Propaganda is the use of ideas or statements, often false or exaggerated, that are spread in order to help a cause, a political leader, a government, etc. Propaganda is often used, not to change our opinion, but to reinforce it. Whether it’s our opinion, prejudices, or attitudes, propaganda is designed to manipulate our emotions into action, or inaction, depending on the circumstance.
Although propaganda is most often associated with wartime and national crisis, it can and has been used to get people to conform and act a certain way for many, many years.
Here are just a few examples of propaganda and the psychology behind them.
This poster is an example of wartime propaganda. This type of propaganda takes a concept people hold dear, in this case, the Bible, and depicts the enemy desecrating it. In this example, it’s more than just the Bible, it’s Christianity as a whole, depicting the Nazis as anti-Christian and out to destroy the religion.
Many Americans weren’t able to go overseas to fight in war, but that didn’t stop the government from enlisting them for help. This type of propaganda poster pulls people in, calling it “your war,” and shows citizens how they can help. The intention is to make individuals feel like they aren’t helping soldiers if they aren’t monetarily supporting the war efforts.
When the West was still vast and empty, propaganda was used to encourage people to move. This particular poster was aimed at immigrants, many of which were poor, hungry, and working in conditions unlike anything they had experienced before. The poster highlights the core issues through visual ques and promises a different life: plenty of food, private land, room for farmers, and a great climate.
At different points in time, different diseases ran rampant through the country. Syphilis was one such disease. While syphilis is curable, without treatment it is fatal. This propaganda poster addresses the embarrassment people felt about getting tested and encouraged them to have their blood tested despite such embarrassment.
One way civilians were asked to support the troops during WWII was through manual labor. The more production, people were told, the better chance we’d beat the enemy. This propaganda takes it a step further by weighing on the fear citizen’s may have harbored that if they took a day off work, they were no longer supporting our troops, but those we were fighting.
Another popular poster from WWII, Rosie the Riveter, became a household name and icon. Since so many men were away at war, bodies were needed in factories and offices across the country. Rosie gave women the encouragement and confidence to take over traditionally male roles.
Americans have always been encouraged to buy products made in the US. Many times the purchasing of products manufactured on home soil is directly linked to patriotism. This piece of propaganda employs a parents love of their children to encourage a specific reaction. It adds an element of guilt by leading people to believe by not purchasing American made items, they were doing their children a disservice. After all, only American made goods are good enough for American children.
Another aspect of propaganda addresses illegal, and what are often considered immoral, actions. This propaganda poster links prostitution to venereal diseases. Perhaps the “smash” and fist are a reminder to those men who have suffered from the disease gonorrhea and its treatment, which included a swift and hard “clap” with the hands over the penis, or worse, two books.