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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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artstasndarts Featured By Owner Nov 25, 2013
It`s simply declared. Everybody incl. me-- needs in deed--something to believe in,or to long for.That`s a fact none can deny.The difficulty
is to make different what about the legal and right way.It`s the context for everything in Life. Excapt it and you fare well.
revolutionarybum Featured By Owner Nov 25, 2013
Examen any subject of interest from as many points of view as posable not just the US corporate media, check other countries, our small but insightful independent press... Journalists,, FSTV, Link TV just to name a few. There are a couple of really good 'conservative' UK publications too were the C word has very little in common with our version... just my 2 cents.
BryanMount Featured By Owner Nov 24, 2013
34 pages? lol 
BryanMount Featured By Owner Nov 24, 2013
Be free thinkers and express yourself. The whole idea of Art is to share your perspective, and let others make their own conclusion. Even if McDonalds wants to lie, and call their "food" food, they have the right too. It is up to each of us to determine what is real, and a lie. If we took freedom out of art, art itself would be pointless, and freedom less art is propaganda. After all, we all have the ability to think, it is not a right, but an inherent ability. I don't choose sides, I choose truth, there is a big difference.
rickeyrontwo Featured By Owner Nov 24, 2013
Most of what I see when I watch commercial TV is propoganda.  That's why I never watch TV.  Not anymore.  The propaganda I see on TV goes deeper than "us" vs "them" -  they are going for US vs US. Divide and conquer.  On one CSI-type affair, a man was simply walking down the street when he was doused with gasoline and set on fire.  My wife was aghast watching him lay on the ground and burn to death while a crowd of bystanders did nothing.  She exclaimed:  "Why doesn't anyone stop to help the man?  Throw a coat over him of somethiing?  Jeez, he's burning to death."  I would have told her that she was being indoctrinated to believe that this is the way people act.  You DO NOT help someone in trouble.  YOU DO NOT STAND UP AS A GROUP.   No, you watch him burn.  And welcome to the Matrix.

Another excursion into TV land got me a glimpse of some man's dream sequence.  He dreamed he was back on that jet that hit the Pentagon on 9/11.   He ran through the wreckage and burniing fire to rescue someone who was trapped in row two.   Great piece of propaganda in taht no jst hit the Pentagon on 9/11.  No passeners were ever found. No luggage.  No jet engines.   Nothing.  Because there was no jet.

Except in the minds of those who want to convince you there was.

Solution:  It starts when you turn off the TV.   Stay as far away from commercial TV, processed foods, tap water, Aspartame, Newsweek, Time, FOX, CNN, over the counter and RX.   Get out of the matric.

Linkard777 Featured By Owner Nov 24, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
I do and don't agree with you. I totally agree that propaganda is omni-present now, but at the same time (maybe I'm not american, that's what helps ;) ) I can differentiate propaganda and reality, so the propaganda doesn't have much effect on me. 

P.S: Is the anecdote about your wife true?
rickeyrontwo Featured By Owner Dec 26, 2013
Yes it's true.  Good propaganda can't easily be discerned.   Where do you live?   I'm here in Colorado, USA>

Linkard777 Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
I live in NC, USA, but I'm originaly from Lyon, France.
JuanMilagro Featured By Owner Nov 24, 2013
Answers to your questions:
1) Yes, I do like faux propaganda because it teaches me to recognise the real thing when I see it.

2) Yes, but not among the young. The young are always susceptible to such manipulation. It is like sex. Older people must guide the through the process of coping with such stimuli.

3) Yes, surprisingly enough. Although, I think that the two candidate chosen played right into the hands of Democrats. Stop and think about it for a moment. We were first  given a choice between an outright leftist in Barak Obama, but then an obvious fascist in John McCain. Praise all that is wisdom that we chose Barak Obama. The next time we were given a choice between Barak Obama and the inventor of Obamacare, Mitt Romney. Throw in the effectiveness of Obama's campaign machine, backed by all the wigged out billionaires in the software business, like Bill Gates and Eric Schmitt and you have an all but guaranteed victory for Obama. Not that Romney was ever a bargain. He wasn't. He was "Obama-lite."

Of course, the GOP is sticking with the advice of the ever bumbling and ineffectual Karl Rove--a rich ne'er-do-well if I have ever seen one. I fully expect to see the United States go the way of NAZI Germany. President Obama's body language speaks volumes. So does Harry Reid's behaviour in the US Senate. The Democrats are behaving as though there won't be any Republicans at all tomorrow and they might well be right on that score.

4) I think of propaganda as a tool or a weapon, if you will. Thinking people are not susceptible to it, but then how many of us go around thinking about everything we see and hear? I try to and it makes me a pain in the ass to live with. Even I am susceptible to this "propaganda" art. Why? Because art itself is a form of communication. If it failed to convey ideas then there would be no need for it at all. It would purely be a waste of time. The bulk of everything you see on television is intended to either make you think about something a certain way, or to not think at all. It has gotten so bad that I only barely watch it at all.
XT1 Featured By Owner Nov 24, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Morden Faux Propaganda is fun reminders of the past properganda. It shows the power of them. I do feel like its not bad for it as long as they can bring out the topics needed to be talked about. But we have to remember to find what is the message. Thats the most important part.
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