The Digital Journalist

Plus C'est la Propaganda
July 2007

by Beverly Spicer

Sometimes it is interesting to take a refresher course in something one has studied in the past. After initially delving into a subject, it's not uncommon to tuck information away with a confidence that fails to take into account the changing circumstances. New perspectives may be required to forge a new consensus. The French say, "Plus ça change, plus c'est la méme chose." The more things change, the more they stay the same. Newfound consensus may very well bring us back to the same original conclusion, but review is a rewarding exercise that illustrates the principle of return and renewal, and suggests that life is cyclical in nature. There is nothing new under the sun, but we tend to forget it. And, oui. Plus ça change, plus c'est la méme chose.

Today's media environment is full of spin, opinion and attempts to persuade, coerce and convince an increasingly confused public of the validity of a point of view. Following is an instruction film from the '40s or early '50s about the greatest tool and/or enemy of the Fourth Estate. Click on the image to see this highly entertaining clip, "Propaganda Techniques," and see if you think plus ça change, plus c'est la méme chose.

Some of the propaganda that was passed off as instructive in the past is now laughable. Here is a great example of vintage right-wing propaganda that is short, sweet, and to the point, as well as fun, especially for those of us who grew up in the 1950s. Click on the image to see "1984 or Bust."

From the left, here's an example of current, digitally animated propaganda criticizing the War on Terror as a pretext for a fascist takeover, directed and produced in the UK by Knife Party.

Here's one from 1965. An organization called Citizens for Decent Literature proudly presented an anti-pornography, anti-homosexual propaganda film called "Perversion for Profit," hosted by Mr. George Putnam, identified in the credits as "Outstanding News Reporter." If this film isn't persuasive enough to make you march in the streets against corruption of the culture, I don't know what is. Click on the image to be instructed, but first send anyone under 18 out of the room.

We all know the line between reality and fantasy has been increasingly blurry since the advent of photography and film. As we capture images, reality can be manipulated for purposes of persuasion or to stop time by simply lingering on an emotion, a remembrance, or an event. Before photography, painters attempted to represent their visions of reality, so in fact, maybe fantasy and reality have been merging ever since humans pressed their vegetable-dye or blood-stained palms to the ceilings of Paleolithic caves in southwestern France some 20,000 years ago. We have experienced a noticeable blurring of contemporary reality in the last six years. The president of the United States has boasted of his ability to control fantasy vs. fiction and says blatantly that he can determine what is real. He knows that fictions can be created, manipulated, and passed off as authentic at the wave of the hand, the click of the finger, or through repeated repetitions, all tools of the propagandist. There is no more dramatic theater than reading the newspaper or watching the news these days. The following clip is aptly named, "Our World is a Movie."

I have a friend, a frequent lunch companion, who is an artist, musician and philosopher. He often suggests that the world is nothing more than grande illusion – figments and visions of light – just sensory impressions of movement and form. As a fellow photographer and artist, I see what he means, but cannot agree there is nothing real, though he's tried to convince me of that for years. On the other hand, the utter subjectivity of photography has always puzzled me, and when I see the proliferation of images available in books and the media, on the Internet and in galleries, it occurs to me that maybe everything is subjective, and nothing real can be said about anything. Grappling with this preponderance of subjectivity, I have to admit that most attempts to describe anything are at best snapshots of reality, and when presented with a point of view, propaganda. It is certainly an idea worth visiting and revisiting. Plus ça change, plus c’est la propaganda.

© Beverly Spicer

Beverly Spicer is a writer, photojournalist, and cartoonist, who faithfully chronicled The International Photo Congresses in Rockport, Maine, from 1987 to 1991. Her book, THE KA'BAH: RHYTHMS OF CULTURE, FAITH AND PHYSIOLOGY, was published in 2003 by University Press of America. She lives in Austin.