Filip Remunda and Vit Klusak, two young Czech student documentary filmmakers, in co-production with Czech Television, set out to explore the psychological and manipulative powers of consumerism by creating an advertising campaign for something which doesn’t exist.
The citizens of Prague could hardly miss hearing and seeing the advertisements for Cesky Sen. The advertisements, in the colours of the rainbow, adorned 400 billboards, bus and tram stops and metro stations. They were also in magazines and newspapers, and even broadcasted on television. Two hundred thousand flyers were distributed to households promoting the hypermarket and the low prices that it would offer. And a jingle about it called “Cesky Sen” was even recorded.
The ads, using the double bluff slogan “Don’t Go, Don’t Rush, Don’t Spend”, promised a surprise for everyone who came to the opening of the hypermarket at the Letnany fairgrounds in Prague. And the hundreds that came throughout the day were indeed surprised. In the film, crowds of Czech shoppers run across an open meadow towards the enormous shop-front of Cesky Sen – only to find it is just a 10m high and 100m wide facade, with nothing behind it but scaffold bars.
With some sadism, the documentary makers (disguised as a television news crew) get in close to film people’s faces crumpling with vertiginous shock. Many were, of course, annoyed that they had been duped. They cursed the students, and a group of youths threw rocks at the billboard. From a stage, Vit Klusak and Filip Remunda explained the project to its unwitting participants – and security guards stood near them, just in case.
So was it a stunt? An installation? An anti-corporate statement? A piece of street theatre condemning the commercialism of post-Soviet eastern Europe? Or just a Dadaist happening? Like much of the best art, Cesky Sen doesn’t sit easily in one category, and provokes a response which raises more questions than it answers.
In response to critics who attacked them for duping people and raising false hopes, the students said – in the daily newspaper Mlada fronta DNES – that they weren’t afraid of manipulating the emotions and expectations of people, as they just did the same thing that advertising does, and isn’t this precisely the point?
Although focused on the promises and consumer heaven that capitalism supposedly offers to Eastern Europe, the work also implicitly questions the process of seduction, and the manipulation of desire to perpetuate excessive consumption through created facades of the good life, endlessly pushed at those of us in the rest of the Europe by the billion dollar advertising industry. This is a process so naturalised it is rarely questioned.
This is summed up wonderfully in the film with the sight of advertising executives getting huffy about lying to their audience after agreeing to promote a product which they knew to be entirely fictional – “Don’t Go, Don’t Rush, Don’t Spend” indeed.
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