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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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Vengefulpadre Featured By Owner Aug 13, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Where do I submit mine?
Oslowgurthe Featured By Owner Aug 13, 2013  Professional Filmographer
Generally good work, some serious and some satirical. there is a certain satisfaction in distorting the traditional propaganda artwork-especially those that poke fun or point out the lies and/or distortions of religious,political and/or social change groups. 
hadasaugh Featured By Owner Aug 13, 2013  Professional General Artist

In my opinion, the contemporary examples of mass postering are political campaigns, mass media's regurgitation of spoon-fed information to the population, and ALL advertising.  These are not posters, but they do represent an updated and more aggressive use of propaganda to get you to buy something - whether it is to buy goods and services, or to purchase mental "safety" by complying with the message.  Examples are - vote for me because the other person is bad for America; buy our product and your life will be better; watch our news because it is flashy, lacks content, and you won't have to think or worry about reality because we'll think for you.  And the underlying theme (drum roll) - FEAR!


From a literal poster perspective, corporate Hollywood (which is all of Hollywood), uses the poster art propaganda for both messages - to sell something and to sell compliance.  Almost all Hollywood movies have either a "good conquers evil" or "love conquers all" theme - which in itself is garnering compliance of the masses through repetitious delivery of the same message in every movie, every day, every year.  The cliche' happy ending feeds you your safety and your subconscious marches in lock-step with the movie's message - the guy always gets the girl because he defeated the evil bully, and the hero conquers the enemy with virtue, a strong work ethic, and a flashy smile.  So, YOU MUST DO THE SAME (or else) - whoops, there's that fear thing again!   



axis000 Featured By Owner Aug 12, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
art have nothing to do with it...humans go to battle everyday ... sometimes it's "blue vs red", "curve or straight", as long as it is cool, humans will forever remember it... faux propaganda art is beautiful and that's probably why we keep on making it.
DuBrae-James Featured By Owner Aug 12, 2013  Professional General Artist
The problem as I see it is not the propaganda, but the inability of many in the population to interpret and understand it for what it is; ART.   The arts have always been construed around a metaphysics whether that be religious art or fairy tales in a children's anthology.  The power of this propaganda/come art is that it touches the emotions and takes the individual away from the painful truths.  Of course soldiers with guns and grenades are going to be presented as heroes.  Of course we are going to conceptualise these images according to our personal experiences, which for many women is the power of patriarchy, oppression and violence.  Can we transcend the impacts of the politics and appreciate the 'artful' communication?  'Yes we can!'    Can we draw on the visuals of devious propaganda to create good communications, such as the poignant messages conveyed in the posters highlighting poverty and mental illness? 'Yes we can!'
JeffreyRebowlski Featured By Owner Aug 12, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
It seems that companies are taking polls 
-coke v Pepsi
no different than
Elephant v Donkey 
Brendoon Featured By Owner Aug 12, 2013
Here in New Zealand the government definitely used a long series of "Us vs Them" campaigns to turn us against people who smoke. The content had nothing to do with health and everything to do with emotionally excluding part of our community. 
How can these guys be my government, my representatives? 
faeorain Featured By Owner Aug 12, 2013  Student Traditional Artist
It would seem that one person's truth is another person's propaganda. Even when it is blatantly obvious to most that something is false, there will still be a certain percentage of people who will still believe it. It has been used in the United States since it was founded, by all political parties. People have to be open to the real truth, and that it the problem, and the reason why propaganda is so effective. Those in positions of power know that the majority of people would sooner accept an idea that is comforting, even if it's false, rather than to face a harsh reality. The truth can be really frightening sometimes.

I don't find commercials that exaggerate a product to be acceptable, I find them to be irritating. I usually complain about them to a point that makes my son yell at me to stop bitching about it, :giggle:  I also don't vote for obvious liars who make promises they know they cannot keep, simply to win an election.
DrawerAnonymous Featured By Owner Aug 12, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
This might be mostly an unrelated topic, but I'm curious to why a lot of companies make dumb commercials that you would see on TV.  Is it to entertain or is there something else to it?
TaeYoongJoongSa Featured By Owner Aug 17, 2013
  Obviously to sell and market something  but yeah I guess to entertain us sometimes too ...  even though some are dumb and lame, and don't even
 have anything to do with the product. Some advertisements are just made to take notice, such as sexual advertisement  
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