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Film Propaganda

In this essay I am going to discuss the ways in which film has been used for war propaganda by concentrating on post 9/11 war films. I will first offer a look into the history of film propaganda by giving early examples and why film is a useful tool when it comes to propaganda. First I will start by offering the definition of ‘propaganda’: “information, ideas, or rumours deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc. ” (“The Definition of Propaganda”)

Propaganda films are used to convince their viewers to follow a particular political opinion or to sway the views of the viewer, usually by giving them subjective content that is usually purposefully deceiving. In Film Propaganda and American Politics: An Analysis and Filmography, James and Sarah Combs write, “to produce and spread fertile messages that, once sown, will germinate in large human cultures” (Combs and Combs, Page 35)

In One World, Big Screen: Hollywood, the Allies, and World War II, M. Todd Bennett writes “…regarded film as the “most powerful instrument of propaganda in the world, whether it tries to be or not. ””(Bennett, Page 36) Film makes it easy to access a large number of people at one time, film became a mass medium as it can effect individual viewers and viewers as members of a larger crows all at once. Richard Taylor writes in Film Propaganda: Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany “Film is a medium that overcomes the problems of language, culture and literacy, but also a medium which can be easily controlled to use for propaganda. ” (Taylor, Page 30)

There are five filters, which make up Chomsky’s Propaganda Model, which are ownership of the medium, funding of the medium, sourcing, flak and anti-communism. In, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media Chomsky and Herman write that, “a propaganda model focuses on this inequality of wealth and power and its multilevel effects on mass-media interests and choices. It traces the routes by which money and power are able to filter out the news fit to print, marginalise dissent, and allow the government and dominant private interests to get their messages across to the public” (Chomsky and Herman, Page 2)

Before I begin discussing the War on Terror and the propaganda films, which began to follow, I will first start off this essay by briefly discussing the history of propaganda films and when politics and film began to interlink. In Hollywood’s America: Understanding History Through Film, they write “Ninety million Americans went to the movies every week during World War II. ” (Mintz, Roberts and Welky, Page 137).

At the beginning of the 20th century, films became to be the new way to show information and events to a large audience, Combs writes “the political importance of film propaganda in the twentieth century stems from the fact that visual imagery was a powerful, central force in political imagination. From virtual the first days of the movies, filmmakers learned that advocate and persuasive messages could be included in cinematic presentations, and that the medium, with its impressive ability to convey dramatic experience, could sense as a vehicle for propaganda. (Combs and Combs, Page 15)

During wars, the government and the media work together in influencing the public and shaping their beliefs and opinions about the “other”, the foreign enemy. For example, Hitler encouraged everyone to believe that the Jews where morally wrong and that they needed to be stopped. The Birth of a Nation (1915) is one of the earliest fictional films, which was used for propaganda. The film depicts the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) as heroic protectors of the American people who are fighting against the evil, aggressive “blacks” who have taken over and ruined the South.

Although the film was a commercial success, it is extremely controversial with its racist portrayal of black men. In the film they are depicted as stupid and sexually violent towards white women, whilst the Ku Klux Klan are shown to be heroic and good. During the beginning of World War 1, films were experimental in relation to using them as a way for propaganda. It was during World War 2 when using film as a tool for propaganda began to rise. During the 1930s, the Nazi’s took control of the German film industry and began to use film as a medium to heavily influence their audiences.

The Eternal Jew is a 1940 German Nazi propaganda film, which is staged as a documentary. Taylor writes, “Fritz Hippler’s The Eternal Jew (1940) ranks as one of the most virulent propaganda films ever made. Despite the moral reservations the contemporary spectator may have about the film, …he cannot deny that it is also one of the most powerful effective. The Eternal Jew builds to a climax that can make even a Jew feel anti-Semitic, and it is for this reason that its circulation has been so firmly restricted. ”

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