Chapter 1


            This initial discussion incorporates the comments of many of our best thinkers on propaganda generally.  Others of the comments quoted here apply to the particular communications medium of primary concern to this book.  The effect of the combination is to provide a context within which motion picture propaganda can be discussed and analyzed. 

            Some Thoughts on Propaganda--Albert Schweitzer was once quoted as saying that the " . . . organized political, social and religious associations of our time are at work to induce individual man not to arrive at his convictions by his own thinking but to take as his own, such convictions as they keep ready-made for him."[1]  This book and its companion volumes Who Really Controls Hollywood, Motion Picture Biographies and Patterns of Bias in Motion Pictures provide cumulative evidence in support of the assertion that the institution of Hollywood as controlled by the major studio/distributors is also at work to induce individuals not to arrive at their convictions by their own thinking but to take as their own, such convictions as Hollywood keeps ready-made for them.  In other words, Hollywood movies, taken as a whole, represent the systematic propagation of information reflecting the views and interests of those people who control the medium.  And of course, the most dangerous propaganda is that which we do not realize is propaganda, and propagandist feature films disguised as entertainment follow that maxim exceedingly well.

            Walter Lippmann (speaking about democratic governments and public policy generally) observed that in any society, the insider group tends to feel that "[t]he public must be put in its place . . . so that we may live free of the trampling and the roar of a bewildered herd . . .  If they cannot be subdued by force . . . " Lippmann says the insiders assert that

" . . . their thoughts must be efficiently controlled; lacking coercive force, authority can only turn to indoctrination to achieve the essential ends . . . "[2]  Thus, as Koppes and Black report, "[s]ome view . . . propaganda as a positive alternative to coercion of  the population."[3]

            Propaganda is defined as the dissemination of ideas, facts or allegations with the expressed intent of furthering one's cause or of damaging an opposing cause.  It is the " . . . systematic propagation of a doctrine or cause or of information reflecting the views and interests of those people advocating such a doctrine or cause."[4]

            As Rebert Merton observes, "[m]ass persuasion is not manipulative when it provides access to the pertinent facts; it is manipulative when the appeal to sentiment is used to the exclusion of pertinent information."[5]  Of course, that is exactly what Hollywood films tend to do, " . . . appeal to sentiment . . . " to the exclusion of a great deal of " . . . pertinent information."

             MIT professor Noam Chomsky further explains that a " . . . principle familiar to propagandists is that the doctrines to be instilled in the target audience should not be articulated: that would only expose them to reflection, inquiry, and, very likely, ridicule.  The proper procedure is to drill them home by constantly presupposing them, so that they become the very condition for discourse."[6]  Numerous false doctrines about the U.S. film industry are routinely circulated as "presuppositions" by the "mouth-piece" of the MPAA, Jack Valenti.  On certain issues relating to the film business, Valenti is the chief propagandist of the major studio distributors (see discussions at "The Worlds Greatest PR Machine" and "Myth and Misinformation" in this book's companion volume How the Movie Wars Were Won).  Other doctrines or beliefs are routinely and consistently set forth and pre-supposed truths in

numerous Hollywood motion pictures (see Patterns of Bias in Motion Picture Content and Motion Picture Biographies).

            British author Alexander Cockburn admits to a rather negative view of what Hollywood has accomplished around the world:

"Sometimes the American film industry's mundane economic interests were clothed in exalted language, as when the head of Paramount told the New York Times in 1946, 'We, the industry, recognize the need for informing people in foreign lands about the things that have made America a great country, and we think we know how to put across the message of our democracy.'  Of course, while mythology tells us that this message was conveyed through the irresistibly combined charm of American stars, stories and production values, it has actually been force-fed to the world through the careful engineering of taste, ruthless commercial clout, arm-twisting by the U.S. departments of Commerce and State, threats of reverse trade embargoes and other such heavy artillery."[7]

            In the late '80s, producer David Puttnam said: "In short, cinema is propaganda.  Benign or malign, social or anti-social, the factual nature of its responsibility cannot be avoided."[8]  Puttnam also told Bill Moyers in 1989, that "[e]very single movie has within it an element of propaganda . . . "[9]  Also writing in the late '80s, film historian George MacDonald Frazer wrote that every " . . . generation is brainwashed, and brainwashes itself . . . " All films, according to Frazer, " . . . may be regarded as a sort of propaganda . . . There is not necessarily anything sinister about this; the most telling propaganda is not that which is manufactured by the mischievous, but that which the author genuinely accepts himself . . . Film-makers' outlooks, incidentally, can be eccentric . . . "[10]

            In addition, contemporary writer, director, producer, Reginald Hudlin (House Party and Boomerang) says: "Blacks need to see a greater diversity of images . . . It is both healthy and entertaining to see black people as they actually are.  That may not be necessarily all peaches and cream, but if you make good art, if you tell the truth and the character, whether he's a doctor or a pimp, is a fully dimensional human being, then that's the most successful propaganda you can make."[11]  Also, Michael Medved, writing as recently as 1992, stated that "[m]ost (film) projects are designed . . . to reach a mass audience--though even such commercial ventures are often marred by shocking or propagandistic elements that have been incongruously imbedded within the material."[12]

            Finally, Koppes and Black contend that "[a]ccess to information is crucial to democratic citizenship; hence Americans have usually regarded propaganda, with its connotations of tainted information, with suspicion."[13]  That is why, of course, that much of the Hollywood insider community would want us to believe that their films are not propagandistic and that only governments disseminate propaganda.  On the other hand, actress Bette Midler at least admits that " . . . movies are like propaganda.  They are like instruction

. . . " she says, " . . . like messages, and you can't be vague about what you are saying.  If you don't have a vision, you are just acting someone else's point of view."[14]

            Early Film Propaganda--In any case, as early as 1898, " . . . during the Spanish-American War (the Vitagraph Company) . . . produced Tearing Down the Spanish Flag . . . " described by the Katz Film Encyclopedia as " . . . probably the world's first propaganda film

. . . During WWI, (James Stuart Blackton) directed and produced a series of patriotic propaganda films, the most famous of which, and which he also wrote, was The Battle Cry of Peace--A Call to Arms Against War (1915), based on a hypothetical attack on New York City by a foreign invader."[15]

            Thus, film " . . . became an instrument of propaganda in its early years.  Lenin considered film 'the most important art,' and popes, presidents, and press agents concurred.  During World War I American films such as The Beast of Berlin and My Four Years in Germany touched off anti-German riots in some cities.  D.W. Griffith turned his masterful touch to Allied propaganda with Hearts of the World, starring Lillian Gish, in 1918.  The Soviet Union had its propaganda masterpieces such as Sergei Eisenstein's Potemkin while Nazi Germany could boast of Leni Riefenstah's Triumph of the Will. In any consideration of propaganda, film took a leading role."[16]

            The Griffith propaganda film Hearts of the World was made in partnership with Adolph Zukor.  The film " . . . netted a quick profit at the box office and helped ease Griffith's financial burdens."  Griffith's The Girl Who Stayed At Home (1919) was also " . . . intended as a propaganda piece to help the U.S. government popularize the idea of the selective draft."[17]  Actor Karl Dane (Karl Daen) came to Hollywood from Copenhagen during WWI and " . . . impersonated Chancellor von Bethmann-Hollweg in three anti-German propaganda features of 1918-19."  He also appeared as the " . . . tobacco-chewing doughboy in the WWI epic The Big Parade."[18]


            Some of the early Hollywood film moguls themselves recognized that movies can be propaganda.  For example, Harry Warner, upon the advent of sound with motion pictures, actually stated: "We think of the film as the greatest of all the media for propaganda . . . (with sound, it) may even serve to eliminate war among the nations."[19]  Also, as noted above, certain foreign leaders recognized the essential nature of movies.  Lenin, again " . . .  intended that the cinema first and foremost should provide the new revolutionary regime with its most effective weapon of agitation, propaganda, and education."[20]

            During the 1930s the " . . . antagonism to propaganda was reinforced by the suspicion that British propaganda had helped maneuver the country into war in 1917."[21]  Also, during this period, according to Lester Friedman, " . . . most Hollywood film producers attempted to ignore events in Europe as much as possible, lest they be accused of edging America into the war.  Once World War II was declared, however, Hollywood plunged headlong into the propaganda business, much to the delight of the supportive federal government."[22]  As can seen from the discussion below, Friedman's observation appear to be somewhat influenced by what he would like to believe "most Hollywood film producers" were supposedly doing, while omitting a reference to the fact that some Hollywood producers (as reported by Koppes and Black), were in fact doing exactly what Friedman suggests the majority was avoiding, (i.e., making movies designed to edge America into the war).

            Fraser also states that "[i]t is common to suggest that films of the thirties, and especially of the forties, were vehicles of propaganda."  But he appears to be a bit more honest than Friedman. Fraser says: "Of course they were.  The cinema was the most powerful propaganda medium in history . . . during the war it was employed to the full, as television documentaries are never tired of pointing out . . . we knew it was propaganda, and we were all for it . . . Does it ever occur to modern cinemagoers that Dirty Harry and Animal House and Full Metal Jacket and Kramer vs Kramer may be propaganda, too, whether their makers know it or not?"[23]  While Fraser admits that many films are propagandistic, he deftly avoided following up on his own earlier statement about films of the thirties and forties by limiting his propaganda label to film released "during the war".  As noted below, his earlier statement about films in the thirties also being propaganda appears to be just as accurate.  Evenso, most spokespersons for the film industry have denied that such films were propagandistic.[24]  It would be more honest to admit that most films are propagandistic.  Then, the discussion could move on toward just what point of view is being promoted through film. 

            One contemporary author, an attorney and a somewhat famous television producer have finally been a bit more forthright about the essential nature of motion pictures.  Author Ronald Brownstein (The Power and the Glitter) writing in 1992, reports that the" . . . emerging mindset in Hollywood . . . " reflects " . . . a mass attempt at organizing the industry for a mass public-education campaign . . . "  Of course, that is nothing more than using movies as a propaganda vehicle. 

            Also, Los Angeles attorney Bonnie Reiss and television producer and Norman Lear have both created organizations (the Earth Communications Office and the Environmental Media Association, respectively) specifically for the purpose of insinuating

" . . . environmental messages into television programs and movies . . . the two groups shared a common approach to political communications.  Each was built on the belief that, through


its dominant position in the culture, Hollywood can change political attitudes and personal behavior. 

            As the Lear' organization argued in a message to supporters, 'Films, television programs and music have a unique ability to infuse the  popular culture with a particular message . . . the public transmission of private propaganda disguised as entertainment.'"[25]  In this single statement Hollywood liberal Norman Lear and his organization admitted what so many others in Hollywood have routinely denied: that films can influence behavior (Why else would it be important to "infuse the popular culture with a particular message?) and that movies are propaganda disguised as entertainment.

            What follows in Chapter 2 is a presentation of the case supporting the assertion that a significant number of Hollywood films released prior to the U.S. entry into World War II, were in fact propagandistic, in that they were specifically either anti-fascist, anti-Nazi, anti-isolationist and/or pro-interventionist.

            As Koppes and Black report, "[t]here was a nest of communists and fellow travelers in the film colony in the 1930s."  On the other hand, Koppes and Black also state that "[b]ecause of the structure of the industry . . . they had virtually no chance to inject their politics into their products."[26]  This latter statements appears to be another case of writers protesting an allegation so strongly that their credibility is severely weakend, at least on this particular point.  The history of Hollywood and its relationship with both the Production Code Administration headed by Joseph Breen and the Office of War Information's Motion Picture Bureau is repleat with examples of the film industry manipulating the content of films to skirt around the explicit efforts of such offices to control or influence the content of films.  How, then can any writer make the claim that the studio executives could be 100% successful in preventing well disguised communist propaganda or other sympathetic messages from being included in a film when virtually no one can make such a claim with regard to the kind of messages the Production Code Administration was trying to prevent or the kind of messages the Office of War Information wanted to see in the Hollywood movies?  Further, on some issues, during this period, the Communist position and the American liberal position was so similar as to be indistinguishable.  In addition, the entire series of pro-Russian films produced by Hollywood during this period were filled with messages supported by the Communists.[27]

Thus, Koppes', statement that the Hollywood Communists " . . . had virtually no chance to inject their politics into their products . . . " cannot be taken seriously.




[1]            CHAPTER ENDNOTES


.  Schweitzer, Albert, Out of My Life and Thought, New York: Henry Holt, 255.


[2].  Walter Lippmann quoted in Chomsky, Noam, Letters from Lexington--Reflections on Propaganda, Common Courage Press, 1993, 79 & 80.


[3].  Koppes, 48.


[4].  The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1992, 1451.


[5].  Merton, Robert K. and Fiske, Marjorie, and Curtis, Alberta, Mass Persuasion: The Social Psychology of a War Bond Drive (New York, 1946), 186.


[6].  Chomsky, Noam, Letters from Lexington--Reflections on Propaganda, Common Courage Press, 1993, 29.


[7].  Cockburn, Alexander, "In Bed With America--The Whole World Loves Hollywood Movies . . . But It May Not Have a Choice", American Film, November/December 1991, 42.


[8].  Kipps, 47 & 48.


[9].  Medved, 34.


[10].  Fraser, 137 & 138.


[11].  Hanson, 35.


[12].  Medved, 27 & 28.


[13].  Koppes, 48.


[14].  Rosenfield, 53.


[15].  Katz, 132.


[16].  Koppes, 49.


[17].  Katz, 561.


[18].  Katz, 323.


[19].  Sperling, 120.


[20].  Gomery, 137.


[21].  Koppes, 49.


[22].  Friedman, 41.


[23].  Fraser, 222 & 224.


[24].  Koppes, 43.


[25].  Ibid, 385 & 386.


[26].  Koppes, 187.


[27].  Koppes, 185 - 221.