A special ”identity soup” has been served to homeless
people in France. Behind the initiative is a French extremists group,
Bloc Identitaire, who with this act has turned the soup kitchen into
a political weapon. Everybody is welcome they say, but since the soup
always contains pork both Jews and Muslims are effectively sorted
”Let us help our own people before we help others” is
the official message. But what do they mean with ”our own people”?
Who is included and excluded? Except for Jews and Muslims also vegetarians
are sorted out, though surely this wasn’t the main aim. The
purpose is more likely to establish a clear image of which ”we”
and ”they” are.
Politics, as well as tourism, thrives on the production of images.
What kind of images do we want to identify with?
The Estonian souvenir market became flooded with a familiar, but yet
wrong kind of image: a famous doll we usually associate with Russia.
The Enterprise Department explained: ”Since many of the souvenir
sellers in Tallinn Old Town are not Estonian, they have filled the
souvenir shops with matrushkas and other stuff that has little to
do with Tallinn or Estonia.” To end this sprawl of foreign-themed
items a competition was organised: Tallinn Souvenir 2005.
There are obviously, according to the statement above, no Russian
Estonians – only Russians or Estonians. The Russian
presence in the city is very tangible for any foreigner and the country’s
split personality so to speak, is part of its attraction. It can also
be argued that it is people who make a place, not souvenirs. The image,
broadly speaking, is in the hands of the citizens.
MADE IN CHINA
Good souvenirs are cheap souvenirs. They also have a striking appearance.
Yet they seem to be somewhat empty, or even meaningless. They function
as easily identifiable containers, ready to be filled with private
memories. Locally crafted items are also popular to purchase in foreign
places, but somehow they have a different function – they can
never be so utterly trivial as a real mass-produced souvenir.
The moose, or elk, has become a popular symbol for Sweden, but it
doesn’t mean that moose in general sell well. In the town Östersund,
located in a region where the chance to actually see the big animal
alive and kicking is pretty high, a souvenir shop had plenty of small
plastic animals on display. But it wasn’t until an enterprising
woman working there grabbed a marker and wrote ”Östersund”
on the imported, mass-produced items that they really started to sell.
Twenty of the entries to the competition ”Tallinn Souvenir 2005”
were given the right to be labelled: TALLINN SOUVENIR – APPROVED
BY THE CITY OF TALLINN. Judging by the selection the jury made, a
worthy symbol of the city has medieval influences.
Equally important to visual images is the concept we associate with
a place. The British agency Interbrand was contracted for working
out a brand for Estonia. The new symbol of the country is a linguistic
riddle. It serves to acknowledge the old label on the country as being
”east”, but at the same time identify it more with the
”west” in a unique blend: EST. It simply states, ”Welcome
to ESTonia”. It was released in 2002 and thus coincided with
Estonia being host for the Eurovision Song Contest. 166 million people
watched the competition broadcast from Tallinn and the exposure for
brand Estonia was priceless.
The purpose of a national branding program is to speed up development
by attracting foreign investors and tourists. Thus the audience is
not the people of the actual nation, but everyone else. Even so, it
is common to run into a so-called perception gap. This was experienced
by an agency that worked with a German client. The client wanted to
portray Germans as a passionate, emotional and flexible people –
an image that the agency said was ”a whole bunch of baloney.”