Thursday, February 20, 2014


            Propaganda is one of the oldest staples of communication. War time propaganda is usually the first thing to come to mind when people think of it. Mention the word and most people will imagine Uncle Sam saying he wants you or a swastika across some nationalistic message. It is easy today to brush these images off as products of past ignorance and fear. However, it is important to take a look at the past uses of propaganda to find the similarities and to see how they really work. Once the reasoning behind the images is shown, it is hard not to start to take notice of how these tactics are still being used today across all forms of media.
            The foundation of propaganda ensuring the audience only knows enough to be scared and capitalizing on that fear. By the time of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, stories of Japan’s invasion of China had become well known in the United States. Accounts of the Nanking Massacre did not require exaggeration to elicit fear. This poster, from 1942, draws on those accounts to stir fear and anger in the viewer.

This poster encapsulates multiple essential aspects of propaganda. First and foremost is fear. It looks like a poster advertising a 1970’s B horror movie. What gentleman can look at that and not want to save that nice young lady? Also evident is the dehumanization of the enemy. It is a lot harder to hate something when you remember it is human. The artist’s representation of the Japanese in the poster shows something more demon than human. The coloring, reminiscent of someone holding a flashlight under their face while telling a scary story, also serves to promote tension and fear. Overall, it is the simplicity that makes this poster such a classic example of how propaganda is made. Even a quick glance gets the message across. Here is a monster that is going to kill everyone you love if you don’t stop him.
            Nazi Germany tends to come to mind quickly when propaganda is mentioned. It would probably be hard today to come up with a propaganda idea that was not used at some point by the Nazis. A classic example is The Eternal Jew.

Figure 2: The Eternal Jew
The above is a Dutch poster for the 1940 anti-Semitic propaganda film. In parallel to the previous example, the population had already been primed by their media to receive a message like this. The common man could not just jump on the internet to do some fact checking. All people knew is what they were told. Unfortunately, there were not enough people that knew enough to make a difference. I do not think it is necessary to delve further into the common ideology of Nazi Germany in 1940. Given that context, it is easy to see how the poster was meant to work. The dehumanization is again clear in the twisted expression of the character’s face. The message to the person looking at the poster is that he is not like you. This specific poster makes use of the Star of David on the character’s forehead to suggest the mark of the beast. Even just looking at two posters, the common idea that a picture can be used to reinforce negative preconceptions is abundantly clear.
            To find a more recent example, here is a poster from North Korea.

This is immediately recognizable as anti-American. That instant recognition is common to each of these examples and an essential aspect of effective propaganda. The words next to the foot print simply transalte to "Wicked Man". The use of stark color is again used to create tension. In this poster we see the North Korean view of what the United States stands for. The footprint shows a country built on death, slavery, and nuclear power. The dress shoe itself serves to use jealousy that the North Korean government would of course deny, to promote hatred. This poster is directed at people who cannot afford socks. People that have been taught that their country’s nuclear weapons programs are meant as a defense against the threat of attack from the United States. People that have been absolutely denied access to real news. When you consider that some of the most commonly confiscated items in North Korea are bootlegs of South Korean soap operas, showing lavish lifestyles of people outside of the country, the message behind this poster becomes clear. The audience for the poster doesn’t get to have shoes because they live by honor, outsiders live off of suffering. We have the luxury of brushing this off as the ravings of a dying government but the people that see it every day have never seen anything else.

            In conclusion, it is easy to see the common ideas across propaganda from multiple countries and multiple times. This is unfortunately one of the timeless things of humanity. Fear and ignorance is always going to be a dangerous and easily manipulated combination. While we do not see such overt and old style attempts to control what we think about various groups here and now, it is important to remember that a key to these posters effectiveness was that the viewer did not think it was propaganda. 

Works Cited
Bytwek, Randall. “Nazi and East German Propaganda.” N.p. Web. 17 February 2014
Johnson, Robert. “Check Out These Twisted North Korean Propaganda Posters.” Business Insider. 2011. Web. 17 February 2014

SRL. “Maximum Advantage in Pictures.” N.p. 2 March, 2010. Web. 17 February 2014

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