Hannah Arendt Explains How Totalitarian Regimes Arise–and How We Can Prevent Them

“Adolf Eich­mann went to the gal­lows with great dig­ni­ty,” wrote the polit­i­cal philoso­pher Han­nah Arendt, describ­ing the scene lead­ing up to the promi­nent Holo­caust-orga­niz­er’s exe­cu­tion. After drink­ing half a bot­tle of wine, turn­ing down the offer of reli­gious assis­tance, and even refus­ing the black hood offered him at the gal­lows, he gave a brief, strange­ly high-spir­it­ed speech before the hang­ing. “It was as though in those last min­utes he was sum­ming up the les­son that this long course in human wicked­ness had taught us — the les­son of the fear­some word-and-thought-defy­ing banal­i­ty of evil.”

These lines come from Eich­mann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banal­i­ty of Evil, orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in 1963 as a five-part series in the New York­er. Eich­mann “was pop­u­lar­ly described as an evil mas­ter­mind who orches­trat­ed atroc­i­ties from a cushy Ger­man office, and many were eager to see the so-called ‘desk mur­der­er’ tried for his crimes,” explains the nar­ra­tor of the ani­mat­ed TED-Ed les­son above, writ­ten by Uni­ver­si­ty Col­lege Dublin polit­i­cal the­o­ry pro­fes­sor Joseph Lacey. “But the squea­mish man who took the stand seemed more like a dull bureau­crat than a sadis­tic killer,” and this “dis­par­i­ty between Eich­man­n’s nature and his actions” inspired Arendt’s famous sum­ma­tion.

A Ger­man Jew who fled her home­land in 1933, as Hitler rose to pow­er, Arendt “ded­i­cat­ed her­self to under­stand­ing how the Nazi regime came to pow­er.” Against the com­mon notion that “the Third Reich was a his­tor­i­cal odd­i­ty, a per­fect storm of unique­ly evil lead­ers, sup­port­ed by Ger­man cit­i­zens, look­ing for revenge after their defeat in World War I,” she argued that “the true con­di­tions behind this unprece­dent­ed rise of total­i­tar­i­an­ism weren’t spe­cif­ic to Ger­many.” Rather, in moder­ni­ty, “indi­vid­u­als main­ly appear in the social world to pro­duce and con­sume goods and ser­vices,” which fos­ters ide­olo­gies “in which indi­vid­u­als were seen only for their eco­nom­ic val­ue, rather than their moral and polit­i­cal capac­i­ties.”

In such iso­lat­ing con­di­tions, she thought, “par­tic­i­pat­ing in the regime becomes the only way to recov­er a sense of iden­ti­ty and com­mu­ni­ty. While con­demn­ing Eich­man­n’s “mon­strous actions, Arendt saw no evi­dence that Eich­mann him­self was unique­ly evil. She saw him as a dis­tinct­ly ordi­nary man who con­sid­ered obe­di­ence the high­est form of civic duty — and for Arendt, it was exact­ly this ordi­nar­i­ness that was most ter­ri­fy­ing.” Accord­ing to her the­o­ry, there was noth­ing par­tic­u­lar­ly Ger­man about all of this: any suf­fi­cient­ly mod­ern­ized cul­ture could pro­duce an Eich­mann, a cit­i­zen who defines him­self by par­tic­i­pa­tion in his soci­ety regard­less of that soci­ety’s larg­er aims. This led her to the con­clu­sion that  “think­ing is our great­est weapon against the threats of moder­ni­ty,” some of which have become only more threat­en­ing over the past six decades.

Relat­ed con­tent:

An Intro­duc­tion to the Life & Thought of Han­nah Arendt: Pre­sent­ed by the BBC Radio’s In Our Time

Han­nah Arendt Explains How Pro­pa­gan­da Uses Lies to Erode All Truth & Moral­i­ty: Insights from The Ori­gins of Total­i­tar­i­an­ism

Large Archive of Han­nah Arendt’s Papers Dig­i­tized by the Library of Con­gress: Read Her Lec­tures, Drafts of Arti­cles, Notes & Cor­re­spon­dence

Han­nah Arendt on “Per­son­al Respon­si­bil­i­ty Under Dic­ta­tor­ship:” Bet­ter to Suf­fer Than Col­lab­o­rate

Take Han­nah Arendt’s Final Exam for Her 1961 Course “On Rev­o­lu­tion”

Watch Han­nah Arendt’s Final Inter­view (1973)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

George Orwell’s Political Views, Explained in His Own Words

Among mod­ern-day lib­er­als and con­ser­v­a­tives alike, George Orwell enjoys prac­ti­cal­ly saint­ed sta­tus. And indeed, through­out his body of work, includ­ing but cer­tain­ly not lim­it­ed to his oft-assigned nov­els Ani­mal Farm and Nine­teen Eighty-Four, one can find numer­ous implic­it­ly or explic­it­ly expressed polit­i­cal views that please either side of that divide — or, by def­i­n­i­tion, views that anger each side. The read­ers who approve of Orwell’s open advo­ca­cy for social­ism, for exam­ple, are prob­a­bly not the same ones who approve of his indict­ment of lan­guage polic­ing. To under­stand what he actu­al­ly believed, we can’t trust cur­rent inter­preters who employ his words for their own ends; we must return to the words them­selves.

Hence the struc­ture of the video above from Youtu­ber Ryan Chap­man, which offers “an overview of George Orwell’s polit­i­cal views, guid­ed by his reflec­tions on his own career.” Chap­man begins with Orwell’s essay “Why I Write,” in which the lat­ter declares that “in a peace­ful age I might have writ­ten ornate or mere­ly descrip­tive books, and might have remained almost unaware of my polit­i­cal loy­al­ties. As it is I have been forced into becom­ing a sort of pam­phle­teer.”

His awak­en­ing occurred in 1936, when he went to cov­er the Span­ish Civ­il War as a jour­nal­ist but end­ed up join­ing the fight against Fran­co, a cause that aligned neat­ly with his exist­ing pro-work­ing class and anti-author­i­tar­i­an emo­tion­al ten­den­cies.

After a bul­let in the throat took Orwell out of the war, his atten­tion shift­ed to the grand-scale hypocrisies he’d detect­ed in the Sovi­et Union. It became “of the utmost impor­tance to me that peo­ple in west­ern Europe should see the Sovi­et regime for what it real­ly was,” he writes in the pref­ace to the Ukrain­ian edi­tion of the alle­gor­i­cal satire Ani­mal Farm. “His con­cerns with the Sovi­et Union were part of a broad­er con­cern on the nature of truth and the way truth is manip­u­lat­ed in pol­i­tics,” Chap­man explains. An impor­tant part of his larg­er project as a writer was to shed light on the wide­spread “ten­den­cy to dis­tort real­i­ty accord­ing to their polit­i­cal con­vic­tions,” espe­cial­ly among the intel­lec­tu­al class­es.

“This kind of thing is fright­en­ing to me,” Orwell writes in “Look­ing Back on the Span­ish War,” “because it often gives me the feel­ing that the very con­cept of objec­tive truth is fad­ing out of the world”: a con­di­tion for the rise of ide­ol­o­gy “not only for­bids you to express — even to think — cer­tain thoughts, but it dic­tates what you shall think, it cre­ates an ide­ol­o­gy for you, it tries to gov­ern your emo­tion­al life as well as set­ting up a code of con­duct.” Such is the real­i­ty he envi­sions in Nine­teen Eighty-Four, a reac­tion to the total­i­tar­i­an­ism he saw man­i­fest­ing in the USSR, Ger­many, and Italy. “But he also thought it was spread­ing in more sub­tle forms back home, in Eng­land, through social­ly enforced, unof­fi­cial polit­i­cal ortho­doxy.” No mat­ter how sup­pos­ed­ly enlight­ened the soci­ety we live in, there are things we’re for­mal­ly or infor­mal­ly not allowed to acknowl­edge; Orwell reminds us to think about why.

Relat­ed con­tent:

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to George Orwell

George Orwell’s Life & Lit­er­a­ture Pre­sent­ed in a 3‑Hour Radio Doc­u­men­tary: Fea­tures Inter­views with Those Who Knew Orwell Best

George Orwell Iden­ti­fies the Main Ene­my of the Free Press: It’s the “Intel­lec­tu­al Cow­ardice” of the Press Itself

George Orwell Explains How “Newspeak” Works, the Offi­cial Lan­guage of His Total­i­tar­i­an Dystopia in 1984

George Orwell Reveals the Role & Respon­si­bil­i­ty of the Writer “In an Age of State Con­trol”

George Orwell Explains in a Reveal­ing 1944 Let­ter Why He’d Write 1984

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

What Would Happen If a Nuclear Bomb Hit a Major City Today: A Visualization of the Destruction

One of the many mem­o­rable details in Stan­ley Kubrick­’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Wor­ry­ing and Love the Bomb, placed promi­nent­ly in a shot of George C. Scott in the war room, is a binder with a spine labeled “WORLD TARGETS IN MEGADEATHS.” A megadeath, writes Eric Schloss­er in New York­er piece on the movie, “was a unit of mea­sure­ment used in nuclear-war plan­ning at the time. One megadeath equals a mil­lion fatal­i­ties.” The destruc­tive capa­bil­i­ty of nuclear weapons hav­ing only increased since 1964, we might well won­der how many megadeaths would result from a nuclear strike on a major city today.

In col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Nobel Peace Prize, film­mak­er Neil Hal­lo­ran address­es that ques­tion in the video above, which visu­al­izes a sim­u­lat­ed nuclear explo­sion in a city of four mil­lion. “We’ll assume the bomb is det­o­nat­ed in the air to max­i­mize the radius of impact, as was done in Japan in 1945. But here, we’ll use an 800-kilo­ton war­head, a rel­a­tive­ly large bomb in today’s arse­nals, and 100 times more pow­er­ful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshi­ma.” The imme­di­ate result would be a “fire­ball as hot as the sun” with a radius of 800 meters; all build­ings with­in a two-kilo­me­ter radius would be destroyed, “and we’ll assume that vir­tu­al­ly no one sur­vives inside this area.”

Already in these cal­cu­la­tions, the death toll has reached 120,000. “From as far as away as eleven kilo­me­ters, the radi­ant heat from the blast would be strong enough to cause third-degree burns on exposed skin.” Though most peo­ple would be indoors and thus shel­tered from that at the time of the explo­sion, “the very struc­tures that offered this pro­tec­tion would then become a cause of injury, as debris would rip through build­ings and rain down on city streets.” This would, over the weeks after the attack, ulti­mate­ly cause anoth­er 500,000 casu­al­ties — anoth­er half a megadeath — with anoth­er 100,000 at longer range still to occur.

These are sober­ing fig­ures, to be sure, but as Hal­lo­ran reminds us, the Cold War is over; unlike in Dr. Strangelove’s day, fam­i­lies no longer build fall­out shel­ters, and school­child­ren no longer do nuclear-bomb drills. Nev­er­the­less, even though nations aren’t as on edge about total anni­hi­la­tion as they were in the mid-twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry, the tech­nolo­gies that poten­tial­ly cause such anni­hi­la­tion are more advanced than ever, and indeed, “nuclear weapons remain one of the great threats to human­i­ty.” Here in the twen­ty-twen­ties, “coun­tries big and small face the prospect of new arms races,” a much more com­pli­cat­ed geopo­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion than the long stand­off between the Unit­ed States and the Sovi­et Union — and, per­haps, one beyond the reach of even Kubrick­ian­ly grim satire.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Watch Chill­ing Footage of the Hiroshi­ma & Nagasa­ki Bomb­ings in Restored Col­or

Why Hiroshi­ma, Despite Being Hit with the Atom­ic Bomb, Isn’t a Nuclear Waste­land Today

When the Wind Blows: An Ani­mat­ed Tale of Nuclear Apoc­a­lypse With Music by Roger Waters & David Bowie (1986)

Inno­v­a­tive Film Visu­al­izes the Destruc­tion of World War II: Now Avail­able in 7 Lan­guages

The Map of Doom: A Data-Dri­ven Visu­al­iza­tion of the Biggest Threats to Human­i­ty, Ranked from Like­ly to Unlike­ly

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

How the Berlin Wall Worked: The Engineering & Structural Design of the Wall That Formidably Divided East & West

More than thir­ty years after the for­mal dis­so­lu­tion of the Union of Sovi­et Social­ist Republics, few around the world have a clear under­stand­ing of how life actu­al­ly worked there. That holds less for the larg­er polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic ques­tions than it does for the rou­tine mechan­ics of day-to-day exis­tence. These had a way of being even more com­plex in the regions where the USSR came up against the rest of the world. Take the Ger­man cap­i­tal of Berlin, which, as every­one knows, was for­mer­ly divid­ed into East and West along with the coun­try itself — but which, as not every­one knows, but as clar­i­fied in a nine­teen-eight­ies infor­ma­tion­al video pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture, was entire­ly sur­round­ed by East Ger­many.

You can learn much else about life on the edges of the Fed­er­al Repub­lic of Ger­many and the Ger­man Demo­c­ra­t­ic Repub­lic from the new neo video above, “How the Berlin Wall Worked.” The first thing to clar­i­fy is that, even after the divi­sion of Ger­many, the Berlin Wall was­n’t always there; for a time the nar­ra­tor explains, with “social­ism and cap­i­tal­ism, two dif­fer­ent nations, and even two dif­fer­ent cur­ren­cies, were sep­a­rat­ed only by streets.”

Many “lived in one part of the city but worked in the oth­er: East Berlin­ers took jobs in the West in order to ben­e­fit from the stronger cur­ren­cy, while West Berlin­ers got their hair­cuts in the East at prices that were much cheap­er to them.” Kur­fürs­ten­damm’s shop win­dows dis­played the pur­chasable glo­ries of cap­i­tal­ism; just a few streets away, Stali­nallee swelled with proud­ly social­ist archi­tec­ture.

But on August 13th, 1961, “Berlin woke up to a divid­ed city.” The GDR imme­di­ate­ly began on a wall between East and West “made out of con­crete and topped off with barbed wire,” though it could­n’t com­mand the resources to build its whole length quite so solid­ly right away. Over time, how­ev­er, the wall was “con­sis­tent­ly upgrad­ed with more and more increas­ing secu­ri­ty fea­tures.” By 1975, it had become the struc­ture we remem­ber, con­sist­ing of not just one but two con­crete walls, and between them a barbed-wire sig­nal fence, tank traps, mats of steel nee­dles known as “Stal­in’s grass,” and watch­tow­ers manned by armed guards. “Vir­tu­al­ly impos­si­ble to cross” in its day, the for­mi­da­ble Berlin Wall now exists pri­mar­i­ly as a cul­tur­al phe­nom­e­non: a mem­o­ry, a series of tourist sites, a some­times-mis­used cul­tur­al ref­er­ence. Liv­ing in South Korea, I can’t help but ask myself if the same will ever be said of the DMZ.

Relat­ed con­tent:

See Berlin Before and After World War II in Star­tling Col­or Video

Google Revis­its the Fall of the Iron Cur­tain in New Online Exhi­bi­tion

The Dos & Don’ts of Dri­ving to West Berlin Dur­ing the Cold War: A Weird Piece of Ephemera from the 1980s

Louis Arm­strong Plays His­toric Cold War Con­certs in East Berlin & Budapest (1965)

Bruce Spring­steen Plays East Berlin in 1988: I’m Not Here For Any Gov­ern­ment. I’ve Come to Play Rock

Watch Samuel Beck­ett Walk the Streets of Berlin Like a Boss, 1969

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Every Political Ideology Explained in 8 Minutes

From the guy who brought you 51 Pro­pa­gan­da Tech­niques Explained in 11 Min­utes comes this: Every Polit­i­cal Ide­ol­o­gy Explained in 8 Min­utes. You get the usu­al suspects–conservatism, lib­er­al­ism, social­ism, com­mu­nism and fas­cism. And then some less fre­quent­ly encoun­tered ide­olo­gies: tran­shu­man­ism, syn­di­cal­ism, and com­mu­ni­tar­i­an­ism. By the end, he cov­ers 23 dif­fer­ent belief sys­tems that orga­nize our polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic lives. The video is brief, nec­es­sar­i­ly super­fi­cial. But it’s a place to start. To take a deep­er dive, you can explore Andrew Hey­wood’s book, Polit­i­cal Ide­olo­gies: An Intro­duc­tion.

Relat­ed Con­tent

Umber­to Eco Makes a List of the 14 Com­mon Fea­tures of Fas­cism

Intro­duc­tion to Polit­i­cal Phi­los­o­phy: A Free Online Course from Yale Uni­ver­si­ty

How to Spot a Com­mu­nist by Using Lit­er­ary Crit­i­cism: A 1955 Man­u­al from the U.S. Mil­i­tary



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How George Washington Became President of the United States: It Was Weirder Than You Think

After serv­ing two terms as the first Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca, George Wash­ing­ton refused to con­tin­ue on to a third. We now see this action as begin­ning the tra­di­tion of peace­ful relin­quish­ment of pow­er that has con­tin­ued more or less ever since (inter­rupt­ed, as in recent years, by the occa­sion­al trou­bled tran­si­tion). At the time, not every­one expect­ed Wash­ing­ton to step down, his­to­ry hav­ing most­ly offered exam­ples of rulers who hung on until the bit­ter end. But the new repub­lic’s cre­ation of not just rules but cus­toms result­ed in a vari­ety of unusu­al polit­i­cal events; even Wash­ing­ton’s elec­tion was “weird­er than you think.”

So declares his­to­ry Youtu­ber Pre­mod­ernist in the video above, an expla­na­tion of the very first Unit­ed States pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in 1789. “There were no offi­cial can­di­dates. There was no cam­paign­ing for the office. There were no polit­i­cal par­ties, no nom­i­nat­ing con­ven­tions, no pri­ma­ry elec­tions. The entire elec­tion sea­son was very short, and the major issue of this elec­tion was the Con­sti­tu­tion itself.” It also took place after thir­teen pres­i­dent-free years, the U.S. hav­ing been not a sin­gle coun­try but “a col­lec­tion of thir­teen sep­a­rate colonies,” each tied more close­ly to Britain than to the oth­ers; there had­n’t even been a fed­er­al gov­ern­ment per se.

The U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion changed that. Draft­ed in 1787, it pro­posed the exec­u­tive, leg­isla­tive, and judi­cial branch­es of gov­ern­ment, whose names every Amer­i­can who’s tak­en a cit­i­zen­ship exam (and every immi­grant who’s tak­en the cit­i­zen test) remem­bers. Set­ting up those branch­es in real­i­ty would prove no easy task: how, to name just one prac­ti­cal ques­tion, would the exec­u­tive — the pres­i­dent — actu­al­ly be cho­sen? Con­gress, the leg­isla­tive branch, could the­o­ret­i­cal­ly do it, but that would vio­late the now prac­ti­cal­ly sacred prin­ci­ple of the sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers. The vot­ers could also elect the pres­i­dent direct­ly, but the framers reject­ed that option as both imprac­ti­cal and unwise.

Enter “the famous elec­toral col­lege,” a body of spe­cial­ized vot­ers cho­sen by the indi­vid­ual states in any man­ner they please. Hav­ing reject­ed the Con­sti­tu­tion itself, North Car­oli­na and Rhode Island did­n’t par­tic­i­pate in the 1789 elec­tion. Each of the oth­er states chose their elec­tors in its own way (exem­pli­fy­ing the polit­i­cal lab­o­ra­to­ry of Amer­i­can fed­er­al­ism as orig­i­nal­ly con­ceived), though it did­n’t go smooth­ly in every case: the wide­spread divi­sion between fed­er­al­ists and anti-fed­er­al­ists was pro­nounced enough in New York to cre­ate a dead­lock that pre­vent­ed the state from choos­ing any elec­tors at all. The elec­tors that did make it cast two votes each, with the first-place can­di­date becom­ing Pres­i­dent and the sec­ond-place can­di­date becom­ing Vice Pres­i­dent.

That last proved to be a “bad sys­tem,” whose mechan­ics encour­aged a great deal of schem­ing, intrigue, and strate­gic vot­ing (even by the sub­se­quent­ly estab­lished stan­dards of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics). Only with the rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the twelfth amend­ment, in 1804, could elec­tors sep­a­rate­ly des­ig­nate their choice of Pres­i­dent and Vice Pres­i­dent. In 1789, of course, “Wash­ing­ton eas­i­ly got all 69 elec­toral votes,” and went on reluc­tant­ly to pre­vail again in the next pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, which more recent­ly became the sub­ject of its own Pre­mod­ernist video. Both of them mer­it a watch in this par­tic­u­lar moment, as the run-up to the U.S. con­test of 2024 gets into full swing. This elec­tion cycle cer­tain­ly won’t be as short as 1789, but it may well be as weird.

Relat­ed con­tent:

George Wash­ing­ton Writes to the First Jew­ish Con­gre­ga­tion of New­port, Rhode Island: “The Gov­ern­ment… Gives to Big­otry No Sanc­tion, to Per­se­cu­tion No Assis­tance” (1790)

Sal Khan & the Mup­pets’ Grover Explain the Elec­toral Col­lege

A Japan­ese Illus­trat­ed His­to­ry of Amer­i­ca (1861): Fea­tures George Wash­ing­ton Punch­ing Tigers, John Adams Slay­ing Snakes & Oth­er Fan­tas­tic Scenes

Elect­ing a US Pres­i­dent in Plain Eng­lish

George Washington’s 110 Rules for Civil­i­ty and Decent Behav­ior

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

51 Propaganda Techniques Explained in 11 Minutes: From Cognitive Dissonance to Appeal to Fear

The con­cept of pro­pa­gan­da has a great deal of pow­er to fas­ci­nate. So does the very word pro­pa­gan­da, which to most of us today sounds faint­ly exot­ic, as if it referred main­ly to phe­nom­e­na from dis­tant places and times. But in truth, can any one of us here in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry go a day with­out being sub­ject­ed to the thing itself? Watch the video above, in which The Paint Explain­er lays out 51 dif­fer­ent pro­pa­gan­da tech­niques in 11 min­utes, and you’ll more than like­ly rec­og­nize many of the insid­i­ous­ly effec­tive rhetor­i­cal tricks labeled there­in from your recent every­day life.

You won’t be sur­prised to hear that these man­i­fest most clear­ly in the media, both offline and on. The list begins with “agen­da set­ting,” the “abil­i­ty of the news to influ­ence the impor­tance placed on cer­tain top­ics by pub­lic opin­ion, just by cov­er­ing them fre­quent­ly and promi­nent­ly.”

Scat­tered through­out the news, or through­out your social-media feed, adver­tise­ments bring out the “beau­ti­ful peo­ple,” which “sug­gests that if peo­ple buy a prod­uct or fol­low a cer­tain ide­ol­o­gy, they, too will be hap­py or suc­cess­ful” – or, in its basest forms, oper­ates through “clas­si­cal con­di­tion­ing,” in which “a nat­ur­al stim­u­lus is asso­ci­at­ed with a neu­tral stim­u­lus enough times to cre­ate the same response by using just the neu­tral one.”

In the even more shame­less realm of pol­i­tics, the com­mon “plain folk” strat­e­gy “attempts to con­vince the audi­ence that the pro­pa­gan­dis­t’s posi­tions reflect the com­mon sense of the peo­ple.” When “an indi­vid­ual uses mass media to cre­ate an ide­al­ized and hero­ic pub­lic image, often through unques­tion­ing flat­tery and praise,” a pow­er­ful “cult of per­son­al­i­ty” can arise. And in pro­pa­gan­da for every­thing from pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates to fast-food chains, you’ll hear and read no end of “glit­ter­ing gen­er­al­i­ties,” or “emo­tion­al­ly appeal­ing words that are applied to a prod­uct idea, but present no con­crete argu­ment or analy­sis.” You can find many of these strate­gies explained at Wikipedi­a’s list of pro­pa­gan­da tech­niques, or this list from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Vir­ginia of “pro­pa­gan­da tech­niques to rec­og­nize” — and not just when the “oth­er side” uses them.

via Laugh­ing Squid

Relat­ed con­tent:

Han­nah Arendt Explains How Pro­pa­gan­da Uses Lies to Erode All Truth & Moral­i­ty: Insights from The Ori­gins of Total­i­tar­i­an­ism

A Field Guide to Fake News and Oth­er Infor­ma­tion Dis­or­ders: A Free Man­u­al to Down­load, Share & Re-Use

An Archive of 800+ Imag­i­na­tive Pro­pa­gan­da Maps Designed to Shape Opin­ions & Beliefs: Enter Cornell’s Per­sua­sive Maps Col­lec­tion

“Glo­ry to the Con­querors of the Uni­verse!”: Pro­pa­gan­da Posters from the Sovi­et Space Race (1958–1963)

The Red Men­ace: A Strik­ing Gallery of Anti-Com­mu­nist Posters, Ads, Com­ic Books, Mag­a­zines & Films

Sell & Spin: The His­to­ry of Adver­tis­ing, Nar­rat­ed by Dick Cavett (1999)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Meet the Man Who Created the Iconic Emblem of the Day of the Dead: José Guadalupe Posada

Odds are you’re acquaint­ed with the lady pic­tured above.

She’s called La Cat­ri­na, and her like­ness adorns count­less t‑shirts and tote bags.

She is a pop­u­lar Hal­loween cos­tume and a main­stay of Day of the Dead cel­e­bra­tions.

She pops up in the ani­mat­ed fam­i­ly fea­ture, Coco, to guide its young hero to the Land of the Dead. 

She’s spent the bet­ter part of a cen­tu­ry mak­ing cameos in numer­ous artists works, most famous­ly Diego Rivera’s sur­re­al 1947 mur­al, Sueño de una Tarde Domini­cal en la Alame­da Cen­tral, a fever dream that places her front and cen­ter, arm in arm with a dis­tin­guished-look­ing, mus­ta­chioed gent in a bowler hat.

That gent is her orig­i­nal cre­ator, José Guadalupe Posa­da, a hard­work­ing print­mak­er and polit­i­cal car­toon­ist who pro­duced over 20,000 images dur­ing his life­time, on sub­jects rang­ing from the Mex­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion and oth­er events, both cur­rent and his­tor­i­cal, to pop­u­lar enter­tain­ment and the dai­ly lives of aver­age men and women. 

The artist fre­quent­ly ham­mered his point home by depict­ing the par­ties in his works as calav­eras - exu­ber­ant skele­tons seem­ing­ly unaware they had lost all flesh and blood. 

Posa­da was still a teenag­er in 1871 when a home­town paper picked up his first car­toons. One report­ed­ly enraged a local politi­cian to such a degree that the paper was forced to cease pub­li­ca­tion.

La Cat­ri­na was pub­lished posthu­mous­ly in 1913, as a broad­sheet illus­tra­tion accom­pa­ny­ing a satir­i­cal poem about chick­pea ven­dors. It’s believed that Posa­da intend­ed his image to be a jab at upper class Mex­i­can women obsessed with Euro­pean fash­ions.

(Rivera was the one who changed her name from La Cucaracha — the cock­roach — to the much more lyri­cal La Cat­ri­na. He also plant­ed the seed that Posa­da, who died pen­ni­less and large­ly for­got­ten, had been a rev­o­lu­tion­ary. The Mex­i­can pro­gres­sive print­mak­ing col­lec­tive El Taller Grafi­ca Pop­u­lar took graph­ic inspi­ra­tion from his calav­eras, while embrac­ing and dis­sem­i­nat­ing this myth.

What’s that they say about imi­ta­tion being the sin­cer­est form of flat­tery?

After Posada’s death, his col­leagues at the pub­lish­ing firm of Anto­nio Vane­gas Arroy­or, saved time and mon­ey by con­tin­u­ing to pro­duce work from his blocks and plates. 

As Jim Nikas, found­ing direc­tor of the Posa­da Art Foun­da­tion told Atlas Obscu­ra “If the image was neu­tral enough, you could change the text and use it as an illus­tra­tion for any sto­ry.”

Whether increas­ing pub­lic aware­ness of harm­ful agri­cul­tur­al pes­ti­cides, protest­ing Amer­i­can immi­gra­tion poli­cies, or, uh, sell­ing tequi­la, 21st cen­tu­ry artists, activists, and entre­pre­neurs con­tin­ue to har­ness Posada’s vision for their own pur­pos­es.

Nikas, who sam­pled Posada’s La Calav­era de Don Quixote for an Occu­py Wall Street col­lab­o­ra­tion with Art Hazel­wood and Mar­sha Shaw writes that “the calav­era is some­thing we all have bio­log­i­cal­ly in com­mon and, accord­ing­ly, may be used to con­vey mes­sages:

Posa­da and his pub­lish­ers used depic­tions of calav­eras not only to remind us of our col­lec­tive mor­tal­i­ty but also to shed light. His illus­tra­tions were often satir­i­cal car­i­ca­tures uproot­ed from the cur­rent polit­i­cal cli­mate and used to poke fun at our human con­di­tion. This use was evo­lu­tion­ary, occur­ring over time, and as applic­a­ble today as it was over a cen­tu­ry ago.

See more of José Guadalupe Posada’s calav­eras in the Library of Con­gress’ Prints and Pho­tographs Divi­sion col­lec­tion.

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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