Salvador Dalí Creates a Chilling Anti-Venereal Disease Poster During World War II

As a New York City sub­way rid­er, I am con­stant­ly exposed to pub­lic health posters. More often than not these fea­ture a pho­to of a whole­some-look­ing teen whose sober expres­sion is meant to con­vey hind­sight regret at hav­ing tak­en up drugs, dropped out of school, or fore­gone con­doms. They’re well intend­ed, but bor­ing. I can’t imag­ine I’d feel dif­fer­ent­ly were I a mem­ber of the tar­get demo­graph­ic. The Chelsea Mini Stor­age ads’ saucy region­al humor is far more enter­tain­ing, as is the train wreck design approach favored by the ubiq­ui­tous Dr. Jonathan Ziz­mor. 

Pub­lic health posters were able to con­vey their des­ig­nat­ed hor­rors far more mem­o­rably before pho­tos became the graph­i­cal norm. Take Sal­vador Dalí’s sketch (below) and final con­tri­bu­tion (top) to the WWII-era anti-vene­re­al dis­ease cam­paign.

Which image would cause you to steer clear of the red light dis­trict, were you a young sol­dier on the make?

A por­trait of a glum fel­low sol­dier (“If I’d only known then…”)?

Or a grin­ning green death’s head, whose chop­pers dou­ble as the frankly exposed thighs of two face­less, loose-breast­ed ladies?

Cre­at­ed in 1941, Dalí’s night­mare vision eschewed the sort of man­ly, mil­i­taris­tic slo­gan that retroac­tive­ly ramps up the kitsch val­ue of its ilk. Its mes­sage is clear enough with­out:

Stick it in—we’ll bite it off!

(Thanks to blog­ger Rebec­ca M. Ben­der for point­ing out the composition’s resem­blance to the vagi­na den­ta­ta.)

As a fem­i­nist, I’m not crazy about depic­tions of women as pesti­len­tial, one-way death­traps, but I con­cede that, in this instance, sub­vert­ing the girlie pin up’s explic­it­ly phys­i­cal plea­sures might well have had the desired effect on horny enlist­ed men.

A decade lat­er Dalí would col­lab­o­rate with pho­tog­ra­ph­er Philippe Hals­man on “In Volup­tas Mors,” stack­ing sev­en nude mod­els like cheer­lead­ers to form a peace­time skull that’s far less threat­en­ing to the male fig­ure in the low­er left cor­ner (in this instance, the very dap­per Dalí him­self).

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Sal­vador Dalí Goes Com­mer­cial: Three Strange Tele­vi­sion Ads

See Sal­vador Dali’s Illus­tra­tions for the 1969 Edi­tion of Alice’s Adven­tures in Won­der­land

Your Body Dur­ing Ado­les­cence: A Naked­ly Unashamed Sex Ed Film from 1955

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, home­school­er, and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

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  • Marjorie says:

    Col­lab­o­ra­tion Dali and Hals­man was called In Volup­taTE Mors

  • 2crudedudes says:

    “As a fem­i­nist, Iu2019m not crazy about depic­tions of women as pesti­len­tial, none-way death­traps, but I con­cede that, in this instance, sub­vert­ing then girlie pin upu2019s explic­it­ly phys­i­cal plea­sures might well have had the nde­sired effect on horny enlist­ed men.“nnnread: I vehe­ment­ly oppose women being depict­ed in any sort of neg­a­tive light, regard­less of fac­tu­al­i­ty or objec­tiv­i­ty.

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