Since 2016, we’ve all been getting an education in the dangers of propaganda and how it has morphed in the 21st century to end up on our screens. Whether it’s memes or posters, TikTok clips or Instagram feeds, the topic of propaganda is everywhere, but do we really understand what it’s all about?
This Sunday, we’re focusing on Propaganda and invited a group of scholars to offer some insight:
- Rome-based writer Anthony Majanlahti tells us the history of a missionary college in Rome that occupies one end of piazza which was the scene of struggle between dueling 17th-century genius architects Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Francesco Borromini. The college and building that housed it is known by its Latin name, the Propaganda Fide, or the Propagation of the Faith, and its street is named the via Propaganda. The author shows that its Baroque decorative elements and the Baroque style in general are not at all passive, but mean to coerce the viewer toward a point of view or conclusion.
- Art historian Miriam Basilio considers the construction of the public image of the brutal Spanish dictator General Francisco Franco and concludes that there are powerful parallels between the image-making machineries employed by his followers and those who declare loyalty to Donald Trump. Both leaders’ public personas are supported by the production of imagery of rituals and ceremonies long associated with absolute monarchy and military might and entwined with religious fanaticism, racism, and anti-leftist political views.
- DB Dowd, an historian of illustration and visual culture discusses the role that illustrators such as James Montgomery Flagg, Howard Chandler Christie, and Charles Dana Gibson, played in producing new forms of ideological persuasion to aid in the war effort during Word War I. He charts the simultaneous development of the birth of a consumer economy and the emergence of modern advertising to show that the methods to sell baking powder, hosiery, and cosmetics were also used to promote willing participation in armed conflict.
- And I speak to artist and technologist An Xiao Mina in our special Sunday Edition podcast to ask why deepfakes, which a number of people were warning would be an issue this election, haven’t played a major role.
This issue is slightly smaller than previous editions as we wanted to produce something quickly for before the election.
I hope these will help you consider what you’re looking at when you’re perusing your feeds and think something might look awry. I do think many of us have antiquated ideas about propaganda and I hope this issue, edited, as always, with the talented Seph Rodney, will help you update some of our ideas, while understanding the history of info manipulation.
I’m reminded of a quote from the American philosopher Eric Hoffer, “Propaganda does not deceive people; it merely helps them to deceive themselves.” It is a good reminder that propaganda often is more personal than we realize, and it might be one of the reasons it is so hard to recognize for many.
We hope you enjoy the issue. Big brother insists you do.
As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever.
Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.