Not So Different

“Spain is Different” was a tourism campaign slogan coined in the mid-1960s by dictator Francisco Franco’s Ministry of Information and Tourism (!), when it was headed by the late Manuel Fraga Iribarne, a man who would transform into a democrat decades later and continue a long-lasting political career until his death this year at age 90. Fraga’s slogan became very effective, not only attracting millions of tourists and therefore much-needed foreign currency to revive Spain’s moribund economy decades after its devastating civil war, but also serving to re-brand Spain as “hip” and “fun” at a time when it was isolated and only beginning to gradually open up to the world. Fraga is also known for having relaxed censorship laws during the 1960s, leading to the emergence of the popular expression “con Fraga hasta la braga!” (“with Fraga all the way to the panties!”). Such actions led him to be perceived as a relative reformer, making him somewhat popular at that time. After Franco’s death in 1975, however, when students and workers protested massively to demand democracy, Fraga was the Interior Minister who publicly proclaimed “La calle es mía!” (“the street belongs to me!”) and ordered police to shoot demonstrators, killing five and wounding several dozen. Needless to say, this heavy-handed action ruined the relatively good reputation he had until then.

Curiously, a multinational corporation that designs and manufactures computer and entertainment products started out by similarly  branding itself as “hip” and “fun” with a slogan that rings quite similar to “Spain is Different”. And now, news of some rather heavy-handed and sordid business practices are similarly beginning to ruin its reputation.

Late in his life, Fraga dedicated his energy to an ambitious cultural and economic development project of which he is the brainchild, the City of Culture of Galicia, perhaps in an effort to restore his legacy. He organized an international competition in 1999 that was won by Peter Eisenman (an article I wrote on it can be read here), but curiously, one of the finalists in this competition, OMA, submitted a design for a building in the shape of a ring (a project which for some reason is not published on OMA’s website). Coincidentally, the corporation whose slogan is “Think Different” is expected to soon begin construction of a building designed by Norman Foster that is shaped like…you guessed it: a ring.

Who would ever have thought that the story of a veteran politician from Spain and that of the world’s biggest IT corporation could sound so similar, or perhaps better said: not so different?


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