Political propaganda, much like a late-night infomercial, is supposed to make you let someone else screw you over. Often, you don't even realize what's going on until you're trapped in a totalitarian regime or stuck with a malfunctioning StairMaster. Sometimes, however, propaganda ends up convincing everyone that the people in positions of power are as dumb as, if not dumber than, everyone else. For example ...
In 1989, North Korea hosted the World Festival of Youth and Students, because this was back when they were still into pretending their country was basically Disney World, but bigger, as opposed to a nightmare of oppression and bad haircuts. So, when Lim Su-kyung, a left-leaning activist from South Korea, illegally crossed into the North specifically to participate in the festival, "Eternal President" Kim Il Sung was ecstatic: Here they had someone who not only was willing to badmouth the South, but could also look hot while doing it.
Via The Three Wise Monkeys
She was also apparently 100 feet tall, so that helped.
Lim ended up staying in North Korea for six weeks, delighting the country's propagandists with her steady stream of criticism of the South's government. They even dubbed her the Flower of Reunification, since everyone, including the glorious leader, shared her dream of harmony between North and South (as long as he got to enforce that harmony with tanks, of course).
So What Went Wrong?
But then North Koreans began to notice something odd about this girl: The South, they'd always been told, was rife with starvation, poverty, and ignorance. Lim Su-kyung, however, was clearly well-fed, well-dressed, educated, and unusually still alive for a "political dissident."
"The headband is to cover torture wounds, right?"
Lim blew everyone's minds by (*gasp*) speaking naturally while casually referring to South Korea's rapidly increasing wealth and abundance of food, electronics, and cars that anyone could freely buy. This intrigued North Koreans, who thought that such luxuries were gifted only at the government's leisure (and mostly to government itself).
When Lim Su-kyung returned to South Korea, she was immediately arrested for crossing the demilitarized zone. North Koreans were devastated, since they naturally assumed she'd be flayed alive while her whole family got shipped to prison camps. The North Korean propaganda teams sent to chronicle her martyrdom, however, beamed back truly shocking images: Lim receiving a public trial, being represented by a lawyer, and receiving a light sentence (which would be even further reduced). Her family members, rather than being sent to gulags, gave interviews from their own homes.
The Korea Herald
Even her prison jumpsuit was fancier than whatever Kim Jong Un's wearing.
At this point the regime realized they were just making themselves look bad and stopped hyping the Flower, but the damage was done: The number of defectors from North Korea suddenly began to increase after 1989, and many of them have specifically pointed at Lim's speeches, interviews, even her ability to wear jeans as what made them realize that the South might not actually be a hellhole.
Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images
When the scientists of the world told us that, according to 97 percent of them, global warming has definitely been proven to be a thing, some of the richest people alive decided it was finally time to take action ... and unprove that shit right back. The Koch brothers, for example, have thrown $61 million at the noble cause of denying that pumping toxic crap into the atmosphere might have negative consequences, just out of the kindness of their hearts.
Via Business Insider
We couldn't find a photo of David Koch, so we Photoshopped the Annoying Orange face onto a potato.
That's why, when Charles Koch heard about the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project in 2011 -- an entire study dedicated to showing that other climate studies either distorted their data or used faulty tests -- he said "Here, take some pocket change" and gave them their single largest donation. No doubt one of the main draws of the study for Koch was the fact that it was headed by physicist Richard Muller, one of the most vocal members of the 3 percent of climate skeptics in the scientific community.
Now all the Koch brothers had to do was wait for Muller to turn in his study, and they'd finally have a better counterargument against global warming than just covering their ears and going "LA LA LA LA LA."
So What Went Wrong?
Unfortunately for the Kochs, that 3 percent just got a little bit smaller: Richard Muller ended up confirming the thing he was trying to disprove.
Yes, Muller was a skeptic, but he was also a scientist, and the science was clear: Taking into account temperature records for the past 250 years, historical carbon dioxide levels, and the alleged methodological problems in other studies, he determined that the Earth is hotter now than it was back during the Civil War, with most of the hottening happening in recent decades. In fact, Muller went so far as to say that not only does global warming really exist, but it's definitely our own damn fault. Or, you know, what all the other scientists have been saying for decades.
Conservative commentators who had previously been eager to see the BEST results now mysteriously seemed eager to find some glaring flaws in it. Meanwhile, Charles Koch ordered his publicists to insist that any suggestion that he funded the study only because he wanted to shove the results in everyone's faces was pure speculation. Did we mention that they're rich because they own a bunch of oil refineries?
ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images News/Getty Images
If you think your friend who keeps an iPad in every room (and two in the bathroom, in case the battery runs out while pooping) is the biggest Apple fanatic ever, you've never been to China. The Chinese people love their i-prefixed gadgets so much that, in February 2013, China surpassed the U.S. as Apple's biggest market. That's what happens when you combine increasing disposable incomes, the ironic urge to assert class identity in a "classless" communist state, and sheer numbers.
Feng Li/Getty Images News/Getty Images
That's just the line to gape at the iPads from the window as you walk by.
The Chinese government, though, is a whole other story. The growing popularity of iPhones threatened the sales of smartphones made by (state-run) Chinese companies, which, in turn, threatened the kickbacks that party bureaucrats would normally get. And so, in 2013, China's official media channels started running dubious anti-Apple stories while secretly telling Chinese celebrities to bash Apple at the same hour. One celebrity even forgot to delete the "Post around 8:20 p.m." instruction at the end of "his" post:
But at least he left out the "... or your family gets it."
When Apple had the "unparalleled arrogance" to try to defend themselves, the Communist Party's official blow horn, the People's Daily, encouraged Chinese "netizens" to swarm the Internet and express their outrage. The government then sat back to watch with pride, because asking for honest opinions has never backfired before.
So What Went Wrong?
Chinese citizens did exactly what the government told them, going online and freely offering their opinions about the appallingly abusive practices ... of China's government-owned companies. Including the People's Daily.
"Eh, it still isn't the worst thought out idea we've had," said the People's Daily, from their giant dong building.
Even those who conceded that Apple is far from perfect agreed that Chinese companies are much, much worse -- as evidenced by the flood of hundreds of tales of shitty customer service, price gouging, unauthorized charges, refused refunds, and products so shoddily made that they broke under such strenuous conditions as "looking at them." That's right, "Buy American" shills and advocates: Even the Chinese are skeptical of "Made in China."
Eventually, the public outrage expanded from Chinese companies to the Chinese leadership itself. At this point, the government realized they probably should have stuck to bribing celebrities and quietly ended the anti-Apple campaign before it turned into a bloody revolution.