Pulp Librarian+ Your Authors @PulpLibrarian Curator of the art, history and fiction of old dreams. Jun. 02, 2020 3 min read + Your Authors

Today in pulp I look back at the art of the propaganda poster, and some of the techniques people have used over the years to sway public opinion...

Propaganda is one of the earliest forms of Public Relations; and tries to change how an audience feels about a subject by using strong, emotive imagery or messaging.

Building on theories of group psychology, particularly methods to create in-groups and out-groups, propaganda aims to simplify and then exaggerate differences between 'us' and 'them' by appealing to emotions and pre-existing cognitive biases.

It also reinforces membership of the in-group by emphasising its superior moral value. In the world of propaganda everyone has to pick a side.

The first widespread and systematic use of propaganda probably began during world war one. Both sides in the conflict mobilized the power of mass advertising to shore up the national war effort, establishing government-run information units to coordinate efforts.

Many of the most effective techniques of propaganda were pioneered during WW1 and have been used ever since in subsequent campaigns. So let's look at a few...

Propaganda can be divided into two broad types: tactical and strategic. Tactical propaganda seeks a specific short-term outcome: for example raising money or protecting information.

Strategic propaganda aims to mould attitudes, beliefs or identity amongst a group of people, often by setting up a powerful and emotional sense of difference between them and the enemy group.

Appeals to nationalism or other existing in-group characteristics is one of the hallmarks of early propaganda. National honour and duty was strongly emphasised in these.

In a similar vein solidarity with other nations is also emphasised in wartime propaganda. In-group membership is extended to prove that each side is part of a worldwide joint endeavor which will lead to inevitable victory.

Propaganda tends to demonize its opponents, often through caricature and exaggeration. The enemy is sub-human, wicked or morally flawed. Racial stereotypes are frequently used to emphasise this.

Atrocities - real or invented - are also a staple of the propaganda poster. The enemy is depicted as going beyond the boundaries of ethical behaviour and the audience is challenged to respond to this provocation.

Maternal instincts are a powerful psychological tool used in a number of propaganda posters. The mother defending her child serves a double purpose in these: demonstrating the resolve needed to win and shaming those who refuse to get involved in the struggle.

Anti-colonialism is also a popular trope in many persuasion campaigns: the colonial powers are shown as a rapacious out-group which must be resisted and overthrown.

But the most popular of the out-group techniques is to attack the enemy leader: to show them as wicked and powerful, but also as weak and defeatable. The aim here is to convince the in-group that with proper mobilisation and sacrifice victory can be secured against the enemy.

In contrast in-group propaganda seeks to build group cohesion and identity. At it's most basic this can involve lionising the group leader, either as protector or saviour.

Another in-group technique is to focus on an 'everyman' character or unsung hero to emphasise the moral value and superiority of every member of the in-group.

In-group members are shown as friendly, fair-minded and without prejudice. They recognise and honour others and exemplify noble human characteristics in a modest, humble way.

In contrast the out-group, even if it presents itself as reasonable or peaceful, cannot be trusted and will inevitably undermine and ruin the moral worth of the in-group.

With the rise of social media it's never been easier to create and distribute propaganda. But no matter what the medium the message is the same: it's us versus them so pick a side.

But before you do, please take a moment to think. After all that's what freedom's all about...


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