6 Works of Propaganda That Backfired in Hilarious Ways
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 ...
North Korea Parades South Korean Protester, Accidentally Makes Her Country Sound Awesome
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.
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.
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.
Koch-Funded Study to Disprove Global Warming Proves Global Warming
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.
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?
China's Anti-Apple Campaign Turns into Anti-China Campaign
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.
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.
The Communist Propaganda Film That Accidentally Made Capitalism Look Awesome
In the '60s, Cuba loved two things: repudiating everything about the decadent lifestyle of the capitalistic imperialists, and going to the movies. Unfortunately, their cinemas and drive-ins were looking a lot emptier due to the American embargo on, well, everything, leading Fidel Castro to appeal to the USSR to make him a film that would put all those Hollywood blockbusters to shame. The Soviet Union obliged, always happy to help their allies and promote international communism in any way they could (often without the allies ever asking them to).
The result was the 1964 film Soy Cuba ("I Am Cuba"), headed by veteran Soviet director Mikhail Kalatozov.
"Oh, sure, this'll be just as easy to masturbate to as Marilyn Monroe."
Castro was so convinced that his propaganda film would be a game changer that, according to Wikipedia, he ordered a thousand active-duty soldiers to leave their posts to shoot a single scene for the movie -- because, you know, what else did they have to do only a week after the Cuban missile crisis almost triggered World War III?
So What Went Wrong?
So you've got a film meant to show impoverished Cubans how awful Americans are, and you do so by showing the beautiful capitalist scum at a rocking pool party:
At a gorgeous resort with a huge swimming pool:
The goal is to make the viewer say, "Damn those greedy Americans!" but you know that's not what goes through the human brain when seeing that -- the thought is something closer to "How can we get in on that shit?"
So it's unclear who hated Soy Cuba the most: the Cubans, for portraying them like spicy Latino hillbillies, or the Soviets, because they worried that Kalatozov's elaborate film techniques made the "American excess" look pretty awesome compared to the "heroic" life of peasants. But you know who ended up loving it? America.
We're a little disappointed none of the reviewers went with "Che-nsational!"
Decades after the movie bombed and its makers and funders disgustedly cast it aside until it rotted from collective memory, Soy Cuba was uncovered by Western filmmakers, who called it revolutionary, though not for the reasons Kalatozov intended. Those same shots that left the Russians cold? The likes of Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola thought they were pure cinematic gold. Thanks to festival screenings and a restoration campaign, Soy Cuba is still influencing filmmakers today. For instance, the famous "American Party" opening was the inspiration for another movie about people getting screwed:
That's how badly Soy Cuba failed as anti-American, anti-capitalist propaganda -- the scenes meant to condemn "American excess and debauchery" ended up being perfectly suited for fucking Boogie Nights.
Iran Forces Student Leader to Dress as a Woman, Thousands Imitate Him
When Iran's 2009 presidential election was tainted by a slight case of "rampant, shameless, widespread voter fraud," the country's students took to the streets to let their discomfort be known. That's when, in a bizarre turn of events, prominent student leader Majid Tavakoli was arrested for "propaganda against the system" and the authorities released pictures of him dressed as a woman, claiming he was in the process of pulling a Tootsie when the arrest happened.
In another shameful photo, he's shown respecting the rights of sexual minorities.
The pictures practically made the regime cream their manly, decidedly heterosexual pants, because here was a leader of the protesters shamefully dressed as the inferior sex while trying to escape, or arrested in the midst of the world's saddest drag act (they never really settled on one story). And then the protests ended forever, and no one questioned Iran's government again.
So What Went Wrong?
Just kidding. Pretty much not a single Iranian believed it. The authorities had clearly Tootsie'd Tavakoli themselves, expecting all the students to go "I ain't following no sissy," because they think everyone must be A) terrible and B) a moron. Instead, thousands of Iran's young (and not so young) men reacted by doing the exact opposite: They followed Tavakoli's example by dressing up like ladies:
A victory for equality, and for Google porn searchers with very, very specific turn-ons.
The Be a Man campaign sprouted up, daring Iranian dudes to post pictures of themselves "questioning their masculinity" in solidarity with Tavakoli. Even celebrities like Babak Takhti, member of the manliest family in Iran, joined in the fun. Mir Hossein Mousavi, the candidate who "lost" to famed crazy man Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the elections, spoke enthusiastically about the campaign. However, you only know a meme has gone nuclear when videos with dramatic music pop up on YouTube.
The campaign may not have gotten Tavakoli released, but at least it made sure that 100 percent of the country was aware that his arrest was a sham. So, just remember: For every 3,000 awful, unfunny memes we suffer, we get something like this. It almost makes "Condescending Wonka" worth it.
The Viet Cong's Biggest Martyr Turns Up Alive, Helps the U.S.
In 1966, teenager Nguyen Van Be was a Viet Cong volunteer transporting a shipment of high explosives with his comrades. Suddenly, a fierce, half-hour gun battle with the enemy erupted. Be fought bravely, but was eventually captured, tortured, and ordered to explain how the mines he was carrying worked. Seeing an opening for a classic action hero moment, the brave young man grabbed a mine, ran straight for a tank, and quickly detonated it, while still having enough time to yell "Long live the National Front for Liberation! Death to the U.S. imperialists!" He died in a massive explosion, taking 69 Americans and South Vietnamese with him.
You can see the totally-not-made-up scene immortalized in the second most action-packed stamp ever:
Nguyen Van Be was awarded the title of "Indomitable Loyalty and Magnificent Bravery" and became an instant hero in North Vietnam. Songs, poems, and operas were written for him, and children were encouraged to study and emulate the example of the brave boy who exploded himself. The entire country had Be Fever, and the government had no interest in finding a cure.
So What Went Wrong?
Just one problem: Be was still alive, and in an American POW camp. Not only that, but his "Indomitable Loyalty" to the Viet Cong would turn out to be somewhat overstated when he agreed to help the U.S. troops call shenanigans on his own myth.
"My loyalty is extremely domitable, I assure you."
His "Magnificent Bravery" wasn't much, either. In an interview for the South Vietnam government, Be admitted that the gun battle had lasted only a few minutes, and he himself had never fired a shot. Instead, he immediately tried to run away by jumping in the water and was captured by a South Vietnamese soldier pulling his hair. Oh, and if the receding hairline in his picture didn't tip you off, he wasn't a 13-year-old hero boy -- he was a 20-year-old wimpy man, as the millions of U.S.-made leaflets dropped over North Vietnam made sure to point out.
So how did the Viet Cong take the devastating news? By pretending nothing happened, continuing to celebrate the anniversary of his "death" for years ... and ordering an (unsuccessful) hit on their own martyr.
"Listen, being dead comes with the title, dude."