Hungarian paper's spoof is on the Marx

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Advertiser: 'Hungarian Orange'
Agency: Aksio, Budapest
Ad Review rating: Three and a half stars

[portoroz, slovenia] Just when you think eastern and central Europe are nearly fully integrated into the West, with all the economic benefits and cultural dilution that implies, something happens to remind you that the so-called New Europe is exactly the clumsy adolescent it imagines itself to be.

At this year's Golden Drum Advertising Festival, such evidence was everywhere.

It's not just that the ugly, spartan hotels along this otherwise charming ex-Yugoslavia resort have yet to be informed that Tito is dead. Lingering socialist imperiousness and rooms the size of a Yugo are merely superficial details.

And it's not just that most of the entries were pitiful; that happens at every festival, including the vaunted Cannes. It certainly isn't that the work from 34 developing countries was somehow naive or primitive. On the contrary, jurors complained that the production is getting so uniformly slick the ads risk losing their national flavor.

Yet by the time the awards were dispensed, it was clear that the East-West gulf, and the New Europe's preoccupation with it, is slow to disappear. The ads were repeatedly, achingly, post-communistically self-conscious.

Take the festival's agency of the year: S Team Bates Saatchi & Saatchi, Belgrade, whose work reveals something like a grand obsession.

One bluntly metaphorical print ad shows a daisy springing up out of a toilet. A red toilet.

Another, promoting New Moment, the agency's magazine of art, advertising and culture, depicts a peep show, in which West and East gawk at each other for cheap voyeuristic thrills. A third darkly acquiesces to the bombing of Belgrade--provided NATO leaves the sponsoring beer alone.

But then, for darker irony still, the triumphant S Team staff returned to Belgrade, where Slobodan Milosevic's latest genocidal horrors have sent multinational clients scurrying away, effectively shutting the agency down.

Because they are unlucky enough to be situated where fascism springs from post-communism like a toilet in a meadow, these people will be spending an undetermined period of idle time not integrating with the old Europe, but worrying about NATO bombs and their own country's ultranationalist sociopaths.

Talk about the unease of being neither here nor there, neither a part of the real world nor fully apart from it. New Europe. New Moment. Old hatreds, dying hard.

Thus then the psychic environment for the Best in Show, a very funny 60-second spot from Aksio, Budapest, for an alternative weekly newspaper of politics and culture called Hungarian Orange. That name refers to Hungary's fatuous '50s-era attempt at the mandatory cultivation of citrus--a classically futile commie attempt to replicate the fruits of capitalism. The climate and soil, of course, doomed the effort, which is memorialized as a symbol for all authoritarian folly and government bluster.

The winning spot is a parody of a Hungarian propaganda film of the same era, ostensibly portraying the socialist miracle of the People's Elementary School--except that the narrator's Marxist puffery is belied hilariously by the action. One little boy is misbehaving, and getting swatted repeatedly by the faculty.

It is a dead-on spoof, in this case reminding viewers that there is a newspaper with an entertaining style of questioning authority.

But it also reminds us of something else: a New Europe seemingly less focused on what dreams lie ahead than on the oddly cherished nightmare left behind.

Copyright October 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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