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Nazi Propaganda
February 2, 2012 6:33 PM   Subscribe

During a recent visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., I was reeducated in the power of branding — especially as applied to poster design — at the special exhibition, State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda, which demonstrates how the Nazi party used carefully crafted messages, advertising and design techniques, and then-new technologies (radio, television, film) to sway millions with its vision for a new Germany. (related)
posted by Trurl (28 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Needs a link to Downfall parodies. Very effect "re-imaging" of Hitler.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:38 PM on February 2, 2012


Coincidentally, I am at this very moment watching a documentary "The Architecture of Doom", about the Nazi's aesthetics and intermingling of aesthetics, art, architecture, and the Nazis in general and Hitler in particular.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:44 PM on February 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


The use of Red really makes the posters pop out. Soviet propaganda was very similar.
posted by Renoroc at 7:03 PM on February 2, 2012


This previous post with a link to the Nazi graphics standards seems appropriate.

Also, Susan Sontag's essay Fascinating Fascism, which talks about Nazi iconography.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:03 PM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm kind of struck by how tame the specifically anti-Jewish imagery is. For comparison, check out the anti-Japanese propaganda images (some put out by the US Army).

The Holocaust Memorial Museum is fantastically well done, but I feel like I need about a decade between visits to recover. It looks like I'll have to make an exception for this exhibit, though.
posted by SugarAndSass at 7:06 PM on February 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


We took our 16-year-old daughter to the museum last year, and saw this exhibit. Can't say it was a fun family outing, but we learned a lot. This one hit us the hardest.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:15 PM on February 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


Out of curiosity: does anyone think a similarly-styled propaganda campaign -- not in terms of content, but in terms of delivery -- would be as successful today?

I tend to think people have gotten a lot less credulous when it comes to mass media. Being targeted by constant advertising, for one thing, seems to have inoculated most people in the industrialized world from these kinds of messages; the dissolution via the Internet of top-down, broadcast-style media seems like a contributing factor. At this point, I don't think an old-school propaganda campaign would be nearly as successful.

Although counter-examples do come to mind.

(Note: Not in any way Godwinizing Obama.)
posted by Misunderestimated at 7:28 PM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yikes. Should have said "effective," not "successful." Forgive me. Been drinking.
posted by Misunderestimated at 7:29 PM on February 2, 2012


Misunderestimated: Probably. It created a whole cultural narrative around the poor betrayed afflicted Germans and the dastardly Jewish influence that was like germs. Look around at the narrative some parts of US culture are creating around that dastardly Sharia influence. Want some Freedom Fries with that? If only we sacrifice enough and remain pure enough, we will prevail against these troubled times.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:35 PM on February 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Out of curiosity: does anyone think a similarly-styled propaganda campaign -- not in terms of content, but in terms of delivery -- would be as successful today?

One of my hobbies is matching up contemporary anti-whatever propaganda campaigns against their nineteenth-century ancestors (my line of work), so, yes.
posted by thomas j wise at 7:38 PM on February 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Misunderestimated: You could also look at the way Latino immigrants have been smeared. Sure, there aren't posters everywhere decrying their awfulness, but I bet you'd have a hard time finding someone who wasn't aware of the "they took our jobs!" nonsense. Who needs arty posters when you've got Fox News? Granted, that stereotype only appealed to a certain segment of the population and it's lost traction recently, but I imagine it easily could have spread more if a) the situation in the US were worse and b) the government fully endorsed and advertised the idea that it was entirely the fault of recent immigrants.
posted by SugarAndSass at 7:42 PM on February 2, 2012


See also this video of Steven Heller talking about the design of propaganda in 20th-century totalitarian regimes. He also wrote a book on the topic.

(Full disclosure, the video was taken at a conference I hosted.)
posted by mark7570 at 7:44 PM on February 2, 2012


I'm kind of struck by how tame the specifically anti-Jewish imagery is.

I believe the reason for this is that the posters were meant to exaggerate the stereotype only to the point where it trains the viewer on a subconscious level to see certain facial features as Jewish, and to associate those attributes with whatever negative message the poster was about: fear, suspicion, danger, or whatever traits the Nazis wanted. If they exaggerated the features too much, the caricature becomes more cartoon-like and less menacing. you lose some of the effectiveness. This article goes into it: Identification, Isolation, and Exclusion. It's interesting that there was a concern that if the images were too exaggerated, the educated middle class would be less susceptible, so a conscious effort to present a subtle, more nuanced threat was needed.

As far as the comparison to the U.S.'s anti-Japanese propaganda posters, they generally follow the same rules. Different goals for each poster series required a visibly different design aesthetic. The ones that are designed to invoke emotional responses like fear and anger are generally shown to me more 'realistic', while those posters which are designed to mock the enemy while reminding the population to stay focused are much more caricatured and exaggerated.
posted by chambers at 7:47 PM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


True. But it seems like contemporary propagandists/advertisers have been compelled to find more subtle ways of swaying people. Seems like once upon a time, it was enough to paste up a bunch of posters saying "X = good, Y = bad"; nowadays you have to sell people an idea or a product without making it obvious that you're selling an idea or a product. And so a campaign like this, which was once enough to coerce an entire country into the worst kind of evil, seems almost quaint and ham-handed. No?

Maybe things were just less simplistic then and are more simplistic now than I'm imagining them to be at the moment.
posted by Misunderestimated at 7:51 PM on February 2, 2012


As a German I can not stress enough the Mastery of Language and Mass Hysteria Goebbels and Hitler could incite. All German Kids get a deep and thorough historical "briefing" and I later watched many speeches and rallies myself.

In American and British TV you usually get cut up scenes with a foaming Hitler or Screaming Goebbels, but their speeches were much more nuanced - more like operas.

Plus the German Language is ideal for constructing complex layers, meanings and compositions within the speeches as well as long term political compaigns.

And one has always to remember that Radio (Volksempfänger) was just mass produced, so hearing your leaders voice at home was new, highly progressive and a group experience (since families and neighbors often gathered to here the broadcastings). These people didn't know what hit. We today have a lot of "media competence" and know loads of stuff from TV, but this was totally new ...

Without any sympathy I can say their speeches are brilliant, smart, highly emotional and not "simple" propaganda.
posted by homodigitalis at 8:26 PM on February 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


This article goes into it: Identification, Isolation, and Exclusion.

Which is why the word "liberal" keeps being spoken.

Out of curiosity: does anyone think a similarly-styled propaganda campaign -- not in terms of content, but in terms of delivery -- would be as successful today?

It already has been. Why do you think the current thread in the elections involves "liberals" and "those people." Why do you think 85% of the USA supported invading Iraq and Afghanistan?

The difference between Joseph Goebbles and Rupert Murdoch is Murdoch learned from Goebble's mistakes.
posted by eriko at 8:26 PM on February 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


I guess I should clarify that I was thinking more about the image-driven aspect of these campaigns.

I recognize that the rhetoric was much more nuanced and that we still have semblances of it in present-day politics. But it seems safe to say -- maybe not? -- that the heart of these campaigns was the imagery, the visual branding. That's the part that seems, by today's standards, kind of clunky and obviously disingenuous: the idea that you could play thinly-veiled mind games on the public with a few simple images.
posted by Misunderestimated at 8:41 PM on February 2, 2012


I came away with one overriding question: Has any other organization of any kind, before or after, done a better job of using all the elements of branding and mass communication — symbol, headlines and slogans, color scheme, typography, imagery — to transmit its messages and mold public opinion?

I can think of a couple.
posted by outlandishmarxist at 9:52 PM on February 2, 2012


True. But it seems like contemporary propagandists/advertisers have been compelled to find more subtle ways of swaying people. Seems like once upon a time, it was enough to paste up a bunch of posters saying "X = good, Y = bad"; nowadays you have to sell people an idea or a product without making it obvious that you're selling an idea or a product. And so a campaign like this, which was once enough to coerce an entire country into the worst kind of evil, seems almost quaint and ham-handed. No?

Don't take the images that have become the most famous as representative of the whole. Advertising before the 1950s was often just as subtle as it is now, if not as organized. Let's not forget, in 1918, Freud's nephew, Bernaise, hired a group of suffragettes to march in the armistice parade and light up cigarettes at a key moment in order to encourage women to smoke. (The title of Bernaise's first book on advertising: Propaganda
posted by outlandishmarxist at 9:58 PM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Having read a lot of German writing of the period - most of it by anti-Nazis, or at least liberals - I've come to see at least three levels of propaganda in operation. The first level is that propagated to the "true believers": this is where you get the most extreme anti-Jewish rhetoric, the most extreme statements of Aryan identity. Then, you get a level appealing to the so-called moderates. This kind of propaganda encourages disengagement at best, approval at worst (from "our" perspective). Here is where the more mild propaganda comes in. It allows the more gentile anti-Semites to say, "Look, Hitler doesn't want to annihilate the Jews, he just wants to deport them. After all, shouldn't they go back where they came from?" (Remind you of anything familiar?). Finally, you get the propaganda that is aimed at silencing opponents. This is a more complex kind of propaganda, because it involves shifting the terms of the argument such that your opponents can't make any claims that counter you without looking hysterical. The most successful example of this that I can think of is British colonialism, not Nazism. This creates a situation in which the left is silenced, the liberals acquiesce, the moderate right assents with their usual dignified qualifications, and the hard right controls political action. It's really not that different from the contemporary U.S. situation. If anything is different between the two conditions, it's that you can't become Chancellor/President with 30% of the vote.
posted by outlandishmarxist at 10:13 PM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you want to see the three levels at work here, compare Ron Paul's newsletters with his televised debates.
posted by outlandishmarxist at 10:14 PM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Out of curiosity: does anyone think a similarly-styled propaganda campaign -- not in terms of content, but in terms of delivery -- would be as successful today?

We've got plenty of it here already. From tv shows like 24, to movies like Act of Valor (and really any movie "approved of" by any branch of the military) to video games that all have a very once sided view. Heck, as said, listen to the speeches given lately and tell me you don't see it too. Mocking Europe (who has been at this longer and more successfully than us), "obamacare" (whenever i hear someone use that term, i don't believe a single word out of their mouth after, even if they said the sky was blue), and the rising calls against Iran (guess why we are pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan?). There is also the fact that whenever you hear the world soldier, you hear them automatically referred to as hero, no matter what they may have done. (torture, urinating on the enemy, killing civilians, etc) The propaganda is alive and strong here, and people are falling for it hook line and sinker.
posted by usagizero at 11:05 PM on February 2, 2012


Out of curiosity: does anyone think a similarly-styled propaganda campaign -- not in terms of content, but in terms of delivery -- would be as successful today?

Nah,
it'll
never
work.

Fortunately,
we're
beyond (info)
that
now.
posted by formless at 11:16 PM on February 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


Wow. Is this supposed to pro-Bush propaganda? I can kind of see what they were going for, but with those eyes, he looks like nothing so much as the Antichrist.

Still -- point taken.
posted by Misunderestimated at 6:46 AM on February 3, 2012


Yeah, not to Godwin modern politics, but you have to read this through a filtre of the changing art styles and medium delivery too- remember our printing and visual/audio capacities have changed, and what is almost a century past is liable to have very different art esthetics. So it's one part the tools of delivery and one part the same reason why I don't put rats in my permed hair and most men only wear hats to keep the warmth in or the sun off their head, not as a social courtesy.

People decry the death of the powerful sermon too, and they're right that a lot of church delivered stuff is bland and empty, but to give an example of a modern sermon that we all love around here, you have the TED talks. Bear with me, I don't mean that in the lolxtian sense of some caricature preacher bloviating on a limited range of rhetoric- I mean that it's an emotionally uplifting presentation through the medium of a single speaker, talking about things which both explicitly effect our lives but are also as remote to many people as the gods they worship- basically (to give a memorable example) the pig-masturbating-European research, which is only going to show very small deliverables in the price of pork, but is both entertaining to hear about and has a moral (research is GOOD) and cheering counterpoint to doom n'gloom reports on the status of the world and human nature. It might my edifying and funny, but it's still a pleasure for its own sake- if it's technically under the umbrella of a lecture, the distinction is only in a lack of explicitly religious content, and powerful sermons of the past were often similarly delivered with more than biblical parables packed in.

And didn't we, even the Canadians and foreigners, all line up to hear Obama's recorded speeches? The man is a powerful speaker and this is part of his political kit bag. This does not make him the next HitlerStalinMao, this is a form of human art (and to say Hitler was a powerful speaker does not mean you agree with what he said). Most of us are enjoying hearing what we already believe in from Obama- because it's very validating to hear what you agree with articulated well from a widely appreciated and valued human. This is something that can be hijacked for good or for evil but like mud or water, is not an inherently moral force.

But our sermons and speeches and propaganda campaigns don't look like 19(30)40s era posters and radio presentations because, for example, I can relatively cheaply print just like life quality photos so I don't need to use acid etched tiles and block colours to stay under budget if I want to reach a few thousand people. Of course there's mass campaigns to get people on board with something still- maybe not on the scope of motivating an entire country into a plan; we don't live in a monomaniacal dictatorship, and we first worlders are not dealing with problems on the epic scale of say, the mass starvations Germany dealt with in the interwar period, or the problem of making the Nazis get the hell out of Eastern Europe before they got firmly entrenched enough to send your grandmother to a death camp (all while trying to become an industrial world power), but plenty of smaller campaigns from private and public sources through an immense amount of propaganda our way- Pink, kitschy Breast Cancer worship, Red lurid AIDS fighting, be-rainbowed gay marriage, the shambling headless stock footage of anti-obesity edu-shame news reports- recognizable iconography and branding is used all the time to push agendas, good or bad.
posted by Phalene at 6:51 AM on February 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


> Out of curiosity: does anyone think a similarly-styled propaganda campaign -- not in terms of content, but in terms of delivery -- would be as successful today?

In 2003 in the environment that I was in the Bush-Cheney Iraq misadventure was so well marketed that questioning the idea was considered the equivalent of "not supporting our troops" or "hating America". Those are direct quotations from intelligent friends of mine. In 2008 one of them apologized to me and said that I was the only person he knew on the entire planet who knew that it was a bad idea when we were doing it. The published opinion polls in those days were only 50-60% in favor of waging war and there were a small number of sizeable public protests but the mainstream media message and most polite private talk that I was aware of was unambiguously "bring 'em on" and let's bomb those fuckers back into the stone age.

Most of the people posting on metafilter knew better but this was like a transmission from a parallel universe to the one I was coping with 24/7.
posted by bukvich at 8:47 AM on February 3, 2012


Misunderestimated: Out of curiosity: does anyone think a similarly-styled propaganda campaign -- not in terms of content, but in terms of delivery -- would be as successful today?

SugarAndSass: Misunderestimated: You could also look at the way Latino immigrants have been smeared. Sure, there aren't posters everywhere decrying their awfulness, but I bet you'd have a hard time finding someone who wasn't aware of the "they took our jobs!" nonsense. Who needs arty posters when you've got Fox News?

Since Misunderestimated specified the delivery type, your argument is apples to his oranges.

formless provided a stellar affirmative answer, however. This is my shocked face...
posted by IAmBroom at 10:25 AM on February 3, 2012


The title of Bernaise's first book on advertising: Propaganda
His second: Public Relations
posted by yoHighness at 3:55 AM on February 4, 2012


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