Student Projects/Propaganda film

We live in a world heavily influenced and dominated by media. All kinds of media, especially visual media, exerts a huge influence on people. We see the potential positive power of the media. Media communication systems are capable of sharing ideas across physical distances and making them known despite cultural differences. It provides a ‘voice to the people’ and can be used to represent the political views of the minority as well as a majority of the population.

However, we are critical and distasteful of the ways in which media are actually working. These powerful means of communication are often misused by people controlling them. The fears about the political ends to which the media can be put relate to the way in which media can be used by political parties to control people. While the totalitarian fascist and communist regimes of the 1930s inspired these fears, the political use of media also occurs in democratic societies, where advertisements, films, etc are used as tools of political propaganda to brainwash the people.

Propaganda is defined as information, ideas, opinions, or images, often only giving one part of an argument, that is broadcast, published, or in some other way spread with the intention of influencing people’s opinions. In the most neutral sense, propaganda means to disseminate or promote a particular idea. It is anything meant to convince people to think or act in a certain way. Propaganda can be concealed or open, emotional or containing appelas to reason, or a combination of emotional and logical appeal. Though propaganda is normally given a negative connotation, it in itself is neither a negative or positive term. Morality enters the picture only when one judges the ends for which propaganda is used. If propaganda is used for a positive outcome, then it can be called positive, and if it is used to degrade or damage, then propaganda can be considered negative. Propaganda is a modern Latin word, which means ‘that which is to be propagated’. Originally, this word derived from a new administrative body of the Catholic Church, created in 1622 as part of the Counter Reformation, called the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide which means society for the propagation of faith. From the 1790s, the term began being used also to refer to propaganda in secular activities. The term began taking a pejorative or negative connotation in the mid 19th century when it was used in the political sphere.

Propaganda has been used for virtually the entire course of human history. The concept of propaganda dates back to 515 BC. Behiston inscription, a multilingual inscription made by Darius 1 at the Mount Behiston, is considered as an early example of propaganda, by many historians. It depicts the Darius 1’s rise to the Persian throne. Many civilizations were not able to produce any form of propaganda. People of Athens, Greek realized that public opinion can be swayed with the help of plays, open court, and religious festivals. The playwrights deliberately wrote about political, moral, and social issues with the intention of changing the public opinion. In the 13th century, Pope Urban 11 used religious propaganda to gain support for crusades. In 1500s Martin Luther made use of the newly invented printing press to make first forms of propaganda (according to modern definitions). He printed pamphlets and distributed it among people. Japanese used this tactic to keep the will of their soldiers during long wars. By the nineteenth century, propaganda emerged into the form we see today. Literacy of the people and the attention they showed in politics made the politicians think about the need to sway the public opinion. One among the most notorious examples of propaganda is the use of it during the Indian rebellion 1857. Indian sepoys rebelled against the British East India Company’s rule in India. The British exaggerated the acts of Indian sepoys and sometimes even fabricated the tales of Indian men raping English women. The intention behind this was to depict Indians as barbaric people in front of the world and thereby reinforce the notion of white man’s burden to rule, induce order and instill culture among the less civilized people who could not even be trusted to rule themselves.

World War 1 was the first war in which mass media and propaganda played a significant role in keeping the people at home, informed about what was occurring on the battlefields. This was also the first war in which the government produced organized propaganda on a large scale as a way to target the public and alter their opinion. In the war's initial stages, propaganda output was greatly increased by the British and German governments, to persuade their populace in the justness of their cause, to encourage voluntary recruitment, and above all to demonize the enemy. Heavy use was made of posters, as well as the new medium of film.

Adolf Hitler once famously said: “Propaganda, propaganda, propaganda, all that matters is propaganda” (Welch 1). Nazis created an elaborate system of propaganda that made use of the new technologies of the 20th century including cinema. They valued film as a propaganda tool of enormous power. The unique ability of films to reproduce images, movement, and sound in an extremely lifelike manner might be a reason for this. The film was often used in political campaigning even before television. Noam Chomsky says: “Each medium is particularly suited to a certain type of propaganda. The movies and human contacts are the best media for sociological propaganda in terms of social climate, slow infiltration, progressive inroads, and over-all integration” (120). In the early 20th century, the invention of motion pictures gave propaganda creators a powerful tool for advancing political and military interests. They used film as a tool to reach common people and to create consent or encourage rejection of their enemy. In the years following the October Revolution of 1917, the Soviet government sponsored the Russian film industry with the intention of making propaganda films, like Battleship Potemkin, which portrays the cruelties of the Tsar dynasty. In World War II, Nazi filmmakers produced highly emotional films to create popular support for occupying the Sudetenland and attacking Poland. The 1930s and 1940s, which saw the rise of totalitarian states and the Second World War, are arguably the "Golden Age of Propaganda". Leni Riefenstahl, a filmmaker working in Nazi Germany, created one of the best-known propaganda movies, Triumph of the Will. In the Unites States of America, animation became popular, especially for winning over youthful audiences and aiding the U.S. war effort. For instance, Der Fuehrer's Face, an American animated Anti-Nazi propaganda ridicules Hitler and advocates the value of freedom. US war films in the early 1940s were designed to create a patriotic mindset and convince viewers that sacrifices needed to be made to defeat the Axis Powers.

Propaganda is not limited to totalitarian societies. In modern democratic societies too, we are exposed to an enormous amount of propaganda, in the form of fake news, advertisements, films, etc. But because of the increased literacy of people and awareness about them being manipulated, people have grown more conscious. But still, there are efforts from the part of institutions, including government, to manipulate the unconscious of the masses.

Propaganda in modern times has become both easier and harder to detect. It is easier in the sense that there are more places to get information and it is easier to fact check the claims of mainstream media by going to the original report or source and seeing it for yourself. It is harder in the sense that people, today, are busy and distracted and all too often we tend to forget that efforts are made by people to manipulate us. In democratic countries, people often tend to dismiss propaganda as something used by advertising companies to persuade people to buy their products. But this is not the case. An enormous amount of propaganda surrounds us in different guises without us being aware of it.