Sunday, January 23, 2011

Propaganda and Prejudice

So, continuing this week's investigation into the overlap between PD and propaganda, I'm linking to this fabulous online exhibit (courtesy of the U.S. National Archives) called Powers of Persuasion

Most of these posters targeted a domestic audience, but they contain a lot of information about U.S. attitudes toward other countries--particularly the Axis powers. The objective of the posters was to increase public support for the war abroad, and the selected images demonstrate different tactics the government employed--including promoting interracial unity, inciting emotional responses and using humor or symbolism.

From the exhibit: "The Government tried to identify the most effective poster style. One government-commissioned study concluded that the best posters were those that made a direct , emotional appeal and presented realistic pictures in photographic detail. The study found that symbolic or humorous posters attracted less attention, made a less favorable impression, and did not inspire enthusiasm. Nevertheless, many symbolic and humorous posters were judged to be outstanding in national poster competitions during the war."

The Rockwell "Four Freedoms" posters were inspired by a Franklin Roosevelt speech on the same topic, a masterful peace of public diplomacy unto itself, as it addressed domestic and international audiences, contrasting the values of the United States with the power struggle ambitions of the Axis countries. 

Of course, the Yankee propaganda machine had an extremely effective Nazi counterpart. (Check out this website for an extensive listing of Nazi propaganda tactics.) The image shown here looks kind of like an advertisement for repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, but is actually emphasizing the solidarity of both soldiers and workers.
The use of propaganda by the Nazis and the Soviets, as well as a general belief by the U.S. public that the benefit of our national values should be self-evident (and not, therefore, in need of hard sell tactics) partly explains legislative aversion to funding anything that smacks of propagandistic influence--particularly when it has a domestic focus.


  1. Interesting... As a mash-up of your propaganda post and your recent bloggings on Chinese diplomacy, I saw this recently in a bookstore and was excited at the title, but then disappointed by the actual images. Perhaps the subtler effects of large babies and a happy society are lost on me?

  2. Oooh, the goldfish and the rocket ship are kind of trippy. But I think these would be more effective as an advertisement for infant formula. Unless China's got some imminent babies-to-the-moon program and they're trying to create some advance buzz...

  3. Propaganda is such a tricky topic, especially when considering how so many of its methods and aims correspond so closely with public diplomacy. I personally think I am more influenced by humorous and subtler forms of propaganda, as it is trickier to identify and subsequently ignore them. The blatant tone of many ads (government sponsored or otherwise) during that era always surpasses me, and I think they would not be so effective today.

    With that in mind, I found an interesting series of WWII era propaganda posters tweaked for a 21st century application, which are a great link between the propaganda of half a century ago and the "Twitter Revolutions" of today.

    Tell me what you think.