Into the era of fake news comes “Propaganda: The Art Of Selling Lies,” the new documentary from director Larry Weinstein. A timely look at what activist Astra Taylor calls, “political brainwashing,” the film details the reasons why we are so often sucker punched by the use and abuse of the media.
Weinstein begins “Propaganda” with a fast cut montage of images—everything from Warhol’s Mao to scenes from “The Birth of a Nation” to images of Trump scrolling on a smart phone—intercut with expert voices like psychotherapist Adam Phillips who calls propaganda “a calculated attack on the complexity of other people’s minds.” The startling pictures display the power of images to create feelings and plant the seeds of idealogy. In short, as another commentator says, getting you to submit without realizing you are submitting.
From here Weinstein introduces a colourful cast of characters. New Yorker political cartoonist Barry Blitt chimes in on satirising Trump. “Every picture of him is a revelation. The sides of his face are interesting and the back of his head is fantastic. The colours, the textures. There is so much to draw there. It is too bad he is who he is.” 104-year-old Norman Lloyd discusses his friend Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator,” a stirring condemnation of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, fascism, antisemitism and the Nazis. “He was creating propaganda because he felt intensely for the need for it.” Artists Shepard Fairey and Jim Fitzpatrick, who created the Obama Hope poster and the iconic Viva Che image respectively, speak to the power of visual art in creating a political movement and Monsignor Timothy Verdon, Canon of the Cathedral of Florence speaks to “seducing through all the senses.”
Most terrifying of all is Jean Seaton, an expert in all things Orwellian, who reveals how social media is exploited to influence the unsuspecting masses. “Although propaganda has always sought to hide itself,” she says, “its capacity to do so on social media is enhanced.”
It’s one thing to learn about Felix Dadaev, Stalin’s body double. It’s quite another to see how propaganda is part of everyday modern life. The inclusion of Seaton and others, including cultural historian Edward Jones-Imhotep, help bring the documentary into the present. “If we grow up only surrounded by propaganda. How do we know what is true?” Suddenly our twitter feeds feel more sinister.
“Propaganda” is a fascinating look at human nature that covers the past but feels current, not like a history lesson.