The 16 Most Hilariously Ineffective Propaganda Posters
War is hell, and tragedy, and terrible, terrible posters. Once again we have delved into the world of unintentionally hilarious propaganda, and this time we've dug out twice as many posters from the U.S., just to prove that we can be just as obliviously ridiculous as the rest of the world.
Every Canadian Must Fight (Canada)
To settle once and for all that all Canadians can fight world wars, and not just the ones dressed as soldiers, as is generally assumed.
"Listen. I know you're busy and all. I brought you this box of chocolates. I just want you to know that you're doing a great job here, and ... wow, what shampoo is that? Your neck hair smells really nice. Anyway. I'll leave you to it. I'll just leave the chocolates over here. Again, great job with the-ARGH I'VE BEEN SHOT AS WELL!"
Save Your Child (USA)
Apparently the U.S. government was really, really strapped for cash during World War I. By buying Savings Stamps, you could help win the war and prevent a bleak future for your children.
For starters, that kid is wearing socks with her sandals, which is a major fashion faux pas. And secondly, that's all she's wearing.
"Hey, we tried to warn you, dads. Didn't you see the poster?"
It's hard to understand what exactly they were going for here. Poverty will strip your child naked, so we're guessing autocracy is the one to blame for having her straddle a giant stone hand making an unfortunate gesture. And if that's supposed to be the Statue of Liberty, then this image could only take place at some point in the transition between the present and the apocalyptic future of Planet of the Apes. All because you were too cheap to buy some stamps.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes ... (Nazi Germany)
The message here is that surrendering to the Third Reich will vastly improve your chances of getting laid. No, seriously: Another part of this German leaflet supposedly stated that "POWs have a better chance for romance than crippled fighters," which paints a grossly inaccurate picture of how the Nazis dealt with prisoners.
This leaflet is tame compared to some of the more graphic stuff the Germans and Japanese dropped on Allied territory during World War II, showing, for example, nude women engaged in sexual activities with subtitles like "The Girl You Left Behind" or "While You Are Away," with the purpose of demoralizing enemy troops.
If by "demoralize" they actually meant "give them boners," then the operation was a smashing success. Rather than weeping inconsolably and turning themselves in, Allied soldiers laughed off the transparent intent of the propaganda, then disappeared behind bushes for the next 15 minutes. Pornographic leaflets were avidly anticipated, collected and traded by the soldiers, who, after losing interest in a particular picture, simply used it as toilet paper.
In gratitude to the Germans for this invaluable service, British Intelligence used the '40s equivalent of Photoshop to create a fake picture of Hitler performing an intimate act in public. We'll just show you the original and let you guess what we mean.
And now you know where Photoshop trolls were invented.
Only a Kid (USA)
Eastern Aircraft was a division of General Motors created in 1942 after the government shut down the production of civilian cars to focus on building stuff they could use to shoot Japanese people. Apparently GM's reconverted fighter-plane-building plants did not look terribly impressive at first.
Check out the biceps on that kid. You know what, forget airplanes, let's put a bunch of toddlers armed with monkey wrenches on a ship and let them loose on Japan. Everything indicates that this baby is getting ready to kick some ass: the clenched fist, the spread-out legs, the vacant yet mildly strained expression ... he ... he's pooping himself, isn't he?
"I got a bomb for ya, Germany."
Keep your gun in your pants, soldier.
... 'cause you never know if she's packing one, too. The suspicious neck protuberance on the one in the middle is a dead giveaway, but it isn't always that easy to spot a cross-dresser. On a more serious note, it's a little disturbing that the 1940s definition of "loose women" included showing them always keeping one eye invisible and wearing funny hats. And on a similar note ...
"I Wish I Were a Man" (USA)
A slightly passive-aggressive way of getting you to join the Navy.
Unless you don't happen to own a set of testicles, that is: In that case, you'd better go and get yourself some. In that sense, this poster is surprisingly progressive: The girl says she'd like to be a man and join the Navy (two separate but related wishes), and the poster reassuringly responds with "Be a man and do it -- what the hell do we care?" See, you only thought it was terribly sexist.
Patriotic Bleach Ad in World War I (France)
The French prime minister will wipe those Germans out of the country, quite literally. Meanwhile, the French spirit stands triumphant, and in the shape of a rooster.
We could translate all of the text on this poster, but quite frankly, that ruins it. They tried so hard to pile layer on top of layer of symbolism here that, without any text to guide you through it, becomes a tableau of madness itself. So we're going to translate it as "Apologize! Apologize to my cock, you drunken pope!"
I Need Smokes (USA)
These men are risking their butts to defend world freedom in World War I while you're sitting at home, staring at posters. The least you could do is send them some cigarettes.
No, seriously, someone give this man some nicotine soon or he's gonna project his fist right through the poster and into your face. Look at his eyes!
Previous iterations of the campaign were more honest about his intent.
Perhaps the poster's original intent was more clear before the fedora went out of fashion as a military accessory, but today the complete lack of context makes the "soldier" look like a '30s gangster attempting to make you piss yourself with nothing but one finger and his unblinking glare. Fortunately, other posters in this campaign managed to add more information while keeping matters just as urgent.
"Seriously. We have guns."
Keep Pitching (USA)
Don't slack off while fighting Nazis, or this could be you.
"Keep pitching with BOTH HANDS. Because you don't have hands. Did you get it? Did you get the joke I made?"
"Don't be like that. Come on, cheer up. Give us a clap."
Don't Give Your Blood (USA)
If you're not careful at work, you could hurt yourself -- AND THEN THE NAZIS WIN.
"The 7th Column" is a fairly obscure way to refer to workplace accidents during wartime, so in the absence of that context, this poster just looks like the government is discouraging people from donating blood to a particularly unpopular U.S. regiment. (And if you're gonna do that, definitely don't do it by jamming a screwdriver into your hand. We have needles now, dude.) Presumably this misunderstanding is what led the government to issue this clarification:
Note that it still looks like he stabbed his hand to get the blood out himself. On second thought, maybe needles hadn't quite caught on back then after all.
Why Don't They Come? (Canada)
Something as enormous as World War I is a sad and lonely experience for just one soldier. Why not join him?
"All right, let's take out those cannons over there ... HEY! Goddammit, rifle! Stop daydreaming about being a hockey stick! What the fuck? How many times do I have to tell- ARGH I'VE BEEN SHOT!"
"Shhh! Goddammit, just give me five freakin' minutes to see the end of this!"
Also, how long did you have to look at that before you realized the guy is NOT fighting the battle blindfolded?
Look Out for Buffers (USSR)
The Soviet Union was never the safest place to be a worker. Injuries in the workplace soared like Sputnik under the communists, which is why posters like this one went up to keep an acceptable amount of the population's brains intact.
We seriously have no idea how this guy could have found himself in this position in the first place. How the hell was this a problem that they had to warn people about? How many lives did idly standing between train cars and accidentally having your head squashed claim in the Soviet Union? Look at the horrible realization on that guy's face -- he's saying, "No. You took father and Pyotr and Ivan, and now you've come to take me. I knew this day would come. Forgive me, mother."
Private Caution Says ... (USA)
Hey, did you know that having unprotected sex can spread diseases?
No, you probably didn't, because you're like 12. Seriously, whoever drew that cartoon of an officer urgently waking up a child clearly wasn't informed that it was going to appear in the middle of a poster with instructions for safe sex, leading to some horrible implications.
Let's try to decipher what's supposed to be happening here. Is the officer going to escort the soldier to the showers and force him to wash his privates? Or are we about to witness the incident that led to the STD emergency in the first place? Either way, Private Caution still gets spooked whenever he so much as sees another adult passing by, judging by this other poster.
Don't Clutter Your Working Place (USSR)
Clutter makes baby Stalin cry. If you leave your glorious communist tools lying around the workplace, you'll trip over them like a shithead.
Is it at all clear to you what injury this guy has suffered, or what caused it? Did those giant Legos fall on him? Is he tripping over that tiny bit of junk near his right foot?
Actually, if you look at the wrench in mid-air, we're pretty sure it had been balanced precariously on one of those pieces of debris in just such a way so that when this guy's foot came down on it, it flipped up and smacked him in the balls. "DON'T LET THIS HAPPEN TO YOU, COMRADE!"
Loose Talk (USA)
Hey, asshole, don't try to impress your date by blabbing about weapons-manufacturing installations and top secret attack plans: You never know who's listening. Just do what the rest of us do and lie about your penis.
"Don't turn now."
"What? What is it?"
"A guy with a giant ear just sat next to us."
"What do you -- holy shit!"
"Joe, I told you not to ... Wait. Is that Hitler?"
"Probably. Honestly, I'm way more impressed by the giant ear part."
"And why is he dressed like Charlie Chaplin?"
"I've never seen anything like that ear. That's just grotesque."
"OK, now he got up and started walking."
"Do you think he heard us?"
"I think he's crying."
Keep Mum (U.K.)
Even without stealth Hitlers lurking around, it's still important not to blab about the war effort, because you never know who might be a spy.
Gender equality wasn't such a hot issue in the '40s, and so it was deemed necessary to inform the population that women are not, in fact, inanimate objects and can not only understand what you're saying, but, under certain circumstances, even repeat it. There were a few other "Keep mum -- she's not so dumb!" posters produced in the U.K. ...
"Tell ya what. You go make papa a sandwich, and I'll tolerate your crying and rambling bullshit tonight."
... and naturally, they all depicted blondes. Also, note that the word "so" isn't strictly necessary to the wordplay, they just threw it in there so women didn't think this was a compliment or something.
Jacopo would like to thank @LisaAJK, @TerryMoran, @Timelady07 and everyone else kind enough to follow him on Twitter. Also, thanks to Prof. John Brown of Georgetown University for blogging about Jacopo's previous article on propaganda posters.
For more ridiculous feats in art, check out Lost In Translation: 20 Baffling Foreign Movie Posters and The 8 Manliest Foreign Movie Posters Ever.
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