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Submitted on
November 15, 2012
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Faux Propaganda Art

Thu Nov 15, 2012, 8:52 PM

Propaganda I by Yuujakumi

by techgnotic

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.”

propaganda by ~DrabRats

“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.

Sheppard Fairey’s Obama poster was propaganda - - for good, I believe, just like the peace sign - - even though it owes its context to posters of Moa 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 Moa 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.


QuestionsFor 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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HbTurner Featured By Owner Nov 24, 2013
My favourite one has got to be the face-cream advert with added 'boswolox'does anybody actually go for that??
Flagged as Spam
zhoutengshan Featured By Owner Oct 6, 2013
Hello, thank you very much, I wish you a healthy body,
anon-screaming Featured By Owner Aug 31, 2013
I think modern propaganda art is vital to our society, there are hundreds of things wrong that need to be called out especially, with complacency and mindless obedience. Art can be a wonderful way to call people out on their faults. Even with a simple Star Wars war propaganda poster, I don't know if everyone truly realizes it was war since the entire movie was sugar-coated in Hollywood. It's good to have the posters even if it just sparks something small in the back of your mind. The poster "'Us' vs. 'Them'" wasn't meant for you to dispose of all your electronics and run for the hills, but it makes you think about things again, maybe even fear things a little, maybe to do what little you can to make a small step for our society, maybe nothing at all. But it shows that there is something slightly wrong. On the other hand you have the Obama HOPE signs that, in my opinion, were more of advertisement created by Shepard Fairey that helped Obama's campaign. I'm not sure if that matches the "propaganda" category but Fairey did want Obama to become president and he did what he could to make it happen.
These "propaganda" posters are not brainwashing people, just trying to make them think for themselves. Sometimes that's the most powerful thing you can do. There's a quote from V for Vendetta to answer the question though: "Artists use lies to tell the truth, while politicians use them to cover up the truth." 
702195ms Featured By Owner Aug 21, 2013
i think if we want to make a difference, start with yourself, grow a conscience! Think wise! Be generous!
Danielcraigsurfer Featured By Owner Aug 17, 2013
TaeYoongJoongSa Featured By Owner Aug 17, 2013
   I could post any work of art "that looks dark or evil"   but EVEN WITHOUT INTENTION OF MESSAGE OR REGARDLESS  it's still art, and that's why I would
  do it  if I make / create or post pictures like that.  The real idea behind it for me  most of the time is simply art itself, whether I created and posted it, or
  like another picture.  It's just like movies and videogames and villains or antiheroes ...  they're just characters and if you like them you're a fan

 Just because I like Sub Zero or Scorpion from Mortal Kombat or Megatron or Sixshot from Transformers doesn't mean I'm a bad person. They're just
  characters I'm a fan of, and in their own ficitional / fantasy universe  they have their place
TaeYoongJoongSa Featured By Owner Aug 17, 2013
  I don't make that type of artwork  (faux propraganda  or anything towards the "idea of propaganda"  but unless it's totally abstract, art still represents
 something). The thing about some art is that it can be viewed in many or some other ways, and not just one ...  but the thing with faux propaganda is
 that it usually represents oppression, power, politics, or war in some way and usually evil or aggressive in some way ...  and that's obvious when you look at them, but of course the people making it (and  especially back in the past)  wanted to manipulate people into thinking "it's the right way to go, the
  right thing to support"  when in fact it's obviously propaganda ...  and most of the time, usually the only people who follow are already in prejudice, unless
  they're  really naiave and easily manipulated.  Either way  they're idiots.

 By today, if it was simply posted on DeviantART  or some other gallery of art,  maybe the intention  "is simply art"  but  REGARDLESS OF INTENTION   it still represents an idea
BigMansini Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2013  Professional General Artist
I feel that we live in a trivialized society in general (at least here in America) and that any attempts to make good use of propaganda will swiftly be met with cynicism or overzealousness. There was a time when it seemed the world knew what good and evil was and it was so easy to know right from wrong. But nowadays there is so much grey area that any one particular viewpoint will simply lead you down an infinitely confounding path. 
Vengefulpadre Featured By Owner Aug 13, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Where do I submit mine?
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