The other week I visited the British Library to see their latest exhibition, Propaganda: Power and Persuasion. Like all their exhibitions it was excellent: well laid-out, thought-provoking and fascinating.
The exhibition explored the idea and concept of propaganda, how it can be used to unify people and also how it can create divisions. It was divided into several sections, each of which looked at a different aspect of propaganda.
The first section, Origins, looked at the history of propaganda: Roman emperors plastered their images on coins and statues, while the advent of the printing press in the sixteenth century saw the spread of propaganda more widely than ever, particularly during the Reformation (the 1523 picture of ‘The Donkey-Pope of Rome’ is a particularly good example). Next, Nation explored how states establish their legitimacy via the use of symbols such as posters, stamps and flags, and through mass media.
Enemy examined the ways in which leaders demonise others to reinforce unity within their own people, creating a climate of fear and hatred. The most obvious example is the persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany and occupied Europe during the twentieth century. Linked to this aspect, War showed how morale was maintained in societies engaged in conflict through emphasis on the rightness of the cause.
Health was one of the most amusing aspects of the exhibition, showing ways in which healthy behaviour has been promoted through the use of humour and even fear. Some of the campaign posters and videos displayed were hilarious. Finally, Today showed how the use of technology means that the volume and scale of propaganda is greater than ever, but criticism of it can also be spread more easily via social media.
I liked seeing the posters used to promote particular societies, and the other items on display such as books. One thing I found particularly interesting was the video about the London 2012 opening ceremony. Danny Boyle’s magnificent show became a brilliant example of propaganda, promoting a positive vision of modern Britain.
The exhibition is on until 17 September and I definitely recommend checking it out.