Monday, January 12, 2009

Ride With Hitler

"Hitler ruined that mustache for the rest of us."


It's true too. Culturally, western society so strongly associates Hitler's mustache with a genocidal dictator that even seeing it conjures up an emotional connection. I find it fascinating that a man has been so thoroughly associated with his mustache that more than 60 years after his death, people would face social stigma if they wore it. This is a testament to the effectiveness of the the World War 2 propaganda. Hitler's mustache and right-to-left hair part became icons that were easy to caricature:


That meant American propaganda wasn't America versus Germany; it was America versus Hitler. Mentally it's much easier to view a person as evil than an entire nation, so Hitler became the face of evil. Here's one of my favorite propaganda posters:


Yes that's right. When you ride alone, you ride with Hitler! The poster's message was that you waste gasoline when you don't car pool, and this in turn hurts the war effort. Technically stated that wasn't true. Commodities like gasoline, bread, and meat were strictly rationed on a nationwide level, so that the war effort would always have enough of these things. From an economic perspective, if the general public consumed more gasoline, then the price of gasoline that the public had access to would increase, but it would have no effect on the quantity of gasoline the soldiers could use. The rationing merely makes publicly accessible gasoline more price sensitive. Put another way, you don't even have access to gasoline until the army says it has enough, so buying more gasoline only affects what you and your neighbors will pay.

Of course, the poster's message is still in the viewer's best interest even if the logic is incorrect. Somehow "When you ride alone, you pay more for gasoline" just isn't as compelling as "When you ride alone, you ride with Hitler." Propaganda works because most people don't think rationally. The emotional connection of "Hitler is a bad guy so I won't help him" is easy to reinforce through caricatures. But the logic of "Because gas prices are high, I should save myself money by using less of it" is too subtle to convey through a simple poster with a one line slogan.

The propaganda is a lie that encourages people to do things in their own self interests. Do the ends justify the means in this situation? I don't think so, but then again I'm a purist. I can certainly understand why people would disagree with me.

5 comments:

Vaevictus said...

Justification of the means aside (it was propaganda anyway), my question would not be whether or not the effect is wasting gas for the war machine, but how such an effect would contribute to the economy as a whole. If some people consuming less gas does maintain lower gas prices, it seems that everyone is benefiting from the lower gas prices. If everyone is benefiting, everyone has a slight amount of money to spend on other items. Seems like it might strengthen the economy. But I'm no economist. :)

Crummy said...

The emotional connection of "Hitler is a bad gay so I won't help him" is easy to reinforce through caricatures.

I think you made a spelling mistake :)

Ted Vessenes said...

Heh oops, yes, let me correct that.

On the subject of economic incentives, my argument is that they exist, but general members of the public don't understand the reasoning. So propaganda becomes the tool to encourage them to do things in their best interest through Chewbacca logic. So yes, car pooling strengthens the economy. But it had nothing to do with whether or not the military would have enough gasoline.

Jonathon said...

There's one missing step to your logic I think. It's true that it's n your best interest to conserve gas but there's more behind that. It does help the military if you use less gas, though very indirectly. By conserving gas and spreading propaganda you're increasing the general well being and average standard of living for the citizens. It helps to make sure there's no major gas crisis and people feel like they're all in the war together making their sacrifices and contributions.

Happier citizens means more support for the war which means it can be better funded, have more recruits and a more successful campaign. Happier citizens + successful and popular war means that politicians get re-elected. I think we can all agree that government won't do something unless it helps someone get re-elected :).

Ted Vessenes said...

On one hand there is merit in the indirect benefits listed. For example, when a household reduces its gasoline expenses, it has more money to spend on things like war bonds. That can have a direct impact on the war funding.

And even if the household doesn't buy bonds, just having a higher standard of living eventually turns into more taxes received by the government. The richest governments are those with the richest citizens, and a government that bankrupts its populous is in for a troubled future.

Despite the current world economic problems, I'm not talking about the United States when I mean "bankrupt its populous". When 90% of a country is employed, things are not that bad. If you want to see true poverty, look at African nations where only 5% of people even have a job.

At any rate, while I understand the argument for generating support for the war, a poster with "When you ride alone, you ride with Hitler" isn't the way generate good feelings. A better example of this kind of poster would be the famous We Can Do It! poster.

And while I didn't stress it enough in the post, I was most intrigued by the amount of caricature in propaganda posters, which I believe reflects the caricatured logic the posters want you to believe, even if the call to action is a reasonable one.