Reinventing the Orange Order: A superhero for the 21st century.

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As reported by the BBC recently the latest example of political imagery on the island of Ireland has been issued by the Orange Order. I’ve already considered other aspects of the Orders political identity.

This, however, is a cartoon superhero, as yet unnamed although apparently not to be known as “Orangeman”.

What to say? It is in a typically cartoonish manner, albeit in a very juvenile way. The body and facial features are stylised and owe more to the Jetsons or Fred Flintstone than to Marvel comics. Interestingly that places it within a visual language aimed at a very young market, and imagery that is effectively sanitised, and also, arguably sitting within a visual discourse shaped by commercial advertising. In that respect this is a highly unlikely ‘superhero’. One has to admire the incorporation of the sash in a series of simple lines.

Which chimes with a statement by a spokesperson that the idea is to make themselves more relevant to the young and “appear less stuffy”.

“We usually have comic Christmas cards every year, so we decided to ask a graphic artist to come up with something new to represent the institution,” he says.

“He features on the Christmas cards as Santa’s little helper, but it also has a wider appeal so we’ve launched a competition for people to come up with a name for him.

“The institution covers such a wide spectrum age-wise, grandfathers and grandsons are both involved – there is the junior institution up until the age of 16 or 17, so it’s something they can hopefully get involved with.”

Ignoring the tooth-grinding archaism of the term ‘graphic artist’, I wonder just how this will work? It is hard, in the contemporary culture to see this imagery appealing to a child much over the age of 12 and sheer optimism to see a 16 or 17 year old relating to it. And in part that is due to the visual imagery sitting within the commercial. This is not to say that the commercial cannot be a fertile ground for interesting – albeit, more usually – extravagant visual imagery. One need only consider the considerable sophistication of Javier Mariscal’s cartoon dog Cobi, the mascot for the Barcelona Olympics. But this, isn’t quite there.

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What is interesting is how it eschews the more usual ‘super-hero’ like forms familiar from comic strips. But perhaps in the more contentious conceptual (and practical) area it must operate a softened, less implicitly aggressive imagery was deemed more appropriate. An Orangeman along the lines of Superman or the Silver Surfer might give rise to difficult, even contradictory, significations. Who or what would he be an heroic representation of? Who or what might he be a representation against?

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In that sense, perhaps this is a much more subtle piece of design than the semi-humorous articles that accompanied it’s unveiling give it credit.

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