Scarfolk is a quaint town in the north west of England. At first glance it appears perfectly ordinary. Neighbours chat to each other over hedges while children play in the quiet, suburban streets. Yet this provincial place has received a lot of media attention over the past five years. Rumours have surfaced claiming that the town has not progressed since 1979 and the local council’s poster production points to a community that is stuck in the 1970s. It’s Nice That decided to find out more about the local society and its notorious designs.
I arrived at Scarfolk three days ago. What was originally planned to be a telephone interview was abruptly rescheduled to a short trip when Scarfolk’s mayor insisted I see the place for myself. My first impression was positive; friendly people, beautiful parks and what looked like promising restaurants. It was only halfway through the second day that a number of curious occurrences caught my attention; “Visit Scarfolk today. Our number one priority is keeping rabies at bay” was plastered across walls and billboards all over town while the local newspaper read “10-year old child abducts adults and feeds them to pet tortoise, Mr Twinkles.”
The visit proceeded to get stranger when the mayor invited me on an official tour of the area. Our first stop was Scarfolk Henge. This, the mayor explained, was where transgressors had been found mysteriously embedded inside the ancient rock following a very painful, ancient occult ritual. He could provide me with no further information. Our second stop was the Hospital for the Criminally Poor where their esteemed Dr Hushson found fame after genetically converting children into kitchen appliances for the catering industry. The final stop was a door that lead into a labyrinthine bunker system deep beneath the council building. The mayor told me to ignore this part of the journey on second thought. He also told me to pay no attention to claims that dozens of people had gone missing.
The most striking element, however, remains Scarfolk’s exaggerated use of posters and propaganda artefacts; from books on brainwashing children to competitions that promise the winner human rights. Intrigued — and concerned — I managed to catch up with the mayor about Scarfolk’s booming design scene.
It’s a privilege to be speaking with you Mr. Mayor. Tell me a bit about Scarfolk. How would you describe the town?
“Current cultural events include: Clown Exhumation Sunday, the mandatory annual owl eating competition and Public Shaming Day. I say ‘current’. History, traditions and customs are, like facts, prone to frequent and sudden change. This is because Scarfolk Council decides what is and isn’t truth on an almost daily basis. What becomes a fact, and for how long, is down to a very complex system of the council’s own invention that we call “civic whim.” Truth is entirely dependent on our mood and whether or not data supports or negates the new municipal concepts we wish to introduce. This may include the destruction of official documents, books and even people.”
Scarfolk has received a lot of attention for its public information warnings. How would you describe the aesthetic style of the posters?
“The aesthetics are simple because we like residents to get bad news as soon as possible. Additionally, we have to be as direct as possible because people are not very clever. Taking sentient life on earth as a whole, humans only register somewhere between sloth and balloon. Foreigners register even lower. Failure to understand one of our public information campaigns sometimes necessitates the funding of a follow-up poster campaign which explains what the previous one was about. Secondary poster campaigns may also include details of fines that have been incurred for failing to understand in the first place.”
How does the council decide what issue or public concern they turn into a poster?
“We become very concerned if citizens start to feel secure and content in any area of their lives. We like to ensure that we have drawn their attention to all potential, unanticipated dangers in every corner of society, no matter how seemingly benign at first. We have successfully warned our citizens about the hazards of sentient ventriloquist dolls, imposter parents, the dangers of dithering, and the risks involved in setting up bouncy castles beside electrical substations and pylon, to name but a few.”
Landmines is a striking example of a Scarfolk board game. Why did the council think it was important to produce it?
“Scarfolk Council feels that many commercial games and sports have become stylised warfare analogies, mere replacements for proper war. As such, they distract people from the meaning of true, honourable conflict and they diminish the role of traditional hostility in modern society. Games such as Landmines, which includes real, live landmines, reintroduce some of the time-honoured violence that we risk losing as a culture if we are not more prudent.”
A similarly compelling example is How to Wash a Child’s Brain. What was the inspiration behind that book?
“Brainwashing children is a complex process that is best performed by a family GP, but with so many unwanted children being born nowadays it made sense to provide a book for parents, teachers, guardians and anybody else who may stumble across a child and take them home.
“Despite the complexity of the process, the washing of the brain itself doesn’t require any specialised equipment (apart from brain spoons). Most of the required materials can be found around the home: ammonia, scrubbing brush, steel wool pad, etc. Nail clippers can used to trim off any unwanted or unsightly areas of the frontal lobe.”
Have you got a personal favourite Scarfolk design?
“We like the ‘Don’t’ campaign because it distils all our public information campaigns into one catchall message: ‘Don’t.’
“‘Don’t what?’ you may ask and to that we would say ‘Don’t. Don’t ask. Don’t think about asking. Don’t even let the question form in your mind.’ It’s worth noting that all crime is an example of one form or another of ‘doing.’ Even doing nothing is doing something: it’s doing nothing, which is just as illegal. Maybe even more so because it’s so devious. We hope we have cleared that up for you. If we haven’t and you would like us to clarify further, we would like to refer you to our ‘No’ campaign.”
How have the posters the Scarfolk council releases evolved over time?
“Whereas our early campaigns dealt with issues that only affect us in the 1970s, we’ve learned via our skilled team of council prognosticators and mediums that some of our campaigns also have some resonance with the people of the future who live in the early 21st century. Apparently, life has not progressed in the future as much as we might have imagined. Fortunately, we are relieved to hear that society is still very much fuelled by a robust mistrust of poor people, foreigners, unbaptised children and anyone else who deviates from our government guidelines of what constitutes a ‘bog-standard, controllable person.’”
Fear seems to be a recurrent theme across the various visual campaigns used to influence the city. Why is that?
“Put it this way: you’re walking along the street and come face to face with a drooling man who has a glassy look in his eye and a selection of illegal weapons strewn about his person. Without the faculty of fear you might be tempted to engage the man in polite conversation and perhaps ask him why he is drooling down his own surplus army fatigues as he aims one of his assault rifles squarely at your face. This, I have to tell you, is not the best way to survive the situation. Walking away swiftly, running even, is almost certainly more applicable.
“So, as you can see, fear can save your life, ergo it is healthy. It’s so healthy that we consider profoundly terrifying a citizen to be as beneficial as a course of yoga, meditation or two weeks in a health spa. These don’t come cheap, I can tell you. This is why we also charge citizens a medical fee whenever we intimidate them to the point of terror.”
Why do you think Scarfolk has become popular outside of the quaint northern English town?
“What does ‘outside of Scarfolk’ mean? We don’t understand this either conceptually or scientifically. There is nothing outside of Scarfolk. Scarfolk is everywhere: in the news reports you read, in the practiced smiles of the politicians you vote for, in the decisions you think you have made of your own free will. Scarfolk even watches you while you sleep to ensure that you don’t accidentally drift away from Scarfolk psychically.”
For more information please reread this interview.