Propaganda and its Uses: Background information when reading A Kim Jong-Il Production

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A Kim Jong-Il Production

The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Dictator's Rise to Power

by Paul Fischer

A Kim Jong-Il Production by Paul Fischer X
A Kim Jong-Il Production by Paul Fischer
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2015, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2015, 368 pages

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Propaganda and its Uses

This article relates to A Kim Jong-Il Production

Print Review

A Kim-Jong Il Production is set in the North Korea of the 1970s when Kim Jong-Il was head of the Ministry of Propaganda. North Korea's motives might have been sinister, but propaganda — defined as information especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view — has been used as a tool by governments around the world to promote both ill-advised agendas and policies that help. The word "propaganda" appears to have been coined by the Vatican; the phrase "congregatio de propaganda fide" (the congregation for the propagation of the faith) was used to support the Catholic faith in response to the Protestant Reformation. But, of course, the use of propaganda substantially predates this time.

In the ancient times, Greek commander Themistocles, in 480 BCE, used a disinformation campaign to lure Xerxes into a naval battle at the Straits of Salamis. The strait was so narrow that the large Persian fleet could not maneuver. This helped the outnumbered Greeks defeat Xerxes. Alexander the Great used images of himself on statues, monuments and coins as propaganda. Propaganda was used extensively in the Roman Empire; Julius Caesar was exceptionally good at it.

Propaganda can be achieved through a variety of media, including articles and movies, with the most common being posters. One of the most notorious uses of movies as a tool for propaganda came from Nazi Germany where Dr. Joseph Goebbels was Minister of Propaganda and National Enlightenment. He set up the Reich Chamber of Commerce which was in charge of art, music, radio, film, literature and any outlets for cultural messages. Books that were not in keeping with the Nazi message were burned publicly. Movies such as The Eternal Jew vilified Jews comparing them to hordes of rats. Propaganda proved to be a remarkably effective tool in coercing or intimidating the non-believing Germans to the Nazi cause.

Posters too, which could be mass produced and distributed to even the most remote villages, were effective propaganda tools. For example, Communist China relied extensively on posters to get its message across (see 'Beyond the Book' for Lake With No Name), and in the United States, images of "Uncle Sam Wants You" and "Rosie the Riveter" achieved much to promote war efforts.

Despite the negative connotation that the term "propaganda" invokes, it has been used around the world to bring about much good as well. Worldwide campaigns encouraging vaccination, for example, have helped combat polio and a range of other diseases. Root causes of disease were a ready target for propaganda movies. For example, a series of silent documentaries produced by the Bermondsey Borough Council in southeast London educated the public about a variety of health issues including the importance of handwashing with soap.



Memorable public health campaigns in the United States have used the power of visual media (commercials, posters) and helped change public habits for the better. Almost every American is familiar with the food pyramid (which got a makeover in recent years) and its recommendations. "Click it Or Ticket" reminds drivers to wear seatbelts and campaigns to prevent smoking among teenagers harness the power of fear to remarkable effect as evidenced in the commercial below:



Above all these, the award for staying power in the United States probably goes to the anti-drug campaign by The Partnership For A Drug-Free America with their brilliant "This Is Your Brain on Drugs" commercial. Many readers will remember the searing image of an egg on a sizzling griddle with the compelling tagline: Any Questions?



Readers are encouraged to check out the online exhibition hosted by the National Institutes of Health, Visual Culture and Public Health Posters, featuring vintage posters from public health campaigns in the United States.

This "beyond the book article" relates to A Kim Jong-Il Production. It originally ran in February 2015 and has been updated for the November 2015 paperback edition.

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