When you think "propaganda" you immediately picture a huge statue of a dictator, or banners stamped with corny slogans. You think of the kind of clumsy brainwashing that only works on uneducated peasants.
But then there are acts of propaganda that have changed the world, usually because you didn't know they were propaganda. If there was a hall of fame for such things, it would include...
It's the face that launched a million t-shirts.
There is a photographer named Alberto Korda, and trust us, you've seen his work. Born in the swinging city of Havana, Cuba, Alberto discovered his true calling in life while using his dad's camera to take pictures of what we can only imagine was one smoking-hot Cuban girlfriend.
Upon realizing that photography offered him infinite times more ass than any of Jack Dawson's stupid drawings, Alberto soon established himself as the premiere fashion photographer of Cuba. "My main aim was to meet women," he later confessed, which makes his eventual marriage to the "drop-dead-gorgeous" Cuban fashion model Natalia "Norka" Menendez all the more awesome.
Alberto Korda, trying to look as unpimp as possible.
On March 5, 1960, Alberto found himself in a rare situation during a memorial service in Havana. Standing in front him was Argentinian revolutionary Che Guevara, with a look of "absolute implacability" on his face. Alberto's photograph of said implacability remains one of the most iconic images of the 20th Century.
The secret to its success: Che's possession of the original "Thriller" jacket.
Why it's Pure Propaganda:
Because Alberto Korda also moonlighted as Fidel Castro's unofficial photographer, and his famous picture of Che Guevara has essentially gone down in history as the Marxist equivalent of the crucifix.
The image is easily duplicated, instantly recognizable and has been lauded as "the most famous photograph in the world" due to its emotional accessibility to anyone who has ever been pissed off at something. And brother, that's a huge freaking market right there.
How ubiquitous is the image these days? Check out The Che Store. That's right. A store that sells nothing but merchandise with Che's head on it.
Viva La Revolucion!
It's amazing how certain single images or scenes from a story can just stick in everyone's mind... forever. And a single sequence in The Aeneid, about a bunch of soldiers hiding in a giant wooden horse in order to sneak into a walled city, has hung around for more than 2,000 years.
Even people who slept through their English classes and have no idea what the Aeneid is, know damned well that when your computer gets "a trojan" that's a bad thing. That's a piece of software that sneaks into your computer by pretending to be something else. "You know, like those guys in the big wooden horse."
The story was written by the Roman poet Virgil. Before that, the Greeks were already in the epic poem business with Homer's The Odyssey and The Iliad. Then the Romans pioneered the "conquer Greece and steal their shit" business and wrote a spinoff called Aeneid, the Frasier to the Iliad's Cheers.
Why it's Pure Propaganda:
It's one thing that the whole poem is a blatant rip-off of Homer's epics, but it's also designed to portray the Greeks as bigger assholes than the senior class of Omega House, only with Odysseus/Ulysses playing the role of Douglas C. Neidermeyer. Virgil's epic basically told the Greeks to go fuck themselves the way Greeks do best, and instead put a pro-Roman spin on the Trojans, whom the Romans identified with.
Which brings us to the Trojan Horse.
The giant wooden horse incident is briefly and cryptically mentioned in The Odyssey, but it was Virgil who told the story in detail. In his version, the Greeks' use of the horse to sneak into Troy plays like a cheap, dishonorable sucker-punch. That story would be used to vilify the Greeks for centuries, even though it may be complete fiction. The line between legend and history gets awfully blurry.
Virgil's line, "I fear the Greeks even if they bring gifts," mistranslated to "beware Greeks bearing gifts," has been a saying ever since. Yes, because of the Aeneid, the Greeks have been hearing that shit for 20 centuries.
They are simply the most iconic structures ever built. Say "Egypt" to anyone anywhere in the world, and there's a good chance an image of pyramids will flash across their mind.
The thing is, pyramids can be found all over the planet, but there's something about how the Egyptian tricked theirs out that holds a special place in our hearts. Maybe it's because ancient Egyptians themselves were pretty badass (and had to be, to build their gigantic versions without the help of a single forklift). Or maybe it's the fact that Great Pyramid of Giza is the only surviving Wonder of the World now that King Kong is dead.
Why it's Pure Propaganda:
So why would anyone go through the gigantic pain in the ass of building those enormous structures by hand? You've probably heard they were intended to be burial places for the pharaohs, which was probably true. But you can bury a guy without having thousands of slaves drag 25-ton blocks across the sand.
The answer is, of course, the same reason dudes spend themselves into debt to buy a tricked-out SUV: They have small penises.
In this case, Pharaoh Khufu--the guy responsible for the Great Pyramid --failed the world's largest dick-measuring contest when he built the tallest man-made structure in the world for 3,800 years. And he did it specifically to make up for the fact that he really wasn't all that powerful. According to some historians, "the Great Pyramid is a bluff," a massive expenditure designed to obscure the fact that Pharaoh Khufu "couldn't dominate Egypt's neighbors."
It wasn't just the pyramids. Basically every aspect of Ancient Egypt, from their art to their architecture was designed to spin the story that Pharaoh What's-His-Face was a god. Or, more specifically, to hide the fact that he wasn't one. At all.
Pharaoh What's-His-Face, failing the Gozer test.
Yes, Egypt would become a powerful empire. Later. It was only after his successors Khafra and Menkaura entered the scene that the Old Kingdom leveled-up because they invested in actual useful stuff like trade, military and irrigation.
But the only reason Old Kingdom Ancient Egypt enjoys its reputation as "the Age of the Pyramids" is because some of the earliest pharaohs were so weak they had to build ridiculous shit like the Great Pyramids to prove they weren't. The pyramids were kind of like those sad portraits of Kim Jong Il they put up all over North Korea.
Imagine how small his dick is.