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Submitted on
November 15, 2012
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Faux Propaganda Art

Thu Nov 15, 2012, 8:52 PM
Darth Vader Propaganda Poster by jpc-art

The Comfort of Mindless Obedience

When is information true and useful and when is it just “propaganda?” Why in fact is an image or phrase or animated art sequence “propaganda” rather than it simply being a “lie?” What about acceptable lies that define our society as much as they degrade it—for example commercials that obviously hype a product with untruths or political advertisements full of unachievable platitudes.

It can be instructive to look back at the early days of “mass society” and the need to impart vital national information before the ubiquitous presence of personal radios, televisions and telephones in every citizen’s home. World War I and World War II provided the framework worldwide for the mass “propaganda poster.” It’s amazing how similar the mass propaganda posters of the warring nations were – in their patriotic images just as much as in their simplistic messages of sacrifice and belief in the cause. Many are familiar with Uncle Sam, born in WWI and Rosie the Riveter from WWI, whose “Yes, we can,” was repurposed in the 60s and again recently as an Obama campaign maxim.

The messages seem simple and quaint today, instilling the glow of some kind of nostalgia. Yes, the point of propaganda was always to get us back in line, onto the straight and narrow for God and country or for country and religion alone, the conundrum that the opposition were doing the same was easily handleable without too much intellectual athleticism. In fact, sometimes mass conformity feels good – like a U2 concert. We’re being sold that something is way more important that it really is, but we don’t mind … so it’s “propaganda” as opposed to being a “lie.”

“We’re being sold that something is way more important that it really is, but we don’t mind … so it’s “propaganda” as opposed to being a “lie.”

“Us” vs. “Them”

In researching the subject the Mass Propaganda Poster didn’t make it through the Vietnam War era. If it showed anywhere as a graphic equivalency, it was on anti-war T-shirts. It wasn’t just improved TV technology and the daily coverage of that national struggle (in the jungles of Nam and the streets of American cities). It was also that the war was too confusing, to ambiguous, to be reduced to the simple “us” vs. “them” formula of the two wars that had come before. So iconic poster art of young American men fighting evil devils wasn’t just ineffectual, but insultingly simplistic.

So instead, the mass propaganda art posters of the 60s were the psychedelic rock-n-roll posters promoting the new phenomenon of guitar heroes. The cultural “war” it seems was better suited to the creativity of simple iconic poster art than the complex disaster of war. Of course, the use of mass propaganda in posters was reaching a zenith at the same time in China as part of the Cultural Revolution in every home, every workplace and every government operation.

Today, while “actual” political propaganda posters are still occasionally put out on the street of our cities to vex the establishment by artists like Robbie Conal, there is the new phenomenon, best exemplified by artist Shepard Fairey’s “OBEY” posters and stickers, of “faux (false) propaganda art,” which mocks and comments on the very concept of mass propaganda itself. The artworks often call up classic images from the “loose lips sink ships” days of war era propaganda to stir our patriotic fervor for battling the Sith and joining in other causes. Star Wars and Star Trek are favorite subjects used for the primary context of these fake posters, as well as many video games and movie and TV franchises. Faux propaganda memes are a regular subject for deviantART satirists as can be seen on this page.

Faux propaganda art has an eerie vibe – like playing with fire. Remember, this was the stuff utilized, for real, by feared despots to drive others to countenance the murder of millions. But now it seems so childishly safe in its simple messages. One has a feeling of nostalgia, even—as if any evil has been sapped from the subject, and with the viewer being a survivor of a bygone era. We are no doubt being manipulated and “sold” on more contemporary issues by more sophisticated means of mass propaganda flooding our brains daily—but at least these colorful beasts from the past are easily mastered for our simple enjoyment.

Once again, Do we have any scholars out there who might shed an even more educative light on the subject?

Has anyone been studying or reading extensively about the history of Propaganda Art?

Would love to hear opinions, analysis and corrections from those of you even more familiar with the history of propaganda art than I.

CommentaryFrom deviantART's Advisor in Chief

The notion of “faux propaganda” is false because it remains propaganda. When my kids asked me what I did during the Vietnam War, my answer was that I fought the war against the war in Vietnam; and that my side won. The strongest image I have of that movement is, of course, the peace sign. The second strongest is a raised red fist. The first of these symbols was borrowed from the anti-nuclear movement of the very early 1960’s. The second was borrowed from communist propaganda posters of the 1920’s and possibly earlier.

Shepard Fairey’s Obama poster was propaganda—for good, I believe, just like the peace sign—even though it owes its context to posters of Mao Tse Tung and the now high art of Andy Warhol. The red fist was propaganda for bad as it was to become to be understood and then it was used for good, as I believed; and will likely be considered bad or good again in another round of propaganda to come. But what’s interesting to me is that the stylized look of a Mao poster, the peace sign and the raised fist will always be considered propagandistic in a Pavlovian sense. You see them and you know them to be propaganda.


Questions For the Reader

  1. Do you like modern faux propaganda art or does anything recalling the Horrors of past wars still seem inappropriate as an art subject – if only because of possible inadvertent trivialization?
  2. Do you think faux war propaganda posters for movies like Star Wars raise real issues about the danger of war (like in Star Wars) ever being presented, even subconsciously, as “fun?”
  3. Are there examples of modern mass postering (like the Obama “HOPE” political posters) that still send “real” and effective messages and information?
  4. What about your own politics drives your feelings on this subject and artform?

When is information true and useful and when is it just “propaganda?” Why in fact is an image or phrase or animated art sequence “propaganda” rather than it simply being a “lie?” What about acceptable lies that define our society as much as they degrade it - - for example commercials that obviously hype a product with untruths or political advertisements full of unachievable platitudes.

Writers: $techgnotic
Designers: $marioluevanos
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0bsidianFire Featured By Owner Nov 9, 2014  Student Digital Artist
1. The thing about faux-propaganda art is that it's so blatantly obvious, you cant' fail to recognize what it is. The use of fictional subject matter can be really helpful because it's an immediate clue that the "message" of the faux-propaganda is completely fake, while the methods that the faux-propaganda are in use all the time. If faux-propaganda art helps people know when they're seeing real propaganda, I think it's an extremely appropriate use of the art form.

2. I don't think faux-propaganda raises real issues about their subject matter, especially as not all propaganda is about war. I do think they raise awareness about propaganda itself as it's so obvious that it is propaganda.

3. Definitely. Name one billboard that isn't propaganda. Same thing for movie posters and newspaper/magazine adds.

4. I was fortunate enough to have parents that taught me from a young age about the logic fallacies used in the advertizing industry, including propaganda. It got to the point where watching advertisements became a contest to see who could figure out what type of propaganda was being used first. For me, advertisements just let me know that a company is selling me a product/service; they usually don't give me a good reason to go and actually buy it. It's actually pretty funny now as I'm studying graphic design and don't get how everyone else views advertisements as they really don't work on me anymore.
JimmyDArtist Featured By Owner Nov 9, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I like the visual look of those fake posters with Bowser and whatnot. It's an interesting art form, and as long as it's not used in a bad way, and is really only for artistic purpose, then it's pretty cool.

It actually remind me of the DA poster from a little while ago. DeviantART San Diego Comic Con 2014 Poster by Artgerm  This is awesome because it has the look of the kinds of posters you're talking about in this journal, but it doesn't have any actual propaganda. It just has the coloring and composition that brings such images to mind. in that regard, this is actually one of my favorite pieces of art I've seen on DA just because of how cool it look. And if there was propaganda, then all it would be is telling people to create art, and that's never a bad thing.
aandongeng Featured By Owner Nov 9, 2014  Professional Traditional Artist
wooow amazing art please check my gallery…
seamusfurr Featured By Owner Nov 6, 2014
I think it works fine as art, but meta-commentary on propaganda using these nostalgic forms is tired, and if anything promotes the false idea that propaganda is something of the past. In fact, it's more present and powerful than ever. Hundreds of millions of dollars of dark money poured into these midterm elections, and all that money went into propaganda, mostly to get one party elected.

What bothers me most of all is the companies using propaganda parody for commercial purposes, trivializing the horrors that this type of communicated expedited.
Uber-Stooge Featured By Owner Nov 6, 2014
this is how the USA elected a 1 term senator with no experience and no resume as President 
sisi4321 Featured By Owner Nov 9, 2014  Student Artist

WARNING! Carry on reading! Or you will die, even if you only looked at the word warning!

Once there was a little girl called Clarissa, she was ten-years-old and she lived in a mental hospital, because she killed her mom and her dad. She got so bad she went to kill all the staff in the hospital so the More-government decided that best idea was to get rid of her so they set up a special room to kill her, as humane as possible but it went wrong the machine they were using went wrong. And she sat there in agony for hours until she died.

Now every week on the day of her death she returns to the person that reads this letter, on a monday night at 12:00a.m. She creeps into your room and kills you slowly, by cutting you and watching you bleed to death.

Now send this to ten other pictures on this one site, and she will haunt someone else who doesn't. This isn't fake. apparently, if u copy and paste this to ten comments in the next ten minutes u will have the best day of ur life tomorrow. u will either get kissed or asked out, if u break this chain u will see a little dead girl in your room tonight. in 53 mins someone will say i love you or im sorry

FLINT79 Featured By Owner Nov 9, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Exactly Uber-Stooge. And we're paying the price for this pop culture "president" run amuck...sickening.
Kraeten Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2014
Unemployment is 5.9%, GM is alive, Bin Laden is dead, we got chemical weapons out of Syria without putting boots on the ground. What troops that remain in Iraq are there to train Iraqi and Kurdish forces to fight ISIS. Now what did Bush do for the country, besides strip us of our right to privacy and get us into two costly wars that we're still paying for today? You conservatives need to get a clue.
MatticusDecimusRex Featured By Owner Nov 9, 2014
Unemployment is at 5.9% because people who haven't been working for over a year aren't counted in those numbers.  Unemployment is TRULY at around 17%.  GM is owned by the government.  Bin Laden stopped being a threat long before he was killed.  Syria is still killing civilians.  Troops are REDEPLOYED to Iraq because the "president" didn't leave a detachment to keep peace.  Our country's credit rating has been downgraded twice under Obama.  We are being racially divided, ideologically divided and economically divided.  If you can't see that, then you need to open your eyes and stop watching The Daily Show.  You're as blind as the people who voted for Obama in 2012.  Sounds like it's the liberals that need to get a clue or maybe more than that.
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