German Atlas of Prejudice Comes February 2013

Atlas der Vorurteile von Yanko Tsvetkov

I am happy to announce that the German edition of my Atlas of Prejudice book will hit the bookstores in February 2013. The publisher is Knesebeck Verlag. Those of you familiar with the German market have probably seen a lot of its superbly made illustrated books, among which are bestseller titles like Christoph Niemann’s Abstract City. I couldn’t be in a better company. Seriously.

I have yet to sit down and fully comprehend what all this means. Mapping Stereotypes, the project that this book is based on, is 4 years old. By contemporary standards, this makes it as ancient as a Phidias statue. Despite that, with every passing year, it has managed to grow, almost by itself in a frictionless, kind of supernatural way. There was always something extra that was worth laughing at. What remained unnoticed was that it came hand in hand with something discouraging, even scary.

Those who ridicule stupidity long enough always get their hearts broken. As time passes by, it becomes harder and harder to separate the fools from the people you sympathize with. And suddenly the fun may turn to bitterness, resentment, anger, rage. Then comes a humbling point because as you dig deeper in the mud you ultimately discover there’s a stupid fool living inside your own self.

The human psyche is such a weird creature. All its problems have to be reverse-engineered. We spend most of our lives projecting expectations like an old cinema. Our eyes flicker, our guts roar and when the end comes, the film just flies off the feeder and then – silence. Few of us really take part in the movie itself. We are so scared to step in and assume our roles that we dedicate enormous efforts to deceive ourselves that the projection itself is the reality worth living in. Our emotional gluttony forces us to chase pleasure where it doesn’t exist. Our fear makes us choose sides in otherwise irrelevant alliances. Our prefabricated assumptions grow into parallel universes once they rub on our sensation-hungry minds.

If you assume those are modern, 21st century problems, this book will kindly remind you they’re not. America didn’t invent Wall Street. Britain didn’t invent imperialism. Stalin didn’t invent mass deportations and France didn’t invent peeing in the ocean. The impulse for all those things was already present, it popped in our little heads the moment we started thinking and truth be told, back in those days, it used to be much worse. That’s not exactly a consolation, but it’s good to know we have such a vast base for comparison when it comes to bigotry, stereotypes and prejudices. Human history, dear reader, is nothing but a branch of psychology and this book marks the beginning of my efforts to prove it.

This is why I had to write it myself. I had to design it myself. Illustrate it myself. It’s not stubborn egoism, it’s just an enormous pulsating zit on my face and I have to deal with it on my own because let’s be fair, who else would want to touch it?

There are 39 maps inside. Most of them you have already seen, although never in one single place. Others were made exclusively, inspired during the writing process. The remaining 41 pages you will have to read. Yeah, sorry about that. :)

P.S. And finally, after I bragged about how this is a one man effort, let’s backtrack a bit. Making this book wasn’t easy but whatever problems I encountered were mine alone. The wonderful team I worked with was no less than brilliant. I am very thankful to Martin Brinkmann, my literary agent who has the patience of a saint and the dedication of a nun. I was literary amazed by the skills of Christine und Christophe, das beste Ü-Team in der ganzen Welt, who managed to translate all my ridiculous map labels into German and still keep them embarrassingly funny! And last but not least, to Knesebeck for giving me absolute creative freedom. How many authors can enjoy this with their first book? That’s right, I am the only one. Up yours, Dostoevsky! :)

World History According to Young Earth Creationists

world-according-to-young-earth-creationists

Imagine you like a fairy tale so much that you want to live in it. Then imagine you read this fairy tale every single day of your life, well into your adulthood and every time someone says your fairy tale hero doesn’t really exist, you take it as an offence to your dignity and beliefs. Imagine you live in the most advanced country in the First World, where access to education is universal but you refuse to take advantage of it because it threatens your morality.

In short, imagine you’re an idiot.

But wait a while before you get offended. The good news is you’re not alone. A 2012 Gallup poll shows 46% of Americans believe God made humans in their exact current form sometime during the last 10.000 years, in 6 days, together with the Earth and everything else. This number is definitely on the rise, reflecting the spiritual evolution of modern consumerist societies in which everybody feels entitled to be an idiot.

The Flat Earth According to US Republicans

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world-according-to-us-republicans

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

This quote from Isaac Asimov is almost as famous as the subject of the article it was taken from. It’s called A Cult of Ignorance, published in Newsweek magazine on 21 January 1980.

Even though 32 years have passed since it was first printed, it still sounds like an alarming commentary on a contemporary problem. I am willing to bet it will still be relevant after another 32 because the cult is not about ignorance. It’s a direct consequence of America’s instinctive contempt for authority.

This contempt came from a very noble idea, namely the one according to which every human being should have an equal opportunity to succeed in life, later reinvented under the label “the American Dream”. The rejection of every privilege by birth was something remarkably revolutionary at the time. In Europe, people always refer to the French revolution when they have to describe the rise of republicanism. But we Europeans rather conveniently discard the fact that the French revolution itself was inspired by the American one, which stated 15 years earlier.

Blinded by our self-proclaimed intellectual superiority, we often forget how difficult it was for the republican ideas to spread on the old continent. Compare the political careers of George Washington and Napoleon Bonaparte. The first became a president but withdrew from power after two consecutive terms (reluctantly agreeing to the second one), the last proclaimed himself an emperor and distributed the crowns of the conquered kingdoms in Europe between his family and friends.

Such little but significant differences often lead to shocking misunderstandings. For the thinking American having a hereditary monarch as your head of state is beyond ridiculous, no matter how symbolic this position can be. For the thinking European, voting without an ID that explicitly proves your identity to the state is nothing but sheer stupidity and misunderstanding of constitutional priorities.

But while most of those peculiarities can be categorized as procedural, there is a thin line after which the American worship of ultimate freedom starts to resemble a camp fire getting out of control. The essence of the problem is that freedom, like any other ideal, is not something that can be absolutely defined. While it can be relatively susceptible to codification in political and judicial terms, viewed from a philosophical and emotional point of view, freedom becomes a very elusive, even contradictory term.

What further complicates the matter is that politics is often based on emotion, and law is often reliant on philosophy. The resulting mixture is bound to become unstable if left on its own. “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” is a quote often attributed to another American founding father, Thomas Jefferson. In a philosophical aspect however, it can be paraphrased as “Eternal humility is the price of knowledge”.

The lack of humility is what Asimov bitterly complains about and it symbolizes the worst excesses of American pride. It’s the inevitable shadow of the great ideas of liberty and is always on the verge of taking over the country by storm, adopting many shapes and touching on many subjects, from the sensible debate about abortion, to the bigoted opposition to gay rights, through the ludicrous demands for the recognition of creationism, ending with the most shocking and dismissive of all demands, the right to be genuinely stupid and uninformed.

Americans are often stereotypically described abroad as stupid. But just like any stereotype, such a description is ultimately incorrect. There are stupid people all over the planet, in every country and every forsaken village. The difference is that fools all over the world often feel shy about their intellectual abilities and decide to keep a low profile, at least when it comes to scientific matters. In America, on the other hand, the fool is unashamedly proud of his own stupidity, so much so that it can ultimately end up dictating the political discourse and ideologically hijack an entire political party.

The Republican party was founded by anti-slavery activists and it developed as the party of business and small government. But you will have a hard time recognizing those ideas in its current propaganda. It’s way easier to identify this party with the less educated, heavily prejudiced and retrograde part of the US population than with someone who is simply a fiscal conservative. And if the current tendencies are a reliable indication, it will get much worse, hence this map, which will guide you through the mind of the contemporary US Republican and the way he sees the world, in the rare occasions in which he is interested in it. As usual, it’s part of my Mapping Stereotypes project and will be included in my upcoming Atlas of Prejudice book.

Europe According to Latin Americans

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europe-according-to-latin-americans

This is something I have been asked for ever since I published the World Map According to Americans. I have postponed it for several reasons. First, I suffer from acute procrastination and second, I actually contracted it from Latin Americans. There are 3 of them snoring in my apartment right now. In such circumstances, it’s hard to just stop and write down your impressions because you are always tempted to continue observing and analyzing, just in case you missed something really important. If I didn’t feel pressured by my book project, I would have probably postponed it even further.

Truth be told, I’ve seen and heard enough to fill not one but twenty maps. And of course there are different sets of stereotypes that are applied depending on the situation. For example, every time there is a political problem in Latin America, people automatically blame el imperialismo, under which term they include the entire European continent. Precision and accuracy rarely matters in political propaganda, so I have been called an imperialist by proxy even though my country was ruled by the Ottomans for the entire colonial period.

Then there is the purely cultural rift between Latin and Teutonic cultures, which is typical even on a domestic European level. But the Latin American culture, being an extension of the Iberian one, diverts even more radically. Simply the word “German” can be used in a derogatory way to signify a person who has problems expressing his emotions. Remember, we’re talking about people who can describe even Spaniards as reserved and numb.

The collection featured on this map is a fusion of both sets, with the cultural having a definite prevalence over the political, mostly because I grew tired of analyzing people like Chavez, Correa and Morales. Even though the last one gained a special place in my heart when I heard him claiming that people become gay by eating chicken. Perhaps I can dedicate them a special map. And of course, it will come with a collector’s calendar of Cristina Fernández freshly botoxed and half naked on an empty Falkland Islands beach.

Europe According to Austria-Hungary

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europe-according-to-austria-hungary

When I started discussing my upcoming Atlas of Prejudice book with my German publisher, I got a special request. Because the German edition of my book will be aimed at the German-speaking market (duh!), I was asked to make a map of Europe according to Austria.

I have always found Austrian history irresistibly fascinating. It’s quite hard to believe that just 100 years ago this tiny quiet country was actually the biggest empire on the continent (if you don’t count Imperial Russia). The Hapsburgs, the famous dynasty that ruled it, almost succeeded in turning Europe into a single political unit, long before the current European Union hijacked the idea of economic and political integration.

The final incarnation of the empire, the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary, dramatically disintegrated in the turmoil of World War I under the pressure of the emerging nationalist movements. Usually World War I is associated with the Russian revolution but the Austrian collapse was a no less remarkable event. From an undisputed center of European power, Vienna turned into a provincial museum-town literary overnight. And just like Saint Petersburg, it never really recovered from the cataclysm.

The monarchy collapsed mostly because it was unable to find a way to reform itself. Apart from its ethnic complexity, its rulers were also ideologically shortsighted and more preoccupied with preserving the traditions of the past rather than embracing modernity. Klemens von Metternich, Austria’s most famous 19th Century politician, famously described the free press as the greatest of all evils. His political skills of a conservative pragmatist helped keep the state on life support for an extra century but also ensured its spectacularly painful death.

This map pokes fun of the awkward situation in which Austria-Hungary found itself in the beginning of the 20th Century. Weak, outdated, ridiculed from all sides, it lived through its final days blissfully unaware of the terminal illness it had contracted. Blinded by its delusions of grandeur, it started World War I in pursuit of glory but soon realized it was riding a train to hell.

Now, as I finally got this entire history lesson out of my system, I can really concentrate on a map of Europe according to contemporary Austrians. Be sure to keep an eye on my Mapping Stereotypes project page for any updates! :)

The Atlas of Prejudice Book Coming Soon. In German

Atlas der Vorurteile von Yanko Tsvetkov

Those of you who keep an eye on my Facebook page or follow me on Behance already know that I started work on my first book. The working title is Atlas of Prejudice and it will contain all maps from my Mapping Stereotypes project.

But that’s just half of the story. Ever since I started thinking about a book, I realized I had to add something more. After all, all maps are already available in a calendar, switching the print format won’t bring much extra value.

What is different about books is that you actually have an opportunity to tell a story. A lot of people have been asking me how did I come up with the idea of the project, what was my motivation for expanding it or what do I think about stereotypes in general. I get a lot of emails from students who say their teachers ask them to discuss a certain map in class or write an essay about it. And of course occasionally there have been people who have taken the project out of context, treating some maps as simple statistics or even understanding them in a brutally serious way, with all the awkward consequences that follow.

I will always be thankful for all the feedback I receive, positive or negative, but the thing that makes me most happy is that the Mapping Stereotypes project doesn’t only entertain people but helps them ask questions. Is there truth in a stereotype? Can we get rid of our prejudices? Does Santa Claus love Nordic children more than he loves Brazilian ones? Everybody has a different answer and if you are interested in mine, this book will help you find it.

There’s a catch though. If you’re an English-speaking person you might have a problem understanding it. That’s because the book will be first published in German. It wasn’t necessarily planned this way but I found a publisher who met all my requirements and it just happened to be operating on the German market. Besides the financial sense, those requirements were mainly artistic. I insisted on writing, illustrating and designing the book myself, from cover to back (call me the Prince of publishing). I’m still looking for an English publisher who would be able to match that.

Of course even if I don’t find one, I would still would have the option to self-publish in the near future, so stay tuned for more. The end of 2012 will be an interesting period for alphadesigner.