Travel Posters, Cultural Capitalism and Nostalgia

The imagery of Lapland and its landscape are results not of a premeditated exercise of power, but of a more complicated phenomenon (see Háyrynen

2005, 184). Massey (2005) has analyzed the global sense of place and the power geometries of time-space. According to her, globalization does not necessarily mean uniformity or standardization, and different places do not change in similar ways. Different places always have their special characteristics, which arise from their role as interfaces to the local and broader social relations. Massey understands that the history and meaning of a place have been constructed during a long period of time (31). The imagined “Lapland” as a place is a construction, where lived experiences of locals and visitors intersect with different representations. The international trends of travel advertising have influenced Finnish advertising to a significant degree, and conversely, many clichés with which Finnish companies have marketed Lapland have been adopted by international designers. In the international travel poster competition of 2018, the global sense of Lapland as a place becomes a carnivalist product of accumulated history and the global travel industry. In this carnival, everyone has a possibility to define “My Lapland” regardless of their mental or physical distance to the geographical place.

In Come to Finland Publishing and its projects, the connections between art, commercialism, and nostalgia play a very important role. The company’s website aims to create new travel posters depicting Finland and, at the same time, to revitalize and regenerate the poster art tradition. The most important products of the company are old posters reprinted as different design products. On the Come to Finland website, these old posters function as stimuli for new poster artists. The fact that new posters are quite traditional and that they recycle the imagery and motifs of the older travel posters arises at least partly from the brand of Come to Finland: the company celebrates the value of old posters as well as their style and topics.

I contend that Come to Finland, with its products and travel poster competition, is a telling example of the phenomenon variously called “cool capitalism” (McGuigan 2010, 96-8) or “cultural capitalism” (Rifkin 2000), in which the business exploits the positive image of art and culture but often reduces those contradictions that artistic representations may highlight. As a phenomenon, the company and its products resemble Pauli Kettunen’s (2008) idea of economic nationalism, an ideology in which national fortune is seen as an economic resource and successful companies are celebrated as national success stories. According to such a view, not only Finnish companies, but also ordinary people should promote the national competitiveness of Finland and consume the right products at the right time because of national interests. Such a discourse is based on the idea of the nation state as a natural and self-evident entity (209-23).

Come to Finland is an independent commercial company, but it could as well be a brainchild of the Finnish Brand Committee. Come to Finland is a brand and a product, which combines elements of art and Finnish cultural history in order to sell souvenirs and design products. When one is buying a Come to Finland poster, book, or tea cup, they may feel that they are buying a piece of Finnish cultural history. The aim of the international poster competition is to reproduce the imagery of Finland. Obviously, the competition creates a possibility to reform Finnish imagery in connection with international interpretations. Accordingly, the competition urges the international audience and designers to learn to know the imagery of Finland, take part in its construction, and spread knowledge about Finland and, of course, to consume.

The company’s commercial strategy connects Finnish imagery with a problematic nostalgia. According to Svetlana Boym (2007), we can find two types of nostalgia. Restorative nostalgia is directed at bringing back the past, and it does not recognize “itself as nostalgia, but rather as truth and tradition”, whereas reflective nostalgia is creative and flexible: it “dwells on the ambivalences of human longing and belonging and does not shy away from the contradictions of modernity”. For Boym, reflexive nostalgia is “concerned with historical and individual time, with the irrevocability of the past and human finitude”.

The Come to Finland products are based on the old national imagery from the 1920s, 1930s, and 1950s, that is, decades during which the Finnish travel industry, as well as Finnish society as a whole, developed fast. After the Finnish Civil War and the Second World War, people had new possibilities for leisure time and holidays. In the old pictures, Finnish society is shown as unified and coherent. These pictures are part of the grand narrative of Finnishness - a very recognizable narrative, to be sure, but it is hardly the whole picture. At the same time, the perspective of Come to Finland Publishing is global. At the beginning of the 2020s, the company continues to sell the Finnish brand to foreigners as an idealistic picture consisting of beautiful nature, exotic Sámi cultures, ice, snow, and light summer nights. This picture is harmonious, comfortable, and without contradictions. Customers’ willingness to buy these products may implicate restorative nostalgia, admiration of a past way of life, and its imagined harmony.

However, because of the nostalgic imagery of Come to Finland Publishing, its competitions, and its products, it is also reproducing nationalist ideology. The new travel posters are not openly nationalist; they just offer beautiful but quite conventional representations of northern nature. The nostalgia is directed rather to Finland and its way of life in past decades than to Lapland itself. The functions and products of Come to Finland Publishing resemble Michael Billig’s idea of “banal” nationalism: the company is recycling old, ostensibly harmless, national imagery for commercial purposes. However, the nationalistic gaze goes through the whole idea of Come to Finland Publishing and its products. In its representations Lapland has a continuing significance in representing the whole of Finland with its beautiful landscapes. Hence, many of

Come to Lapland! 135 the new posters reproduce the idea of Lapland as an exotic other, as the land of snow, frost, and darkness. Lapland is still pictured from the point of view of a tourist from southern Finland, or abroad, who is interested in outdoor activities, not the local culture or people. Further, recycling the nostalgic imagery hides the colonial history of the Sámi people and Lapland.

On the other hand, as Jim McGuigan (2010, 204-5) has argued, art and cultural products may include possibilities for resistance even in “cool capitalism”. The position for resistance rests in the consumer’s possibility to actively process meanings. For example, posters picturing the different maps of Finland may capture the idea that the nation-state is a covenanted entity and its borders are changing. The consumer who buys a poster or a tea cup may even ask how the changes influence people who live in the area. In this case, the customer’s nostalgic gaze will turn, according to Boym’s (2007) concept, into reflective nostalgia. He or she will look at the old picture through the knowledge of problems of tourism and the history of othering Sámi people.

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