Propaganda Party!

As an extension to our work with murals, art and identity, the Greenies continued our Heart Arc with a study of propaganda, where we continued to ask ourselves “what is at the heart of this piece?” We learned that propaganda is information—often presented in a visual way—that is used to convince its viewers to believe or follow a certain point of view. We discovered that the term “propaganda” first came into use in 17th century Europe by the Catholic Church during the Counter Reformation. As a band, we studied several different types of propaganda, including bandwagon, testimonial, framing, and fear tactic. Student viewed different propaganda images and then sorted them into categories. We found that many of the images could fall under two or more categories, and also came to the realization that propaganda is everywhere around us!

Band Space propaganda poster

To gain some more historical understanding of propaganda, the Greenies headed to the de Young Museum exhibit, Weapons of Mass Seduction: The Art of Propaganda, with the Orange Band. The exhibit, which focuses on World War I and II propaganda, gave students the opportunity to take their analytical skills developed in our work around art and identity, and apply them to historical posters and films. Looking at the extensive exhibit, we asked ourselves who is the targeted audience? What is the message that is trying to be communicated? How can you tell? Some of the posters that we found most interesting were the ones that communicated the idea that nobody could really be trusted, and anybody could be working for the Axis Powers, so keep your mouths shut. We noticed the ways in which different people were depicted in the various propaganda images, including those who represented the “good American citizen,” and those who were clearly meant to be untrustworthy.

A WWII propaganda poster from the “Weapons of Mass Seduction” exhibit.

The Greenies also took a walking tour of 24th Street, where we looked for propaganda and discussed the different artists’ intended messages. We discovered that propaganda isn’t always posters, but can come in different mediums too, such as stencils or murals. We found that a lot of the murals on 24th Street could be seen as propaganda, and that the majority of them had messages around preserving the culture of 24th street. Some of the examples we found included concepts and vocabulary that we had to break down and interpret as a group.

Propaganda stencil piece found in various locations around the Mission.

Back in the Band Space, the Greenies were put into 3 groups to create their own propaganda posters. The first, and perhaps trickiest step, was to come up with a message they wanted to spread to others, forcing them to reflect and ask, “what belief do I feel passionate about and want to pass on to those around me?” Coming up with a message while working in groups required some compromise and creativity, which led us to do some additional reflection around what it looks like to be a good teammate. Eventually the groups established three very different, but important, messages. Sakira, Soleil and Sully settled on making a poster around affordable housing; Ramses, Sadie and Blaise focused their poster on promoting the drinking of kombucha; Apollo, Isaac and Tamasen decided to create a poster that promotes reusing trash and recycled goods. What seemed to come easiest for the propaganda groups was coming up with catchy slogans to promote their ideas. (These kids should go into sales, I swear!)

Ramses, Sadie and Blaise research and work on their kombucha propaganda.

The groups designed their posters in four iterations, and gave each other feedback in between each iteration. While looking at one another’s posters, we asked, “is the message of this poster clear?” and “can we identify what type of propaganda this is?” For some of the posters, we noticed that the graphics and slogan were eye-catching and clever, but the intention of the poster was unclear. On others we saw that there was a clear message, but it didn’t really fall into any propaganda type. This exchange of feedback required students to listen to their peers openly, be flexible, and persevere. Developing these skills will help all of us when we finally enter our first Expression phase next Arc!

Soleil, Sakira and Sully’s poster.

Tamasen, Isaac and Apollo’s poster.

Sadie, Blaise and Ramses’s poster.