6 Acts of Propaganda That Backfired Hilariously
Regimes live and die by their propaganda, so you'd think the people in charge of it would always be at the top of their game. When fooling the world is your business, there isn't much room for mistakes.
Or so you'd think...
USS Pueblo Crewmen Give North Korea the Finger of Peace
In these times of uncertainty, it's comforting to know that the North Korean government has been consistently insane for more than 40 years. Take the seizing of the USS Pueblo in January 1968, for instance. Despite being in international waters, the North Koreans saw the ship as fair game and chased, surrounded and opened fire on the Americans. Given that the Pueblo was carrying enough intelligence to give the Soviets a Cold War boner, the crew threw as much as they could into the incinerator and surrendered themselves to the DPRK warship.
The American crew was then paraded through the streets of Wonsan and put through a series of photo shoots, the prints of which were distributed around the world. These photos obviously showed the superior morality of the DRPK, as the prisoners were unharmed and totally responding well to North Korean authority.
So What Went Wrong?
Well, see for yourself:
Don't quite see it? Here's another:
That ever so subtle sign to the cameraman? That's just a Hawaiian good luck sign, don't worry about it. They are in no way saying that the North Koreans are bullshitting the rest of the world and that they are actually getting tortured and beaten daily. No way.
If North Korea was looking for sympathy, they had not only shot themselves in the foot, but in the genitals as well.
The photos appeared in Time and came to the attention of the general public, who instantly wondered why the hell no one was rescuing these guys. Finally in December, the word was out that the U.S. wanted to apologize for being in DPRK waters and admit that they were spying. The crew were taken across to South Korea to be met with U.S. officials, who secured the men and proceeded to signal a further "fuck you" to the North Koreans by retracting both admission and apology.
They then sailed off on a ship made of burn.
The Nazi's Titanic
Before World War II, the German public were actually pretty fond of the British. So when the Brits got on their high horse and told the Germans they weren't having any of this silly taking over of the continent business, a quick re-branding of an entire nation was needed.
The British Public reacted to the German advance with a collective, "Harumph."
What the Third Reich wanted was an epic extravaganza that firmly placed the super capitalistic British in the wrong and a few upright Nazis in the right.
Naturally they went with a retelling of the classic pro-Nazi morality tale, Titanic.
How did they pull that off? Well, as video games, movie sequels and the South American continent have shown us, things can only get better when you add Nazis.
In this case, the Third Reich added some kind, sympathetic German soldiers to the story of the doomed ship. And these soldiers begged the captain of the Titanic to not go so fast, lest they all die. And when the money-loving pig of a British captain hit that iceberg with his fastness, the Germans were the only guys on board who really attempted to save anybody. AS IF A NAZI EVER TRIED TO SAVE ANYBODY.
Whoops, that's our bad.
So What Went Wrong?
The whole production was a disaster from start to finish. The director, Herbert Selpin, was imprisoned and killed for not being nearly Nazi enough and saying mean things about the German Navy. And only once the most expensive German film up to that point was finally finished did everyone realize that the general public wouldn't really care for a disaster film when Germany itself was being bombed to hell.
The film was pulled from cinemas after its debut and only shown in Paris, before being banned altogether. And then in 1945 the ship the movie was filmed on was sunk, killing way more people than the actual Titanic disaster.
The whole project came to symbolize the complete and utter failure of the Third Reich, which isn't bad for a film where the complete opposite was meant to happen. And to add insult to injury, Germany's enemies the Soviets loved the film for its anti-capitalism message, the Brits stole some of the scenes for their own superior version a decade later, and James Cameron would eventually rip off some of the plot in his own sappy Hollywoodized version.
Admittedly, this one really would have been better with Nazis.
And while we're on the subject of sunken ships...
The German Lusitania Medal Scores One for Allies, Bad Taste
The Lusitania was a super classy luxury ship that was (SPOILER ALERT) a lot like the Titanic in that it was big, fancy, built in the United Kingdom, and launched back when ladies still wore whale bones to pinch their insides into coke bottle shapes.
Also like the Titanic, the Lusitania got sunk by an iceberg. Except that this iceberg was shaped like a torpedo and was shot from a German U-Boat. This caused U.S. sentiment to turn against the Germans and join the Allies during World War I.
This kicked off a crucial propaganda battle, since according to Germany, the sinking of the Lusitania was fair game because it wasn't just loaded with rich civilian passengers, but was also filled to the brim with war weapons (it turns out they were partially right, but no one would prove it until 2008). And to commemorate the thoroughly justified murder of over 1200 civilians, a German sculptor named Karl Goetz crafted a medal for the German government.
Having businessmen barter with a hellspawn skeleton should really rally support for... someone.
The medal depicted the ship sinking underneath the weight of a mass of armaments, and the backside featured nothing less than a boatload of capitalists laughing it up and purchasing their tickets to hell from Skeletor Ticketmaster. Above this totally not horrific imagery is the phrase "Business Above All." Everyone who sees one of these babies will know what really happened!
So What Went Wrong?
You would have thought that with all the detail he crammed into five centimeters of metal, Goetz would at least have made sure he got everything right. It's not like this medal was commemorating anything important, or that its mass production would completely destroy Germany chances of sympathy with neutral nations.
Oh wait, no. It totally did that. With just one little number.
The Lusitania was sunk on the 7th of May, 1915, but Goetz used May 5 after a newspaper printed the wrong date of the sinking. This was a big deal. The only justification Germany had with their attack was that it was a purely defensive tactic made on the spur of the moment to prevent arms being illegally transported to Britain. The date change seemed to suggest that the whole event was premeditated.
The British seized on this mistake and started recreating these medals like fevered rabbits, thereby avoiding publicity about their own little illegal naval blockade issue. The reproduced medal got shipped to the U.S., and then the Americans started reproducing the medal as well. And then the U.S. joined the war against Germany. That's when Karl Goetz looked really stupid.
Actress is Just Too Likable to be Anti-Nazi
Back when the pinnacle of entertainment was to go to the movies to be told how to think and act, the Third Reich created the first Odd Couple drama series. Except instead of hijinks and humor, there were just good Nazis and bad Nazis.
We are of the opinion that the only good Nazi is a dead Nazi, or in some situations, an undead Nazi.
The series was called Leise und Miese, "Liza and Lousy," proving that what Germans lack in situational comedy, they more than make up for in snappy writing.
So Leise und Meise were all about teaching audiences how to be good and patriotic citizens. As you may have guessed, "Lousy" was supposed to embody the terrible things that were discouraged by the government, such as listening to enemy radio stations and stockpiling food.
The last act actually seems quite sensible for a wartime situation, but then the only experience we've had with saving goods up in wartime is stealing ammo from other players in Call of Duty.
So What Went Wrong?
Their casting director picked the wrong bad girl. They hired Brigitte Mira, an actress who was just starting out but who managed to turn her "bad" character into a sympathetic woman. Whether this was through incredible acting skills or by just being smoking hot is unconfirmed, but since her career managed to span eight decades, we're guessing mainly the former. Seeing audiences warm to Brigitte got up the producer's nose and the series was soon canceled.
Americans would take the opposite view and give the worst characters their own show.
What makes this all the more remarkable was not that she lived to the grand old age of 95, it was the fact that she survived Germany at all. See, Brigitte Mira's Father was Jewish, making her one of the ballsiest half-Jewish, pro-Nazi actresses in history.
Air Force One Terrifies New York
Let's be clear: it isn't just Nazis and North Koreans who produce dumbass propaganda. The US government is perfectly capable of creating some spectacularly foolish monkeyshine as well.
Suffocate men wearing derbys. Be American!
The dawn of a new presidential administration is the perfect time to stir up feelings of patriotism and hope in the hearts of the people. And what better metaphorical mixer is there for stirring hearts than Air Force One? And what better metaphorical bowl is there than iconic US landmarks? In other less metaphorical words, wouldn't it be kickass to take some pictures of Air Force One buzzing the most American shit America has to offer? Preferably while Lee Greenwood sang in the background and a lone eagle led the charge? Yes.
And this is exactly what the brand new Obama administration attempted to accomplish in the spring of 2009 with a series of staged photographs of Air Force One.
So What Went Wrong?
Imagine you're the person planning this flyover. For the pictures to turn out best, it's got to be a low flight path. For terrifying thousands of people, it's got to happen in freaking New York City.
"An airliner buzzing NY skyscrapers? This won't upset a single person!"
They not only plum forgot to tell the President or the Mayor of New York City, but the White House press secretary claimed to be unaware it was going on. After all, it's pretty hard to track the whereabouts of several tons of aircraft. One of the best things about the whole debacle were the internal emails sent by Pentagon staff, who, amongst flailing recriminations and sheer panic, start to resemble the cast of The Office.
"YES WE CAN!"
And then they realized a little thing called the Internet had caught wind of the story:
But thankfully, swine flu is predicted to save the day.
The whole thing ended with apologies, promises to never do it again and Obama having to flay people alive in the White House dungeons.
And he does so hate having to do it.
Baghdad Bob Cracks His Enemies the Hell Up
Meet Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, the Iraq information minister, better known as Baghdad Bob, or the guy who was meant to make Saddam Hussein look good. Not a good job at the best of times, never mind at the height of the second Gulf War. His tenure as the mouthpiece of Iraq lasted two whole years though, or enough time to build a house made of failure.
The house was made of failure, and probably some sand.
Also dubbed "Comical Ali," al-Sahaf conducted press conferences during the US invasion of Iraq. And it became very evident that al-Sahaf's public relations strategy was simple: Deny everything. WMD's, the success of the invading forces, the fact that Baghdad was under siege right outside the press conference, everything.
"What oil wells? Those are fire mines."
While his wish was actually to be an English teacher, al-Sahaf put his linguistic skills to the delicate art of propaganda, and the Western press lapped it up, laughing all the way.
So What Went Wrong?
This guy would have written the Book of Wrong, if he weren't guaranteed to accidentally stab himself in the eye with the pencil. His brain was connected to his mouth by way of crazy straws, and he had the habit of cheering up the enemy by just opening it.
Some of his greatest quotes can be found in this compilation on Youtube, but we have our own favorites:
"We are not afraid of the Americans. Allah has condemned them. They are stupid. They are stupid... and they are condemned."
"Our initial assessment is that they will all die."
"They are suffering from shock. And awe. Ok."
"They are a superpower of villains. Really. They are a superpower of Al Capone."
"We have them surrounded in their tanks"
We're pretty sure Steven Seagal has said at least three of those in his movies.
Don't forget, he was the Iraq Information Minister. While that sounds like a job in the Ministry of Truth, this guy was the voice of a whole country. Wars were won and lost on this kind of thing. George Bush was once asked whether the guy was a plant, as his insane ramblings only succeeded in making the US look good. He got the hell out of Baghdad the day before the city fell, though continued to make appearances on TV in the Middle East, presumably claiming he still had the upper hand.
He was like the real-life equivalent of Mumm-Ra.
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For more from the world of propaganda, check out 6 Mind-Blowing Achievements in Propaganda and The 17 Most Unintentionally Hilarious Propaganda Posters.
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