Art and Propaganda

“…every writer, especially every novelist, has a ‘message’, whether he admits it or not, and the minutest details of his work are influenced by it. All art is propaganda.”

–George Orwell–

I wonder to what extent Orwell’s famous statement about art and propaganda applies to Hollywood in this age of the cannibalistically unending franchise. I am of course referring in general to Disney’s Star Wars, Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, DC’s Cinematic Universe, etc. etc. Because sure, everybody knows that propaganda is used to formulate and solidify certain paradigms in the human mind, but it strikes me that we do not talk nearly as often about the way in which popular entertainment also does this. “On the other hand, not all propaganda is art,” Orwell continues. Sidestepping the old concern about whether or not distinguishing good art from bad is merely a matter of taste, I think we can all agree that bad art exists but what I am saying is that much of what passes for popular entertainment nowadays is exactly that. So taken in this way Orwell’s insights have informed my condemnation of bad art for being nothing more than what it truly is namely, poorly concealed propaganda. Coming as no surprise to anyone familiar with the theories of textual analysis, whether we consider popular entertainment to be valuable or not in an artistic sense nevertheless, every text necessarily contains its level of subtext. One may debate whether this happens intentionally or unintentionally but I contend that it’s quite logical to allege that wherever subtext exists in Hollywood, the official message being sent has been designed, consciously or unconsciously, in support of our national agenda. It’s true, ‘subtext’ operates on most people only at the unconscious level; but in so far as any message is subtly designed to be psychologically persuasive—precisely this is what is propagandistic about it! Indeed, for this very reason, the way propaganda in art appeals to the unconscious more indirectly than say, overt political rhetoric, makes that coding process all the more nefarious. Consumers of popular entertainment are going to come away from the experience having been affected in some implicit way, so I implore those who would sit back without awareness of that fact to recognize “[you are] absorbing a set of beliefs… [you are] being pumped [with] the conviction that the major problems of our time do not exist [which is] all the better because it is done indirectly.” Provided one does not take the author out of context, applying Orwell’s thoughts on art and propaganda to 21st century popular entertainment—monopolized as it is by totalitarian media conglomerates—I think is warranted.

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