Sincere or deceptive, shocking or amusing.
The British Library’s extensive and thorough exhibition, Propaganda: Power and Persuasion focuses on different definitions of propaganda and seeks to distance the viewer from the often negative connotations associated with the word.
It starts with early forms of propaganda, explaining the way in which the Romans used pictures on coins to reach the illiterate public. The exhibition explains how authorities have continued to manipulate the arts, using currency, monuments, national anthems, comic books and even board games to reach the masses.
A hugely comprehensive and information-heavy exhibition, I would advise allowing a good few hours at the British Library if you want to see everything in detail!
The exhibition offers thorough contextual information that is vital to understanding propaganda which is often carefully tailored to best suit specific cultures, societies and eras. While there is a lot to read, present-day academics and media people have also been filmed talking about various aspects of propaganda. Clips of these films are shown throughout the exhibition.
I also particularly enjoyed some short black and white films from the World Wars that were almost like black comedy in their satire of enemy nations. One film ridiculing Hitler used video footage of Nazi marches and salutes. The footage was cut up, sped up, slowed down, mashed together and put to comical music in an attempt to undermine the enemy.
Another highlight was an audio clip from a 1941 radio show in which two women discuss saving money at Christmas by serving mutton instead of turkey. The comical episode follows their discussion as they discuss ways of eating mutton as turkey and decide to name it ‘murkey’.
The exhibition also showed the ways in which propaganda is used by the state for other issues such as health. A series of screens displayed the BFI collection of public health films. Some used shock tactics, while others were funny. I wonder which method is found to be most effective.
The last section of the exhibition asks the visitor to reflect on who the propagandists are today: the state or the media? The last exhibit is an entire wall taken up with the projections of a live twitter debate on #BLPROPAGANDA
This blog post has only vaguely touched on the absolutely huge content of ‘Propaganda: Power and Persuasion’. It is a fascinating exhibition for anyone, particularly in the way it encourages deeper thoughts about what is pulling and pushing us today.
‘Propaganda: Power and Persuasion’ is only on for a few more weeks until 17th September. Catch it while you can!