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You left Benetton after being responsible for the brand's advertising during 18 years. How do you evaluate the experience?
Toscani - Well, I didn't destroy Benetton by doing that... What was worthwhile was knowing that a company, by engaging in this type of advertising, would still function economically. And it worked because otherwise Benetton would never have done it. Companies only get involved in a project because it makes money. They don't give a damn about social rights. Companies are never politically correct. They are only interested in profit.

Was there really a political attitude in your work at Benetton?
Toscani - Not only there, but throughout my entire life. That's a strange question because even the dumbest person has a political attitude. Women who only go to malls to shop have a political attitude too...

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Edition #6
Rio de Janeiro, 2003

This is the recipe of Oliviero Toscani, former advertising photographer for Benetton, for a better world

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This is the recipe from photographer Oliviero Toscani to make the world a better place. In an interview originally granted to Trip magazine, the former Benetton advertising executive criticizes soft activism.
by Ivan Marsiglia

TAGS: actvism, interview

Your campaigns sparked a lot of discussion in society. They were "big politics", not the small kind you're mentioning.
Toscani - Well, there's good political action and bad political action, just as there are big and small actions. Of course, advertising, in general, is a political view. The only difference is that it's a stupid political view.

Does your advertising fall into that definition?
Toscani - The only difference is that mine is recognized as not as stupid as normal (laughs).

Do you believe a company can profit by taking socially responsible actions?
Toscani - Benetton is proof. But the truth is, deep down, companies don't really care. They just want to make money, no matter if people are starving.

Have you achieved all the objectives there?
Toscani - I know that some things changed with what I did. That's evolution. I belong to evolution, to people who have evolved. But now, I'll have to evolve again. I wasn't going to remain there composing jingles for the company.

Did you maintain any role in Colors or Fabbrica?
Toscani - I gave up everything. It was hard to convince the executives that what I had was a big project, to convince them that Colors was a great idea. They didn't believe, they couldn't understand. They are CEOs! (laughs)

Do you regret anything you've done?
Toscani - I don't regret what I did, but what I didn't do. I think it wasn't enough. I should have gone further, been more extreme. The only thing I really regret is wasting my time talking to CEOs. With those idiots. As long as CEOs exist, you can't do much within a corporation. Of course, there are exceptions. But, in general, they are boring, empty, vulgar, and inhumane.

You are in a privileged position to speak about political participation: you were contemporary to the events of May 1968 and are witnessing up close the "new activism" from Washington, Seattle, and Prague. How would you compare these two forms of activism?
Toscani - It's impossible to compare. First, I don't believe in today's activism. Back then, people died for the cause. It's rather different.

Don't you think there are more tools for political pressure and mobilization today, such as the internet and email?
Toscani - That's not real because nothing changes. We don't live in a democracy. We live under an economic dictatorship. Everything is decided according to money.

But some argue that the new activism is less utopian and more efficient than that of the 1960s.
Toscani - I don't think so. (The warrior Ernesto "Che") Guevara was assassinated. It was a different attitude. Bullshit that new activism is more efficient! They say that because it's the easiest thing to do. I don't believe "soft activism" works. I call it "software activism" (laughs).

So you don't feel part of the "new activism"?
Toscani - No. I belong to myself.

However, you just said that your work at Benetton made a difference.
Toscani - Of course, it helped to evolve. In fact, today's youth is much more aware than those of twenty or thirty years ago. They are even smarter, have more access to communication, are less violent... Well, gentler (laughs). But there are things you can't do so gently. We need "Gandhis." Gandhi wasn't gentle; he was very tough.

So, the actions of other companies, like Shell and Coca-Cola, which have taken measures to protect the environment and participated in social projects, are also just marketing ploys?
Toscani - I think modern companies should be socio-politically responsible, but marketing managers don't know anything about that; they lack sufficient artistic knowledge. They would do anything for money, even prostitution.

Your campaigns gave the impression that your idea was to transform the system from within. Did it work?
Toscani - Of course, it made a difference. But nothing really changes. You try and do it your way. I don't agree with the system as it is. But what do you want me to do? I also don't agree with traffic, yet I get stuck in a jam. I don't agree with pollution, yet I'm forced to breathe polluted air. I don't agree with bad architecture, but it's in 90% of the constructions.

Would you say you were naïve to think that executives of a large corporation like Benetton could carry out your project?
Toscani - No, I wasn't naïve at all. In one way or another, I created Colors (magazine) and Fabbrica (creativity school in Treviso, Italy). With more or less effort, but I did it.

In the early 2000s, the Canadian NGO Adbusters went so far as to interfere with your posters and accused you of something worse than being a "soft" critic of the system: they said your campaigns exploited human tragedies to sell clothes.
Toscani - (Annoyed) They are outdated conservatives! They are not modern. They don't understand this new language. They want to keep the world with the old language, which has nothing to do with it! Adbusters is made up of outdated advertisers. They don't see differences. They are just negative people.

If it's not "software activism" that will change the world, who or what will?
Toscani - I'm waiting for the true generation that will change things. It's been a long time since they changed.

How do you imagine this new generation?
Toscani - They have to present the new language that this world needs. The language we use is no longer sufficient. I hope a new generation overcomes this system, and I want to be alive to witness it. Probably, what I would like to see is a total collapse of the economy. I would love that (laughs).

Toscani - Why not? If you consider values and not money, you'll see that everything is wrong. In the past, money was used to do things; today, things are done to make money. People want to make money to stop working. They hate their jobs. I don't. I love my job. Men express themselves through work, not through their bank accounts. When you visit Rome, you go to see art, the great works, not the banks.

Economic collapse would be the solution?
Toscani - We need a vertical collapse. I want to see executives jumping out of windows due to lack of money. Get rid of all the stupid people. See all the guys in suits shooting at each other at their desks (laughs). Taking poison, jumping out the window. We have to get rid of these people. And quickly.

And what would the world be like after the collapse?
Toscani - If the value were "everyone dancing," for example, Brazil would be the most important country in the world. It would be fantastic! We would appreciate other things than money. Imagine if, instead of money, we had music as a value. It would be a much more interesting world.

This article is to show readers various ways to act politically. What would you do to change the world?
Toscani - Another world would be much worse than this one. I just want to get rid of things that are harmful. If I take out the garbage, it doesn't mean I want to change houses. I don't want to change the world. It's fine the way it is. The only problem is that some people produce a lot of garbage.

And what advice would you give to young Brazilians who want to deal with the "garbage" that exists here?
Toscani - Tell them to take a look around and not be satisfied with all the crap they tell you to buy, consume, and use to be someone.

Do you agree with Oliviero Toscani's thoughts? Leave your comment below


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