’s Sun News Network has been described as “Fox News North.”

    Like Fox, it has its targets. It doesn’t like big government. It doesn’t like Canada’s promotion of the French language. And it really doesn’t like the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

    Almost every Canadian is watching the CBC right now because it has the broadcast rights to the Sochi Olympics. So the people at Sun News decided they would make some news.

    Host Brian Lilley brought “linguistics expert” Harley Sims onto his show to talk about how the CBC was pronouncing names — the names of Canadian medal winners: Justine and Chloé Dufour-Lapointe, Charles Hamelin and others.

    Lilley and Sims didn’t like the French-sounding way that some CBC announcers were pronouncing these names. They had no objections to French-language TV using native French pronunciation. But on English-language TV, they said, the names should be anglicized. “Clo-AY” should become “CLO-ee,” and “Sharl” should become “Charls.”

    “I’ll stick with the way we pronounce names in English,” said Lilley. “I will still say congratulations to Justine [pronounced the English way].”

    The CBC’s overly-French pronunciations are “so selective and arbitrary of what’s politically correct and what isn’t,” said Sims.

    It was classic Canadian button-pushing, like playing the race card in the US or playing the class card in the UK. In Canada, if you want to start a political fight — or if you just want attention — you play the language card.

    Even though very few Canadians were watching, with the Olympics over on the CBC, word got out. By the next day, it was the talk of the talk shows.

    The outrage quickly grew. People called Lilley a “redneck,” “mind-bogglingly stupid,” and worse. Much of the anger came from Quebec.

    It proved too much for Lilley. He apologized.

    This is the stage in the story when Canada’s Sun News stops behaving like America’s Fox News.

    In his broadcast apology, Lilley said he worked in a bilingual newsroom, and his wife is from Quebec. He said some of his relatives are native French speakers.

    “The focus should be on the [Olympic] athletes,” said Lilley. “It shouldn’t be on dividing Canadians, language by language, and trying to set French against English. It’s not what I intended. It is what happened, and therefore I apologize.”

    Moral of the story: don’t play the language card during the Winter Olympics. It’s a time when Canadians of all stripes seem pretty happy about being Canadian.

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    Russian Pronunciation tips for the Sochi Olympics, and the language of undiplomacy


    Here’s a guest post from my Big Show colleague David Leveille…

    We’ll be hearing a lot from Russia over the next two weeks with the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

    We’ll also be hearing a lot of Russian words and names, some of which are not easy to pronounce. That includes the name of the Olympic host city itself.

    We asked Martha Figueroa-Clark for some help. She thinks about this stuff all the time, as part of the BBC Pronunciation Unit.

    So, how exactly do you say Sochi?

    “Sochi, the venue for the Winter Olympics, is usually anglicised as SOTCH-i (-o as in not, -tch as in catch, -i as the ‘y’ in happy) by English and Russian speakers alike — and this is the pronunciation we recommend to broadcasters. However, the Russian pronunciation of -o in Sochi is somewhere in between the English “law” vowel and the English ‘lot’ vowel (so somewhere between SAW-chi and SOTCH-i),” she said.

    “When forming recommendations, our approach is to reflect the native pronunciation as closely as possible while bearing in mind practical considerations. Our pronunciation advice is anglicised for ease of pronunciation by English-speaking broadcasters and to ensure that names can be discerned by BBC audiences,” she added.

    Some other Olympic venues in Sochi have interesting and challenging names for English speakers, so here are a few more pronunciations from the BBC Pronunciation Unit.

    One of the skiing venues is Krasnaya Polyana, pronounced KRASS-nuh-yuh puh-LYAA-nuh (-uh as “a” in sofa, -ly as in million). Historically, the word krasnaya (feminine form) or krasny (masculine form) meant “beautiful.” Nowadays, it means “red.” Polyana means glade or clearing.

    Turning to the Bolshoi Ice Dome, the word Bolshoi (big) is often anglicised as BOL-shoy (-ol as in olive, -oy as in boy), as in Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre. In Russian, it’s closer to buhl-SHOY (note final syllable stress), although there is a palatalised ‘l’ in Russian that has no equivalent in English. It’s similar to what you would hear when the word “lucrative” is pronounced as LYOO-kruh-tiv (-ly as in million) — as opposed to LOO-kruh-tiv (-oo as in boot).

    In ice hockey’s Shayba arena, “shayba” is pronounced SHIGH-buh (-igh as in high, -uh as “a” in sofa) and means puck.

    Another venue, Rosa Khutor, is pronounced ROZ-uh KHOO-tuhr (-o as in not, -uh as “a” in sofa, -kh as in Scottish loch, -oo as in boot, -uhr as “or” in doctor). Khutor means hamlet or farmstead.

    And just in case you haven’t yet figured out how to pronounce President Vladimir Putin’s name, here’s a reminder. “In other Slavic languages, the name ‘Vladimir’ can be stressed on the first or last syllable, but in Russian, the stress falls on the penultimate syllable. ‘Putin’ is sometimes anglicised as PYOO-tin, perhaps by unconscious association with other English words like ‘putative’ or ‘punitive.’ The correct pronunciation, anglicised, is vluh-DEE-meer POO-tin (-ee as in street, -eer as in deer, -oo as in boot).”

    If you take in all these suggestions, and manage to pronounce Sochi as well as the names of its many venues correctly and precisely, a Russian speaker might respond with “otlichno!” That’s Russian, for excellent. It’s pronounced “ah tlee chnah.”

    And since we’re on the subject of Russian language and customs, I recommend trying Russian borscht. It’s also “otlichno.”

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    At Sochi, never mind the languages…just follow the pictograms

    Here’s a guest post my Big Show pal Nina Porzucki.

    The next time you go to the bathroom, take a closer look at the sign.

    You know what I’m talking about? The stick figure in the triangle dress. Her head is just a circle detached from her body.

    You don’t need to read a single word to understand, this is the women’s restroom. So what does the women’s restroom have to do with the Olympics?

    Well, during the Olympics people descend on one place from all around the world. And with some many people and so many languages the challenge is to figure out a way to communicate in a global way.

    The answer: pictograms

    Olympic pictograms are those stick figure pictures that depict each Olympic sport. Today they’re everywhere: at Olympic venues, on tickets and event schedules, on TV.

    The first official Olympic pictograms appeared at the 1948 London summer games. They were simple drawings representing certain events, a bike for cycling, a basket for basketball, a pair of boxing gloves. But that was before one German designer Otl Aicher revolutionized the design.

    “I think he’s the grandfather of the Olympic pictogram,” said Brockett Horne, who directs the Graphic Design program at the Maryland Institute of Art in Baltimore.

    Aicher was commissioned to design the pictograms for the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. This was no small task.

    Otl Aicher's pictograms designed for the 1972 Munich Summer Olympic Games. (www.creativerepository.com)

    Otl Aicher’s pictograms designed for the 1972 Munich Summer Olympic Games.
    (www.creativerepository.com)

    This was the first games in Germany since Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Olympics. The visual legacy from those games was the swastika. It was all over the athletic stadium where Jesse Owens ran.

    The German Olympic Committee was eager to erase that image; as was Aicher. He grew up in Nazi Germany. Refused to join the Hitler Youth and ended up deserted the army after he was drafted. This chance to re-design the German image for the world was huge.

    “He was really interested in coming up with something that focused on the athletic events without any agenda, it shouldn’t have any hint or tinge of propaganda,” said Horne.

    What could be more neutral than simple stick figures? Aicher created a grid of 21-stick figure athletes, biking, swimming, running. They were so elegant, so easy to read, that their influence began to be seen all over the place.

    “No smoking, no diving, male and female restroom signs, the symbols that we see in use by Department of Transportation, these were all part of a larger international approach to creating a visual language that could help people communicate without words,” said Horne.

    Aicher’s figures are so simple and so legible that you almost don’t even notice them. Not noticing is exactly the point says typographer Fabio Haag.

    “We joke that that’s why every type designer drinks a lot, basically we spend all this time refining letters that people won’t even notice,” said Haag.

    Haag designed the font for the upcoming 2016 Summer Games in Rio. His font inspired the designers of the Brazilian pictograms.

    Pictograms for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil

    Pictograms for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil

    “When designing the pictograms they would actually print out the letters cut them with scissors and start to play around to see if there was an athlete’s movements in those letters,” said Haag, “So the dot of an ‘i’ became the head and the shape of the ‘j’ became an arm.”

    Although the Summer Olympics in Brazil are still two years out but the branding, the font, the pictograms, were created years in advance all designed to evoke a Brazilian flare.

    Despite what Haag says about design going unnoticed, if do you pay attention, you will discover innovative changes from one Olympics to the next. Not only are pictograms global tools for communication, they’re local, dare I write, glocal.

    The pictograms from the 2004 Athens Games resembles the figures found on ancient Greek vases and the figures from the 2008 Beijing Games are based on a 2,000-year-old script written on bronze carvings. The 22 pictograms designed for Sochi are filled in with a “patchwork quilt” that looks like the colorful designs painted on a nesting doll.

    Still, everything harkens back to Aicher’s 1972 figures. His legacy lives on for every graphic design student and for anyone who ever visits a public restroom.

    Pictograms from the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City designed by Lance Wyman. (Virtual Olympic Games Museum)

    Pictograms from the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City designed by Lance Wyman. (Virtual Olympic Games Museum)

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    Carinna Chamberlain’s beautiful Cantonese singing, and Coca-Cola’s beautiful multilingual America

    Corinna Chamberlain, aka Chan Ming Yan (Photo courtesy of Corinna Chamberlain)

    Corinna Chamberlain, aka Chan Ming Yan (Photo courtesy of Corinna Chamberlain)

    Listen to the audio above for a quick take on Coca-Cola’s multilingual Superbowl ad. That’s followed by a Big Show contributor Charlie Schroeder’s report on Carinna Chamberlain. Below is Charlie’s post…

    It’s rare to see Western singers attempt to sing in Chinese.

    Celine Dion did it last year during Chinese New Year. An estimated 700 million people watched the Canadian diva sing a famous Chinese folk song — in Mandarin — on China’s state-run CCTV.

    Dion’s appearance may have been a one-off event, but in Hong Kong, there’s a Western singer named Corinna Chamberlain who’s fully committed to having a career in one of the city’s most famous exports, Cantopop (Cantonese popular music).

    Her song “Yi Jung” opens with lyrics that are unlike any other Cantopop song. She sings that she feels like an “Alien from Mars” who’s landed on Earth.

    “In a body with this skin color,” she continues, “I’m not quite like them. In fact, what kind of race am I?”

    “Yi Jung” translates as “Different Breed,” which Chamberlain, also known as Chan Ming Yan (陳明恩) — is.

    Her parents are from Australia and New Zealand; she’s white and has long, curly blonde hair. But unlike most Westerners here, she grew up in a remote part of Hong Kong, far from any ex-pat enclave. She attended local schools and speaks fluent Cantonese.

    Growing up immersed in local culture caused something of an identity crisis for Chan. In high school, she had many friends. But not necessarily close friends.

    “When it comes, like, especially to the girls in Hong Kong, to have your best, best friend, it’s always somebody who is the same as them,” Chan says. “Somebody who likes Hello Kitty, somebody who likes Snoopy as much as them.”

    A best friend who’ll go everywhere with you — everywhere.

    “It’s like, you know, ‘Oh, I need to go to the toilet, come with me, let’s go to the toilet together,’ “ she says.

    At school, Chan wasn’t the same as anyone, so she didn’t have a best friend.

    “I started to really feel like ‘where do I belong, who am I?’ And I was like, ‘maybe I’m not one of these people.’ So I thought ‘well, maybe I better just be a Westerner like the rest of the Westerners’ or something.”

    The problem was she didn’t feel Western — direct, loud, independent. She felt Chinese — non-confrontational, humble, happy in a group.

    “If you’re in their circle of buddies, then you’re there for life. It’s really on the inside, the way of communicating that we get used to,” Chan says.

    As the daughter of missionaries, Chan learned to sing in church, and she listened to Christian singers like Australia’s Rebecca St James. She later studied musical theater at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, but didn’t listen to Cantopop until six years ago when she had a reality check. If she was going to have a career here, she thought, she’d have to sing local pop music that wasn’t like the Western music she grew up listening to.

    “I’ve noticed that Western pop is a lot more in-your-face attitude, really be tough, strong diva. But [in] Hong Kong, a lot of it’s very sweet,” she says.

    Those sweet songs and ballads give Hong Kongers the chance to escape from the territory’s hectic pace.

    Then there’s the Cantonese dialect itself. Chinese is a tonal language, so the smallest change in inflection will completely alter a word’s meaning.

    “If it goes up, it’s different. So it’s a lot more complicated, a lot more restricted,” she says.

    Chan’s big break came last year when she acted on a popular TV show called “Inbound Troubles.” Her combination of blonde hair and flawless Cantonese created a sensation. She’d just recorded “Yi Jung,” and the timing couldn’t have been better. After that, she appeared on an American Idol-like show, where she placed third in the singing competition, boosting her visibility even more.

    In her second single, “Ngoh dik gwai suk,” Chan again addresses her outsider status, but keeps the storyline old school: she wants to find a husband who’ll take care of her. It’s Chan’s understanding of traditional Chinese culture that’s earned her the respect of locals.

    “Now, when I go out on the street, everybody’s my neighbor. ‘Oh, Chan Ming Yan!’ You know, like ‘How’s your mom?’ ” she says.

    And they see beyond the color of her skin, which is just the sort of thing she’s been looking for.

    “I know it’s really not easy for a Westerner to have that kind of acceptance in Hong Kong,” Chan says. “Westerners are accepted as Westerners, but as one of your own? That’s something really touching for me.”

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    The world according to Gary Shteyngart in four languages

    Photo: Random House/Brigitte Lacombe

    Photo: Random House/Brigitte Lacombe

    Gary Shteyngart writes in English, but his memoir draws on the Russian and Yiddish of his Leningrad childhood, and the Hebrew of his schooling in New York.

    The memoir is called “Little Failure.” The title is based on an English-Russian mashup expression (“failure” plus a Russian diminutive) invented by his mother.

    “I love the way [my parents] play with language,” says Shteyngart. “Even when it’s a little bit hurtful.”

    Hurtful goes both ways in Shteyngart’s family. “Little Failure” won’t be a comfortable read for his parents. It’s full of fraught family moments—and worse. The memoir also delves into the past, documenting the terrible suffering of some Shteyngart’s grandparents and great-grandparents.

    And although his parents do have a copy of the book, Shteyngart says their English isn’t great, so they may wait till the Russian translation comes out.

    Shteyngart has previously written three novels, “The Russian Debutante’s Handbook,” “Absurdistan” and “Super Sad True Love Story.” The memoir reads like a novel—gripping narratives, expertly-etched characters, telling details.

    When Shteyngart was seven, his family moved from the Soviet Union to the United States. Like many Soviet Jews they’d been trying to leave for years to escape anti-Semitism. But Soviet authorities blocked the immigration of many Jews until they could strike a deal with the United States. It was 1979. The Russians needed grain—their harvest had failed. So they allowed Jews to leave in exchange for American grain.

    So the family became “Grain Jews.”

    “I was worth maybe 300 loaves and a croissant or something,” says Shteyngart. “I don’t know who got the better deal.”

    The family settled in New York, where Gary was sent to Hebrew school. He didn’t bother too much with learning Hebrew. He was more interested in picking up English from TV shows like “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Six Million Dollar Man.”

    At the dinner table, though, the family spoke only in Russian, for which Shteyngart is grateful now.

    “Retaining Russian meant retaining all those memories,” he says. “Whenever I write, it’s in English but there’s always a Russian soundtrack in the back.”

    It took Shteyngart about seven years to lose his Russian accent: “Lots of practice in front of a mirror.”

    He would repeat words he couldn’t pronounce, trying to “get rid of a bunch of consonants to get English right.”

    One such word: attic. The family had moved to an apartment with an attic and Shteyngart was anxious to master this expression. But one of those pesky extra consonants came back to bite him. He pronounced it addict, as in: “We have a new apartment with an addict.”

    Shteyngart recently became a father for the first time. He’s relieved that his son wasn’t born into the kind of calamitous world experienced by previous generations of Shteyngarts.

    “The Yiddish word is tsuris—troubles,” he says. “I don’t know what the future is going to hold. I mean pretty soon, Manhattan might be underwater, so I hope this kid learns how to swim real good. But there is a feeling that…he’s growing up in relatively wonderful circumstances.”

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    No room for African or Indian languages in Disney’s multilingual version of ‘Let It Go’

    Images from the Tumblr, “This Could Have Been Frozen”

    Images from the Tumblr, “This Could Have Been Frozen”

    Disney has released a version of the Oscar-nominated song “Let it Go” from the animated movie Frozen that includes lyrics sung in 25 languages. It sounds global and inclusive, but most of the languages are European.

    This is the Epcot World Showcase of songs: a trip around the linguistic world — or at least the one according to Disney.

    The song opens with a line in English, followed by French, German and Dutch. That sets the tone.

    Seventeen of the languages are European, including some that are not exactly widely spoken — Catalan, for example, and the dialect of Dutch spoken by the Flemish of Belgium. Regular Dutch is also included, as well as Serbian (but not Croatian), Bulgarian and many more.

    Danish is represented too — appropriately enough, given that “Frozen” is loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.”

    From Asia, there’s Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, Malaysian and Thai. And from the Americas, Latin American Spanish and Canadian French. (Interestingly, there is no Brazilian Portuguese, or for that matter, British English.)

    From Africa there’s … nothing. Not one language. The same goes for South Asia. Between them, these two regions acccount for for more than 3,000 of the world’s languages.

    I contacted Disney to ask why they ignored such a huge part of the world. But no one returned my calls and emails. (One Disney representative did say to me as she connected me to a colleague’s voicemail, “Thank you, Sir. And you have a magical day.”)

    Disney, of course, has long been criticized for its preference for white-skinned heroines. Before the release of “Frozen,” a Tumblr called This Could Have Been Frozen re-imagined Elsa the Snow Queen as black, Tibetan, Mongolan, Iniut and other ethnicities.

    Given that dissatisfaction, the release of this song seems like a missed opportunity. It wouldn’t have taken much to have had “Let it Go” recorded in say, Zulu or Yoruba, and included in the multilingual mash-up.

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