Propaganda is the art of influencing opinion.
Non-photographic ('eidetic') human memory is relatively poor, as almost every student can attest. Our memory is most egregious regarding information which contradicts, or simply fails to affirm, our beliefs (Confirmation Bias). To get around this shortcoming, we have evolved to form and maintain opinions instead: long after facts and reasoned arguments have faded from our memories, opinions and feelings of correctness about those opinions remain.
You might think that the easiest way to persuade someone is to use reasoned argument. It is not. We instinctively use our powers of reasoning in the service of our emotions: the more intelligent we are, the better we are at doing so. Intelligence does not equal self-awareness or self-doubt: this is why Too Clever by Half is a thing. The more intelligent someone is, the more difficult it is to persuade them to change their opinions using facts and logic.
The easiest way to persuade someone is through appealing to their emotions. If you pose an opinion as a way to (not) feel an emotion that they (don't) want to feel, they will instinctively want to adopt it. If they do so, they will then use their intelligence to 'rationalise' (create logical-sounding excuses to explain) the change. The more intelligent someone is, the more sophisticated their rationalisations are. The most potent emotions for these purposes are of course love, happiness, and fear.
In advertising and propaganda this approach boils down to associating products or policies with certain feelings:
- Showing attractive people, set to sensual/sexy music, with a product encourages the consumer to feel that the product is used by/will attract them (self-love/lust)
- Showing happy people, set to soothing/cheery music, with a product gives the impression that it makes people happy (happiness, obviously)
- Showing anxious people, set to ominous/unsettling music, with a product makes it seem suspicious (fear).
What distinguishes propaganda from advertising is "unity of message". Propaganda communicates a single, all-encompassing paradigm. Advertising communicates several, contradictory perspectives. Propaganda can be hamstrung through poor technique (e.g. North Korean propaganda), and advertising can succeed through coincidental unity (e.g. "you must buy things to be happy"), but by design propaganda has a much greater potential for influencing opinion. Also, virtually every piece of art, literature, music, or film that has a statement to make beyond Doing It for the Art can be considered propaganda, including works intended to condemn propaganda.
Historically, propaganda is a neutral word without any political connotations. The concept of propaganda is Older Than You'd Think, stemming back to antics in 5th Century Persia; for more information see its Wikipedia article. The word itself gained fashion around 1622, as the Catholic Church instituted a new department in its ministry to non-Catholics in new areas: Congregatio de Propaganda Fide in Latin, or "Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith." Since religions naturally choose to spread their news of their faith as part of its function, one shouldn't see this as a good thing nor use the otherwise neutral word as an accusation of that institution. The Rule of Cautious Editing Judgement applies here.
Compare with Poe's Law, Straw Man News Media, and War Is Glorious. Contrast with My Country Tis of Thee That I Sting and What Do You Mean, It's Not Political?. Compare and contrast Anvilicious. Many marketing techniques are applicable to both propaganda and advertising, for example, compare and contrast AstroTurf with Viral Marketing. See also Canned Orders over Loudspeaker, Edutainment Show, Malicious Libel, Newspeak, Newsreels, Patriotic Fervor, Subliminal Advertising, The War on Straw, and The Other Wiki's article on "Priming" in psychology.
- FLAG has photographer Saeko taking a picture that happens to have a UN flag in the background, the image eventually becomes famous and is eventually as used propaganda by the UN.
- High School DXD portrays the Holy Bible itself as the greatest piece of propaganda that God ever created. The book itself really is holy, and any Devil who tries to read or recite it will experience pain for their troubles. However, the thing is that Devils really aren't evil. Most of them want to live normal lives like everyone else. Satan himself is a Reasonable Authority Figure, and Devils in general don't hold any ill intentions or preconceived notions about Angels. Angels and Fallen Angels maliciously attack Devils because "the good book" tells them to.
- The first two Lyrical Nanoha movies are In-Universe retellings of the first two seasons produced by the TSAB (partially as propaganda, and partially as training videos for aerial mages). Because of this, the second movie cuts out the whole "TSAB admerial tries to condemn an innocent girl to be frozen for eternity" subplot.
- Tenchi Muyo! GXP has a really bad Galaxy Police film, with things like Scoring Points and even a grabber-claw enticement offer.
- Fullmetal Alchemist has an unusual example of propaganda used by the heroes. After Mustang's coup begins he gets the Furher's wife to go on the radio in support of him, crying for the loss of her husband and explaining that forces from Central Command had tried to kill her. This is all true but it becomes straight out propaganda when they make it seem like Central Command murdered the Furher and started a coup that Mustang is trying to put down, exactly the opposite of what really happened.
- To really sell the story Mustang's allies arrange to have Ishvalan "travelers" arrive in the city who confirm his story about the Furher's death. Since Mustang gained fame for genocide against the Ishvalans there's no reason to think they'd be supporting him.
- The Transformers: Last Stand of the Wreckers: The Wreckers Declassified Data logs created by Ironfist were both a heroic and unintentional example. Ironfist idealized the Wreckers as the Autobots Strike Force that did the dirty jobs, and created the logs to pay tribute to them in his own fanboy way. The logs were faithful if dramatized and idealized, there were some blatant lies that covered up their more questionable actions but those were because high command covered up the incidents and not the author's fault. The logs became so popular that the Wreckers gained quite a bit of fame and respect and made them symbols of the elite rather than the dysfunctional gun thugs they were (one leader was a traitor, another went insane, the previous one executed prisoners, and one member may have started the entire war). Roadbuster came to regret the image they had, and how much was kept from the public eye.
- Strikeforce: Morituri had in-universe propaganda comics. Notable bits involving them included all the female characters noting that their propaganda versions had a certain specific feature, and a depiction of the very first mission of the programme that was later revealed to be seriously over-idealised.
- Über has in-universe propaganda posters as a specific Variant Cover series.
- Planet 51 portrays the Human race as a monstrous group of aliens who want to enslave everything else. It's used as a scare tactic to the public much the same as actual sci-fi movies did back in the 1950's. Special mention that the scare tactics were being used before anyone even knew that life existed beyond their world.
- Inglourious Basterds's plot revolves around a screening of a nazi propaganda film about a young German sniper killing numerous US soldiers, the sniper himself is disturbed to see his actions glorified.
- All the viral messages in the Starship Troopers movies are a pastiche of propaganda recruitment tools.
- Wag the Dog had the song "The American Dream" pushing for border protection.
- It Happened Here, an Alternate History film about a Britain that was conquered and occupied by the Germans in 1940, includes newsreels showing friendly comradeship between British and German soldiers.
- C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America: The Family Values Program is a series of propaganda films to brainwash slaves, keep women submissive, and root out homosexuals. In the movie's reality, American culture was pretty much nothing but propaganda.
- Starship Troopers 3: Marauder has the song "It's a Good Day to Die!" sold by the Federation as the #1 hit single.
- The 'Propos' made by the rebels in The Hunger Games are basically these, used to turn the people against the Capitol.
- In The Machineries of Empire, Jedao has Cheris drop dozens of propaganda leaflets, drugs and alcohol to weaken the resolve of the Fortress' residents.
- One of the main characters of The Bartimaeus Trilogy is a professional propaganda writer in the third book, against an alternate-history American Revolution. The resulting pamphlets are named things like Real War Stories, despite having almost no connection to reality, and practically nobody we see takes them seriously.
- The Cyrinishad from Forgotten Realms is this trope taken to its Logical Extreme: whoever reads the book becomes a devout worshiper of Cyric, and is convinced that he is the only true deity in existence in accordance to his Dogma. This works on pretty much everyone, including gods. The text itself fits this trope, being a thorough explanation of why Cyric is the One True Way and how everyone who does not worship him can just crawl in a hole and die.
- The propaganda in Bioshock was prevalent enough, but in the sequel there's a theme park build by Andrew Ryan.
- Homefront features propaganda from the Great Korean Republic.
- In StarCraft: Brood War the United Earth Network warns us about ZERG! but we can all rest easy as their homeworld has been occupied. Even though there's another campaign as well as a sequel, doesn't necessarily mean the Zerg will be in either.
- XCOM 2''s expansion, "War of the Chosen", took the propaganda present in the base game to new heights by having most mission debriefings feature ADVENT's attempts to cover up or spin what X-Com had just done.
- Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice: The nation of Khura'in has a rebel faction looking to overthrow the monarchy. In response to this, the monarch has approved a children's TV show, "The Plumed Punisher", whose protagonist is an icon from the nation's culture and whose Big Bad is an unflattering portrayal of the rebellion's leader, Dhurke.
- The Skywalker Paradigm is an analysis of Star Wars showing it as a rebel propaganda film, with propositions like Darth Vader being a hero and Obi-Wan as the main villain.
- The Fay'lia Empire in Entanglement went so far as to make a magical girl propaganda show.
- The Thrilling Adventure Hour segments featuring "Jefferson Reid, Ace American" and "Amelia Earhart, Fearless Flier" are portrayed as World War II Propoganda Pieces, framed as radio programs in which Jefferson and Amelia fight the Nazis for the good ol' U.S. of A.
- The entire episode "Mindset" of Exo Squad was dedicated to Neosapien propaganda and Terrans who collaborated with it.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "The Ember Island Players" has a summation about the series up to that point, in the format of a Fire Nation propaganda theatre show.
- The Legend of Korra: After the Northern Water Tribe attacks the Southern Water Tribe, Varrick funds a series of films called The Adventures of Nuktuk: Hero of the South (with Bolin playing the titular character) and Unalaq is portrayed as a cartoonishly evil overlord with a Doomsday Device. Varrick doesn't know this, but while Unalaq's real plan isn't the same, it is every bit monstrous as the one portrayed. The goal of the films are to get the public to side with the Southern Tribe so that president Raiko would send his forces to help them win the civil war (but in actuality, it's part of a greater plan for Varrick to create an even bigger war he can profit from).
- An episode of Reboot focuses around Megabyte utilizing propaganda posters and a vocal activist to turn the public against Enzo, the new Guardian and thus the biggest obstacle to Megabyte's eventual conquest of Mainframe.
Real Life Examples:
- Momotaro's Divine Sea Warriors (1945), which holds the distinction of being the very first feature-length anime ever made, tells the story of some adorable forest creatures who, under the tutelage of Momotaro, become paratroopers. In the end, they drop on a British-held island and defeat the cowardly British garrison.
- Captain America started as a propaganda comic, intended to rally support against the Nazis at a time when America hadn't yet joined the war in Europe. The famous issue #1 cover shows Cap, decked in his red-white-and-blue costume, punching Adolf Hitler in the face. After WWII, Cap kept his propaganda status, now fighting Communists instead of Nazis. After he was reintroduced in the 60s, the level of propaganda was turned down somewhat.
- The entire lineup of Timely Comics (Marvel's predecessor) went in for propaganda in a big way. Cap and other stateside heroes like the Human Torch spent most issues busting up spy rings and warning kids about the ever-present danger of the dreaded "Fifth Column" while Namor, who had previously been barely tolerant of any surface-dwellers, threw in with democracy and spent several years smashing U-boats. Sadly, this all got highly racist once Japan teamed up with Germany. Cap and friends used racial slurs against the Japanese with impunity; in contrast Captain America # 5 featured a full-length story about rescuing a family of loyal German-Americans from Nazi saboteurs.
- Superman also had his share of propaganda. An infamous example is the Action Comics #58 cover where Superman urges the reader to buy War Bonds while using a racist slur against the Japanese. In a different comic, Superman kidnapped both Hitler and Stalin, and brought them to the League of Nations court. He also fought the Ku Klux Klan in one of his radio adventures. And of course, one of the dude's catchphrases is "Truth, Justice and the American Way".
- As a reminder that Tropes Are Not Bad, Superman's anti-KKK radio shows had a real positive impact. They made use of direct information from an undercover reporter to accurately depict both how hateful and how ridiculous the white supremacy group was, and historians credit the broadcasts with helping raise public awareness and turn it solidly against the KKK.
- Tintin Tintin In The Land Of The Soviets was published in a Catholic newspaper during the 1920s and commissioned by an abbot to warn against the godless Communists. Featuring many a Strawman Political and memorable scenes like Soviet officials pulling their guns out at a political meeting to ask if anyone was against the names of the candidates or false factories where straw is burned and metal sheets hammered to create the illusion of productivity to visiting British officials.
- Chick Tracts, created by Jack Chick, are free comics that were intended to be spread by volunteers to disseminate the author's rather radical view on Christianity and what he views as its enemies.
- The Saga of White Will, a white supremacist underground comic scripted by William Luther Pierce, was intended to recruit members for Pierce's movement, the National Alliance.
- "Golden Eyes" and Her Hero "Bill" - written during World War I, the serial's heroine Golden Eyes is an American ambulance driver who enlists with the Red Cross to follow her sweetheart, a soldier fighting "the bosch" in France with the stated mission of "wiping the Hun-stain from the earth." Illustrations of Golden Eyes with her Canine Companion Uncle Sam were also used to sell war bonds, and even the chapter narrated by the dog described the German enemy as "that army who ravished the children—the women—the fruit trees—of God!"
- The Battleship Potemkin and Alexander Nevsky, both by Sergei Eisenstein, are Soviet propaganda films. Potemkin dramatizes The Mutiny aboard the titular battleship, which was one of the more memorable incidents of the 1905 Revolution. And Nevsky, despite being set in the 13th century, is a thinly disguised anti-Nazi film. The bad guys are German knights dressed in a heavy dose of Putting on the Reich.
- The Birth of a Nation, where the Ku Klux Klan apparently saved the USA. After the author of the film's source novel, Thomas Dixon Junior, managed to get The President of the USA Woodrow Wilson to view it in the White House (the first feature length film to have been) Dixon claimed that Wilson had said of the film that "it is all so terribly true". President Wilson had said nothing of the sort, but an awful lot of White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestants believed that he had, and more importantly believed the film's message that non-WASPs really were bastardising and destroying their Racial Purity and Democracy.
- Nazis didn't do this all the time. Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels recognized that constant indoctrination would turn off audiences, so most Nazi cinema consisted of comedies and romances and other escapism. But they did use the film industry for political messaging. The Other Wiki has a list here. Notable Nazi propaganda films include:
- Triumph of the Will is about the 1934 Nazi Party Congress. Considered a groundbreaker in the use of propaganda, and highly influential. The medal scene that ends Star Wars is a direct lift from this film.
- Titanic (1943), based on the events of the sinking of the RMS Titanic, used for anti-British propaganda (adding a fictional German officer whose warnings were ignored by the greedy and arrogant British captain). It was shelved when they realised it would remind people too much of Germany's situation at the time (although clips of it were reused as stock footage in A Night to Remember).
- Victory at Sea is a 26 part series on WWII.
- Why We Fight is a series of American propaganda films produced during World War II, directed by Frank Capra, which sought to explain to the troops why they were being sent far away from their families to fight and possibly die in Europe and Asia. Later, the films would be shown on the home front as well, though this was not the original intended audience.
- Similarly, Hitler Lives! was a civilian-based reworking of Your Job in Germany. The latter was an Army information film, explaining to the troops that while the war was over, and Hitler was dead, Nazism had not been defeated, and so the Army (i.e. likely those watching the film) were going to have to stay as occupiers. The former took the same film, and reworked and slightly bowdlerized it, taking out content explicitly explaining directives for the troops (such as forbidding any interactions between US troops and German civilians) replacing them with an exhortation against race hatred and political extremism at home.
- We've Never Been Licked follows a student enrolling in Texas A&M University during WWII, he eventually infiltrates a Japanese spy ring at the college and is part of the Battle of Midway.
- Ip Man, in addition to being an excellent action movie, is often considered to be borderline propaganda, demonizing foreigners and glorifying the Chinese.
- I Am Cuba is a Soviet propaganda film from 1964 showing how capitalists and Americans victimized the poor people of Cuba, only for the people to rise up in revolution.
- The Aeneid: Emperor Octavian Caesar Augustus commissioned Virgil to write this Roman propaganda. More information here.
- Uncle Tom's Cabin is a novel written by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Published in 1853, its purpose was to attack the institution of slavery and further the cause of abolitionism. It worked, in the North at least, while simultaneously making a lot of slave-holding Southerners really angry.