Governments around the world spend a ridiculous amount of money on propaganda campaigns to convince either foreigners or their own people that everything is going fine and that their president/monarch/dictator is still, like, the greatest. But propagandists kind of have to work like pickpockets; if they do their job right, the mark will never know they even exist.
That's why it's always hilarious to see how clumsy and tone-deaf most propaganda is. Either these people are terrible at their jobs, or that's just what they want us to think.
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In 2014, a hit new song began to climb the charts on Central American radio. "La Bestia" is an upbeat, jaunty as hell tune that sounds like it could be the theme to Zorro, unless you speak Spanish, in which case you realize this earworm is laying eggs in your brain that will hatch into nightmares.
With lyrics like "The route to hell within a cloud of pains" and "A mortar that crushes, a machete that slices," "La Bestia" tells the story of migrants who travel to America on one of Mexico's freight trains -- or as the song describes it, "this wretched train of death with the Devil in the boiler." The message is clear: If you're thinking about migrating to America, you're probably going to suffer a violent death so miserable that your family won't even remember you to mourn your passing.
The geniuses behind this Hispanic approximation of a Creedence song? None other than the US Customs and Border Protection Agency. It's one of several songs that the US government commissioned to be produced and snuck onto Hispanic radio playlists in an attempt to convince people that attempting to reach the Land of the Free means crossing the apparently Mordor-like hellscape of Central America, and it's better to deal with the cartels.
"One does not simply walk to the border."
Of course, Border Protection doesn't disclose the fact that they commissioned the project, so even radio station employees often don't know that the songs are part of a government propaganda campaign, let alone their listeners.
And the USA isn't the only government sneaking anti-immigration messages into foreign entertainment. In 2015, the Australian government handed over $4 million to a production agency to make a movie for Afghan, Syrian, and Iraqi television about the dangers of trying to take a boat to Australia, featuring plotlines about refugees drowning at sea or winding up in one of Australia's deeply unpleasant detention centers. "Trust us, you're better off waiting for the pesky wars to blow over, mate!"
It's notoriously difficult to make film and TV in China, due to the ruling Communist Party's incredibly tough censorship laws. The Chinese government will veto anything they find morally questionable or scientifically unsound, from violence to sexuality to time travel to ghosts, and even propagating a "negative or passive outlook on life" can get a production canned. If they're politically offensive enough, a director can even get banned from shooting anything besides iPhone videos of their cat.
"That cat has appeared in multiple pro-west GIFs. Banned."
Luckily, there's a cheat code to almost guarantee that your artistic vision gets the green light: Simply set the show during Japan's brutal World War II occupation of the country. Oh yeah, and make the communists look like the most heroic badasses who ever waged a guerrilla war. Anti-Japan war dramas have become a favorite genre of the Party, and consequently of filmmakers who just want to blow some shit up without being hassled by the Man.
Over 2011 and 2012, nearly one in every five TV dramas that scored government approval were about the war against Japan. In 2013, Hengdian World Studios was filming 48 of them at the same time. And the best of them make Inglourious Basterds look like a documentary. Highlights include Fabulous Resisting-Japan Hero, wherein a Chinese warrior goes full Mortal Kombat on Japanese soldiers with his bare hands.
This move is known as "splitting the chopsticks."
Then there's The Girl With The Arrows, about a woman who gets raped by Japanese soldiers and immediately develops Hawkeye-scale archery skills.
But perhaps the genre's finest hour is 2015's Let Us Fight The Devils Together, which features a woman blowing up a POW camp after smuggling a bomb inside a dildo.
Of course, the Chinese youth aren't quite as susceptible to large-scale brainwashing as their government seems to believe, so it has been popular in recent years to ruthlessly mock what they nickname "Resisting Japanese Bizarre Dramas," laughing their asses off at the SyFy-level awfulness of the productions and generally taking them about as seriously as Sharknado is taken as a genuine PSA about shark-related weather phenomena.
In response to rising cynicism, Chinese censors attempted to crack down on "overly entertaining" war dramas in 2013. But they're not ready to give up on the genre altogether. In 2015, leading up to the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, they forced TV stations to run 120 hours of programming about it.
Around the start of the War on Terror, polling showed that the United States wasn't too popular in the Middle East, for some reason. To counteract this, the US State Department began a $4.5 million campaign to show Arabic youth that American culture wasn't all 24-hour bombings and drone strikes. They know how to have fun, too! The result was Hi Magazine.
"High is what we were when we came up with this."
The launch of an American-style pop culture magazine across over a dozen Middle Eastern countries was designed to sell American awesomeness to "the next generation of Arab leaders" and "get them in a dialogue while their opinions are not fully formed." Naturally, the magazine avoided political topics like the plague, and the first issue ran articles about American celebrities, poetry and sandboarding in California. It's already a bad sign when the first editorial meeting brainstormed ways to connect with Arab youth and concluded they must be really into sand.
The State Department tried the Nice Guy approach, desperately trying to ingratiate itself while insisting it had no agenda whatsoever. Which, as Arab critics pointed out, ended up making Hi one of the more pointless reasons anyone has ever mass-murdered trees. The only kids who were interested enough in American culture to pick up the magazine already knew pretty much all there was to know about it, so ironically, they became frustrated by the fact that the USA was selling them tips about the Atkins diet when all they really wanted to know was why they were launching missiles downtown.
"For answers, read our review of Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2."
Only around 2,500 copies were selling a month, with 95 percent given away for free and an undisclosed number of those used to line cat litter trays. The magazine was finally put out of its misery in 2005, when the State Department announced a review to see if it was "meeting its objectives effectively," and then never spoke of it again.
It's impossible to write an article about bizarre government propaganda without throwing a bone to North Korea. Ever since the Cold War, the Democratic People's Republic (which is none of those three things) has adorably attempted to convince the Western world that it's actually some sort of paradise. But with precious few avenues for communication, propagandists were relegated to buying full-page ads in Western newspapers to sell their country like a new Kanye West album.
No, really. This appeared in a 1997 issue of The New York Times:
In the Yachting section.
Presumably, the editors of such publications as The New York Times, The Guardian, The Sun, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, and, for some reason, predominantly The Irish Times were hesitant to run advertisements for the world's most notorious totalitarian regime, but we assume that once they saw the ads, they laughed and figured that not a single one of their readers was going to fall for this shit, so they might as well accept the free money.
You know a country's in trouble when "We'll try" is a propaganda lie.
And remember that this didn't end in the '60s. Around the same time New Yorkers were anticipating the Seinfeld finale, they were reading a full-page ad in the Times declaring Kim Jong Il to be "a man of great leadership, remarkable wisdom and noble virtues" and calling on Americans to help them smash South Korea's nefarious conspiracy and reunite the country under the glorious rule of the Dear Leader.
"As your great president once said, 'Today, we celebrate our Independence Day!'"
And that Americans should totally buy a copy of the latest bestseller that has been sweeping North Korea by storm:
North Koreans should buy it too, the day they institute money.
Now, to be fair to North Korea, they've proven time and time again that they don't really give one red shit about what the rest of the world thinks about them as long as the turkey keeps showing up at the Kim family's buffet table and 25 million starving people don't burst through the door to start a decapitation party. So it's likely that the real reason they did this was to show their own citizens that the top Western publications all can't get enough of the Dear Leader. And we guess, in a funny way, we kind of can't.
Cuba's Internet is notoriously terrible. So Cuban kids were ecstatic in 2009 when a mysterious new company appeared and launched "ZunZuneo," a kind of phone-based social network that was sort of a Twitter knockoff based on text messaging. ZunZuneo let Cubans send free texts to other subscribers, follow each other's posts, and oh yeah, receive messages en masse from the network's anonymous masters. But what nobody realized at the time was that the company was really a front for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the arm of the US government responsible for foreign aid.
The plan, according to information dug up by Associated Press, was initially to play it straight and simply offer Cuban youth a direct line to news, sports, music, and weather. And then, when the time was right, they'd be bombarded with calls for revolution to strike fast and hard against the heart of their corrupt totalitarian government. It's uncertain what kind of emojis would be used in this final stage.
"How close can you get the poop one to look like Castro?"
To throw the Cuban government off the scent, USAID hid their connection to ZunZuneo behind a web of front companies and Cayman Islands bank accounts so effectively that even the company's executives didn't know that they were working for an American government agency. At the time of its launch, more than 40,000 Cuban youths signed up, with USAID immediately gathering their data to gauge the political climate.
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The climate is "smh" and "rofl" atm.
Ultimately, of course, ZunZuneo's plans were discovered -- not by Cuba, but by the American press and arms of the government who weren't aware of the scheme, who immediately slammed it as a bugfuck stupid idea (or "cockamamie" in the words of one senator) that would get a lot of people killed and ultimately wind US-Cuba relations back to the Bay of Pigs incident.
USAID formally denies that they ever had plans to use the platform to subvert the Cuban government, despite the wealth of leaked documents and interviews that blatantly suggested that was exactly what they were going to do. Nevertheless, the embarrassed department decided to sell the platform to a private company, but nobody was interested, so ZunZuneo went the way of MySpace in 2012 and inadvertently taught a generation of Cubans that social media is some kind of subtle form of public manipulation wielded by powerful interests with crass ulterior motives. Absurd!
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Internet comment sections, right? It doesn't matter whether you're reading a news article about foreign relations or watching a YouTube video of a farting giraffe; you only need to scroll down a few inches to see the worst elements of society distilled into a catastrophe of flame wars arguing the extent to which the author is a "cuck." And in recent years, a curious amount of this desktop sophistry has focused on how badass the Russian government is compared to the pussies running the rest of the world.
But have you ever wondered, as you're reading a long forum rant about Vladimir Putin's rippling, muscular, alpha-male physique, whether the author might be under the employ of the Russian government? Or is that just the message being relayed to you from signals you're picking up through your tinfoil hat?
Well, news organizations have in fact discovered that some mysterious and well-funded organization called the Internet Research Agency operates from a rented office building in St. Petersberg, Russia, and according to interviews with people who claim to have worked there, their job is simple: They sit down at the computer, crack open a Mountain Dew (presumably), and spend the day posting pro-Russian propaganda in comment sections, forums, chat rooms, social media, and blogs. They've been referred to as Russia's "troll factory."
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Russian economists say it's the only factory left.
Now, the Kremlin officially denies all knowledge that the Internet Research Agency even exists, but if they're not tied to the government, they're nevertheless run by someone who has a seriously rigid hard-on for official Russian foreign relations and government policy. Their employees, paid in cash, mostly comment on Russian-language websites, but the best bonuses go to those who can string together enough words of English to bombard Western websites with pro-Putin comments.
The Guardian suspected something was up back in 2014, while reporting on the Russia/Ukraine armed conflict, noting a suspicious flood of pro-Kremlin posters in their own comment section who claimed to be as British as pig's blood pudding but nevertheless mangled the English language like Ivan Drago in a full-body cast.
And then in 2015, after Russian Opposition Leader Boris Nemtsov was assassinated in the street by, like, probably some random person who discharged his gun accidentally so we don't need an investigation or anything, a whistleblower reported that she was tasked with flooding comment sections and social media with suggestions that there was nothing suspicious about Nemtsov's death, and that it was for the best in any case, and let's face it, he probably tripped and fell on those bullets.
Hey, let's see if any of them show up in the comments under this article!
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For more ridiculous attempts at brainwashing the masses, check out The 17 Most Unintentionally Hilarious Propaganda Posters and 30 Hilariously Bizarre Pieces Of Anti-American Propaganda.
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