Since audiences believing propaganda tends to be of dire importance to the governments and organizations creating it, you’d expect it to try to be as believable and somber about subjects that are a matter of life and death as they can be. You would at least expect basic tact and decorum. If not that, at least something somewhat credible. These, however, are often pure nonsense, even though they were often made for the purpose of withholding basic human rights from people.
10. Squirrel and Hedgehog
It’s hard to imagine a propaganda program that does a better job unintentionally complimenting those it means to insult and insult those it means to compliment than this long-running North Korean series. Beginning in 1977, it has spent 32 episodes in two widely separated seasons telling the surprisingly violent and graphic story of how North Korea, in the form of squirrels and other conventionally cute animals from a place called Flower Hill, defend themselves from attacks by America, Japan, and South Korea in the form of wolves, rats, and weasels.
As pointed out by TV Tropes, the message of the series is a bit muddled by the fact the heros of the story who are both child-like and prone to crying fits, and look like they’d be easy pickings for the predatory animals who not only look tough and cool, but are also brave and loyal soldiers. Even unsophisticated American propaganda like G.I. Joe knew you should make your heros look cool as they fight for your country.
9. Nazi Television
In the western world we don’t think of television as becoming an overwhelming media force until about the 1950s. But surprisingly the Third Reich was producing TV programs as early as 1933, about the time Hitler rose to power. While you probably expect constant anti-semitic messages, military rally coverage, and other films of imperialist boosterism, in fact a lot of the shows were pretty benign considering the source. Not only was a lot of it folk music, but it included cooking shows (with government authorized recipes) and talent shows.
Hitler himself was said to have helped plan a program that sort-of prefigured the reality TV show Big Brother called Hans and Gelli, although the plan was supposedly to show an ideal Aryan couple rather than offer sleazy voyeurism. On a more sinister note, it included programs on topics such as how military amputees could continue to contribute to national interests and why no one should criticize the government for the sake of loyalty. Ultimately it didn’t have the national influence it might have because propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels didn’t think the visual quality was there to broadcast properly stirring imagery.
8. Boys Beware
Before the 1990s, child predators were still assumed to be disproportionately homosexuals (which they aren’t.) This paranoia was taken to its ludicrous extreme with this 1959 film from the Inglewood California Police Department, which posits with a straight face that homosexuals (not pedophiles or child predators, words that aren’t used in the film) are going to schools and other child hangouts and seducing boys with offers of cash, excursions, and pornography.
The movie claims this is because the homosexuals have a disease that is less “visible than smallpox, but no less dangerous.” It’s so full of misinformation and crazed bigotry that in 2015 a teacher in Missouri was suspended for showing it in class even though he was condemning its content.
7. Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI
This film is a three and a half hour long docudrama about how if the Indonesian government didn’t perform an act of genocide that killed an estimated five hundred thousand to one million people accused of Communist sympathies in 1965, then the “Communists” would have risen up and killed everyone else. Despite featuring bloody torture and executions, the movie was required viewing in schools and reportedly 97% of Indonesian students saw it.
As Joshua Oppenheimer explained on the commentary track for the highly acclaimed documentary The Act of Killing, it was essentially a massive threat that the Indonesian powers that were using to keep everyone in line pretending to be a recreation of a righteous act.
6. Tomorrow’s Pioneers
A 2007 Palestinian TV program mainly about a young girl named Saraa lecturing audiences largely about the need to do battle with Israel and to uphold extremist Islamic values, this program captured the world’s attention with the introduction of Farfour, a friend of Saraa’s who literally was just a person in a Mickey Mouse costume who espoused the need to destroy Israel, saying things like “Oh Jerusalem we are coming. Oh Jerusalem, it is the time of death. Oh Jerusalem, we will never surrender to the enemy” in an incongruently high-pitched voice.
Eventually, since the station came under pressure from watch groups and such, Farfour was actually killed off in the show’s story for not disclosing secrets to the government. He was replaced twice by other, equally threadbare mascots, another of whom was explicitly murdered. It really was bizarre a view of how to make a program “kid-friendly.”
5. Nimbus Libéré
In 1943, the Vichy government in France was still bothering to make propaganda against the west. One of the curious tacts they took was to blame the Allies for the fact that, in the process of liberating the country, the Allies were inevitably going to bomb the very people they were trying to free.
This film presents the rather bizarre sight of Felix the Cat, Goofy, Mickey Mouse and Popeye flying bombers over France and unwittingly killing one of the people listening to a radio broadcast of Allied propaganda delivered by a racist caricature of a Jew. It’s a weird mix of sort-of demonizing the Allied efforts to remove indirect rule by the Third Reich, and trivializing the same event.
4. Chavez In Heaven
In 2013, the Venezuelan state TV channel Vive broadcast a rather stupefying series of cartoons where late president Hugo Chavez went to Heaven and got to socialize with a bunch of South and Central American luminaries, such as Che Guevara and revolutionary fighter Simon Bolivar. At times Heaven is portrayed as a lush, green paradise on the ground and others it involves sitting up on clouds.
By far the most memorable moment is a cartoon where Chavez is chilling on a cloud, and then the iconic figure Uncle Sam tries to climb a cloud next to his with a chihuahua in his pocket but gets knocked to the ground by a satellite. Apparently it’s supposed to feel like America is really getting mocked by… not being dead? Even by the insanely arrogant and strained logic of these cartoons, it’s hard to make sense of it.
3. Picture Book 1936
Proving that Mickey Mouse just couldn’t catch a break as far as propaganda was concerned, he once starred in a Japanese propaganda cartoon as a bat-like monster. Surprisingly it dates back not to WWII but to 1934 and the subject is when America and the League of Nations were trying to pressure Japan to stop its expansionist actions. The story begins with a Mickey Bat dropping a list of demands on the island of Japan in what supposedly would happen in 1936 if America didn’t allow for Japanese expansion.
The demands enrage a Japanese cat, who looks uncannily like Felix the Cat in a strange bit of casting, and he sets them on fire and throws them back at Mickey Mouse, effectively declaring war. The Mickey Bats are accompanied by both snakes and a navy of alligators to stand in for American submarines. Ultimately it’s a folk character named Momotaro (“Peach Boy”) who defeats the invasion and restores peace to Japan, even though at the time peace was hardly the national zeitgeist.
2. Every Young Man’s Battle
For the majority of its running time, this 2007 video adaptation of the best-selling anti-masturbation book of the same title is a collection of lectures, interviews, and seminars about the need to resist the urge to tempt oneself. However, scattered throughout it are segments of a dramatization of one particular one man named Brad being tempted to sin. While he’s at the library, his friend Kevin comes up to him and lets Brad know he’s got some beer and new porn as his way of inviting Brad over.
Goodness knows how the authors of the book and filmmakers could have assumed it was a normal thing to invite friends over for beer and porn in the age of the internet, which makes it even more confusing when Brad goes to see a website Kevin told him about and logs out in disgust at the sight of a woman’s foot in a high heel. Then he rides his motorcycle over to Kevin’s home, stands outside for awhile, but instead rides away to his counselor’s home as Kevin glares after him. It may be the worst approximation of what the struggles of being a teenager are like in America today ever filmed by people claiming to be experts on the matter.
1. Saturday’s Hunter
We should note that this 2009 Iranian film was not made by the government. However, it was aired on state television, a clear endorsement of the content. The story is that of Hanan, a rabbi who accepts indulgences as he raises his grandson Benjamin to be a bizarre caricature of a Zionist in the hope that it will grant their Jewish community “God-Like Powers.”
To that end, there are multiple scenes where Hanan and Benjamin go out and perform shooting practice with Arab civilian targets or drive a Humvee through Arab communities committing mass murder. The sheer amount of clearly made up mythology, cheesy production design, evil characterization, and terrible acting makes the film look like a parody of what this sort of anti-Israeli/Jewish movie should look like.
Dustin Koski guesses this Toptenz video is the closest he ever got to making propaganda.