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.
Of course, Paul Revere gets most of his street cred for his famous "midnight ride" (most of which is bullshit), but he had an equally important role in one of the most important propaganda tools of the American revolution: an engraving called The Bloody Massacre. If you touched a textbook in an American public school, you've seen it.
Now, Revere was apparently a student of the Thomas Alva Edison school of engraving, in that he simply took someone else's drawing and used it as the basis of his own. In this case he borrowed the work of a young artist named Henry Pelham and produced the broadsheet that would be the lightning-rod for the Sons of Liberty in the wake of the Boston Massacre.
What is that dog doing down there?
Why it's Pure Propaganda:
Because the image whitewashed the hell out of history in a way that would make Dan Brown blush.
Just about every element of that broadsheet was pulled directly out of either Pelham's or Paul Revere's ass, all to make the near-riot we call the Boston Massacre look more like the last half-hour of Rambo. In reality, there were seven or eight British soldiers surrounded by a screaming mob of 300 or 400 colonists. In the picture, the besieged British soldiers are transformed into a goddamn firing squad, smirking as they mow down a dozen unarmed innocents.
It was like this. More or less.
That picture swept across the colonies like wildfire. Revere sold the prints, pushing it in ads that ran in all of the Boston newspapers. Copies hung in houses all across the colonies, and the image of a row of British soldiers mowing down a bunch of pedestrians was burned into America's memory forever.
As you may have noticed, we're hard on the founding fathers here at Cracked, and we've even taken our shots at George Washington at times. But he was unquestionably the father of the country and we don't like to think about how things would have played out without him.
That's why they named the nation's capital after him, after all. And put him on the one dollar bill:
And on our stamps:
And our schools:
And on a mountain:
And a state:
And a monument:
And carved into a statue dressed as Zeus?
What the fuck? That one almost appeared atop the Washington Monument... riding a freaking chariot.
OK, so America may have taken the whole Washington thing a little too far.
Here he is as a pastry chef.
Why it's Pure Propaganda:
While we have already mentioned the liberties taken with George's life and so-so military career, the way he's been worshiped throughout American history extends far beyond Parson Weems' bullshit story about George the lumberjack. In fact, it really extends into full-blown cult of personality status. The new USA spent decades plastering Washington's face and name onto every flat surface they could find.
Why? Well, for several reasons, but mainly because the new nation sort of needed it. The 13 colonies barely tolerated each other and the biggest danger was that the new nation would collapse into a cloud of civil wars and cannon smoke. Since the United States had little history of its own, and thus no legendary heroes to rally around, the public appeal and near-worship of Washington helped establish a single (and largely mythological) figure all of the colonies could get behind.
Keep in mind, George Washington wasn't voted into office--there were no primaries or debates or campaign ads or other candidates. They basically just declared him President, and most people were fine with that because everywhere they looked they found a reminder that the man was a god. Hell, to this day he's worshiped and glorified in classrooms, textbooks, children songs and just about every element of pop culture from commercials to movies.
Of course his own political allies were quick to promote it, but so was everybody who wanted to sell something by jumping on the Washington merchandise gravy train.
Everybody had t-shirts with this on it.
That up there, friends, is a picture of the USA winning World War II. You can't tell us that it doesn't make you want to go fight in a war a little bit. It's the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima, the end of a hard-fought battle in the Pacific theater. They turned it into a kick-ass statue:
Why it's Pure Propaganda:
If you've read about the famous photo you've probably ran across accusations that it was staged. That's not necessarily true. But it was grossly misleading, and the story behind it is utterly ridiculous.
When the marines took the highest point on the island (Mount Suribachi, which dominates the land mass) they did raise a flag, and snapped a photo. This one:
You'll notice that flag is tiny, and kind of sad looking.
Still, when the Secretary of the Navy showed up to the war zone, he was so overcome at the sight he decided he wanted a copy of it. And by it, we don't mean the photo. We mean the actual flag, which there was only one copy of. Why did he want to deprive this battalion of their prized battle standard? No joke--he wanted a souvenir from the battle that he was not even in.
To keep the Secretary from stealing their flag, battalion commander Chandler Johnson had his men quickly take it down, presumably before the other guy could shimmy up the pole and grab it. He then sent one of his men after a replacement flag, with the command that he bring back a big, man-sized flag this time.
The raising of that flag is what we have the iconic photo of, the "let's put up some other flag so this asshole doesn't steal ours" flag. Oh, and we should mention that the flag wasn't marking victory, as the battle wasn't over. Half the men in this picture (Franklin Sousley, Michael Strank and Harlon Block) were dead before the Battle of Iwo Jima was won, and as for Rene Gagnon, he had to fight the longer war of being "that guy" in the picture who only shows a bit of his leg.
Still, Raising the Flag at Iwo Jima won the Pulitzer Prize for Photography, and became one of the most iconic images of the 20th Century (no doubt to the delight of FDR's propaganda department). They brought the surviving Marines in the photo home to tour the country and sell war bonds. They made a movie about it, and had them pose for a sculptor to create a memorial.
Hell, even the Soviets were so impressed they had no choice but to rip it off themselves during the Battle of Berlin. Their flag raising was staged, by the way.
The Dictator's Cut.
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For more deets about the world of propaganda, check out 5 Kick-Ass Action Movies That Are Pure Propaganda and The 17 Most Unintentionally Hilarious Propaganda Posters.
And stop by our Top Picks (Updated Today! Shit!) see our propaganda campaign to bring down George Washington.