Open Thread: Propaganda and the Theories that Drive It

Something came to me this week in email that I'd like to share with the rest of the blog. The video below has to do with the current political situation in Hungary, of which there is a huge link round-up here.

Email quoted below.


Description of video below the cut, in case you want to watch without the translation first.

I would like to treat you today to a little film created by the Ministry of National Resources to encourage young Hungarians to stay at home where they belong instead of going abroad where they have a chance at earning a liveable wage. It is in Hungarian, but there aren't many words and I'll describe it below. Translations of spoken words will be in quotation marks.

A rollercoaster ride. "A story" A boy comes into the library and sits down. He drops a book and then picks it up again. "About a boy." The boy looks up from his book, glances to the right, smiles furtively, and then looks back at his book. The camera angle changes to show that he was looking at a girl who is seated at another table in the library. "and about a girl". She smiles, looking at him, while continuing to write her notes.

The boy stands outside of a restaurant and peers in at the girl, who is working as a waitress. Later, she closes up shop and he's standing there like a stalker, smiling and starts to talk to her (no audio). He gives her some tulips. She smiles, and feminists around the world headdesk (not shown). He invites her to go with him somewhere. They go to a café of some sort and are shown smiling and talking avidly over beer.

"About love." They stand on a bridge and the boy throws something into the water. Then they kiss in the sunset.

"About home." They sleep together in a hammock in a one room apartment. They draw a large Christmas tree with markers on some paper. They get a dog from an animal shelter. They attach two leashes to the dog and run through a park with the dog. She comes into the bathroom while he's shaving, takes a little shaving cream off his cheek with her fingertip and wipes it on his nose.

"About every day life" She stands beside a bicycle. He stands at a bus stop. They sit in a tent at a beach. They run to catch a train and miss it. He sees a notice about great opportunities to work abroad in Great Britain. The girl comes up and they look at it together. He takes one of the slips of paper that have a phone number to call. He meets with someone to talk about it, everyone wearing suits and they shake hands.

"About family" They go to his parents' house and they hug. Then they take the dog to her father's house and he gives her a hug. He and his father say goodbye to each other.

"About parties" The lights of the disco flicker. The girl and the boy drink shots. She throws up in an graffiti-covered alleyway and he holds her hair.

"About drama" The boy and the girl yell at each other. He leaves the apartment.

"A story about reality" He walks down the street. She cries. They dance in autumn leaves. He puts his jacket on after shaving. They go down the rollercoaster. They kiss in the autumn leaves some more. They stand in the park holding each other. He offers her a ring.

"New generation. Everything ties us to our home."

If you follow the link to youtube, you'll see everyone's disliked it. If there's a takeaway beyond "stay in Hungary, because if you go abroad you'll miss how you used to get really drunk and puke in alleyways back home" no one's sure what it is.

Propoganda fail.


(This is Ana again.) What I would like to ask, because my friend asked me, is: what is the take-away supposed to be here? How is this propaganda video supposed to affect the viewer?

I think it's meant to be nostalgic and play on the fear of the unknown and the love of the familiar. The colors of the trees are so vibrant and the pretty dog is so pretty. The girl and the boy speak the same language, and share a heritage together, and isn't that a huge part of romance for many of us? Their parents are nearby.

The marginalization the couple experiences in poverty is seen as romantic, and character-building. They can't buy a bed, so they share a hammock! They can't afford a nice holiday, but they sit together in the rain! They can't afford books, but they Meet Cute in the library! They can't afford a Christmas tree, so they color on a piece of butcher paper! Isn't it sweet? Doesn't it make for a great story to tell the children? Isn't it bursting with national pride and the sweet smell of bootstraps?

Well, that's my take on it, anyway. And... it's kind of an effective ad for all that. I've been pretty poor (by American standards) and had to sleep on a bare second-hand mattress on the floor and forgo Christmas trees, too, and I know it's no picnic, but darned if I don't want the pretty red tree and the pretty furry dog and the pretty sweet girl and the pretty plucky apartment. I mean, I don't really because I know it's not all peaches and cream like that, but I think the fantasy is compelling.

What does this video mean to you? What fantasies and fears do you perceive in it? How does fantasy play a role in propaganda, and how do we call it out as emotional manipulation?


Will Wildman said...

I am missing in what way it actually recommends staying in Hungary, I think. I mean, yes, if you are monolingual, it might be hard to pull that off in a place where people don't speak Hungarian, but it's about two extra scenes away from being a cross-cultural rom com with Zany Hijinx due to the couple's near-inability to communicate verbally. (When I was in France a couple of years back, I had a very brief but substantial crush on a non-English-speaking girl who lived in the neighbourhood where I was staying, and the events I imagined transpiring if I ever managed to try to talk to her were at least 37% more adorable than this video.)

This just seems like really ineffective and directionless propaganda, to me.

Brin Bellway said...

I assumed the poster with the big "Magyar" on it, seeing as how it had a big "Magyar" on it, was a counter to the Britain poster*, talking about how many wonderful opportunities there were right at home. So, if I'm understanding this right, being unable to read Hungarian made me better at getting the intended message of Hungarian patriotism. Another level of messed-up to the pile.

Apparently I missed the signs they were poor. I completely failed to notice the thing they were drawing during drawing-bonding-time was a Christmas tree taped to the wall (and the implied lack of ability to have an actual tree) until it was pointed out to me.

*Which I thought was English-only, the idea presumably being that if you can't read English well enough to understand the poster, it's probably not a good idea to go live in Britain.

chris the cynic said...

I don't have much of anything to add beyond what's already been said. Apparently traveling to Britain will cause you to get drunk at parties, throw up, and break up with you lover.

I'm at a bit of a loss as to why they couldn't have done all of that at home in Hungary. Perhaps their poverty was preventing them from having enough money to go to parties?

Also, I'm unclear about the ending. Is the cut to them in autumn leaves the past, or did they go back to Hungary, or what? It can't be them still in Britain because if it were then the message would be, "Go to Britain, you'll stumble at first but it'll all work out in the end."

Will Wildman said...

Okay, I somehow missed in the first case that the barfing and fighting happens only in Britain, while the resolution and engagement happens back in Hungary. So the propaganda is now clear to me.

"Don't go to England or you will get drunk and throw up in your 20s". Um? I see a flaw in the reasoning here.

Anonymous said...

Actually, you're right. It was hard to tell that there were two different posters, since it was shown for only a second and the British poster was easier to read. The Hungarian poster is for a government sponsored career expo, and the requirements are: younger than 35, completed higher education, Hungarian citizenship, intermediate level of English or some language I can't see because his head is in the way. The green circle that says "Magyar" reads "Hungarian Administrative Scholarship. Take advantage of EU opportunities". That last bit was the only bit that was easy to read in the video and so I assumed the eu opportunities being spoken of were the opportunities for better wages elsewhere within the EU, but it turns out it's EU money helping to fund the career expo.

So that makes the message more clear. They go to the expo, get a job, and aren't saying goodbye to family in the scenes that follow after all and continue being poor in Hungary.

And I don't think they're supposed to appear poor, but they don't have a lot of stuff, live a fairly spartan existence, and the reality is that the would be poor if they believed the propaganda video.

What I was actually curious about was whether people would be able to figure out what was being advertised if they weren't told what it was for. It could be an anti-drinking commercial, for example, if you take away the last line.

chris the cynic said...

Ok, so they do get drunk, throw up, break up, and make up in Hungary? In which case the message is stay in Hungary, you'll stumble, but eventually you'll get married.

I ... honestly don't know how that's supposed to work. Because in that case you're not comparing anything. The Britain opportunity is entirely unexplored so there's no contrast. For all we know things would have been a thousand times better if they'd gone. Maybe they wouldn't have fought at all. At least if they're in two countries we can compare what happened in the two countries and reach some kind of tentative conclusion as to which is better for them.

I really don't know what we're supposed to take away from it.

hapax said...


Not knowing Hungarian, and without the commentary, I would have assumed it was a propaganda film warning young couples not to live together without getting married first, because you will be poor and miss trains and throw up in alleys and fight and stuff.

My personal takeaway would have been "Heterosexuality: highly over-rated."

cjmr said...

If I hadn't been told it was a propaganda film, I would have supposed it was a trailer for a new romantic comedy film.

chris the cynic said...

The Wizard of Oz (the film) comes with the explicitly stated moral that you shouldn't venture further afield than your own back yard. I'm told it was made at a very isolationist time and this the moral was enforcing the present dominant cultural message. It was, in a certain way, being made as exactly the sort of thing that the Hungarian propaganda set out to be. Something that says, "Stay home."

More accurately, “If you can't find your heart's desire in your own backyard, then you never really lost it to begin with," so stay in Hungary.

And Yet...

It is my belief that the Wizard of Oz utterly failed to deliver that moral. Generations of children have dreamed about not staying in Kansas but traveling to Oz. Instead of convincing the viewer that there's no place like home it makes the viewer want to get to Oz. Because yes Oz is dangerous and at times disappointing or even occasionally lending itself to outright despair, but it's also awesome and colorful and there are nice people there so you can make friends*, and once the witch is gone it seems like it's finally a safe place to have your little dog unlike Kansas were Toto is still under a death sentence.

Basically, even though the clearly stated moral is to stay home, somewhere over the rainbow looks a lot more tempting.

I bring this up because, first, the Wizard of Oz is one of the few things that comes to mind where the moral is to stay home** and second I wonder if the Hungarian piece was right to not show what would have happened if they had left Hungary. If the couple had gone to Britain or wherever then maybe the thing would inadvertently make people think that that was a better place to be. If nothing else it would be saying, "Hey, there are jobs in other countries," which if there's trouble finding work in Hungary might be a message they don't want to send.

Of course, I still feel like the piece doesn't really present an argument and I don't really see how it could be effective in making people stay.


* Seriously, look how fast Dorothy made three very good friends. If you could make friends that fast in Kansas pretty soon you'd have more friends than you could keep track of. It boggles the mind how much Oz lends itself to friend making. (Of course the same applies to basically any movie where a quest is undertaken by people who were originally strangers.)

** Unlike, say, The Little Mermaid where the moral is that ... um, deals with the devil can be gotten out of via the careful application of a ship's prow? It's about following your dreams, whatever the moral may be, which was my original point in bringing it up.

Will Wildman said...

** Unlike, say, The Little Mermaid where the moral is that ... um, deals with the devil can be gotten out of via the careful application of a ship's prow?

Much like The Call of Cthulhu, I think the moral is 'ram hell-squid with water vessels for massive damage'.

I like the idea (which I've heard but never in these exact terms) that Ariel is kind of an otherkin - a human stuck in a mermaid's body.

If I hadn't been told it was a propaganda film, I would have supposed it was a trailer for a new romantic comedy film.

I'm pretty sure this is 100% intentional - they're trying to assert that living in Hungary will cause your life to be a rom com. Unfortunately, they forgot to emphasise the 'Hungary' and 'cause' parts of the message, leaving us with more of a 'when living in places, things will happen' thesis. Also, you will be poor but you will like it.

Tangentially, people say stuff like 'my favourite walk is the one around my own room' or whatever other pithy way of insisting that, because you only ever interpret things through your own perspective, you could travel the world and never think anything that you haven't thought already - this causes me to froth. Such people could do with looking and listening more closely.

Brin Bellway said...

Hey, guys?

If you click the "Watch on Youtube" button on the video, the page includes "As Seen On: Ana Mardoll's Ramblings". Does anyone else find this a bit...weird? How does the "As Seen On" thingy even work anyway?

Ana Mardoll said...

I never noticed that before! Apparently YouTube tracks everything I link to on the blog:

Probably Blogger reports to them; I have "trackbacks" or "linkbacks" or whatever they're called enabled. Fascinating!

*makes mental note to link carefully in the future*

Ana Mardoll said...

Also, I LOVE that the link above shows (among other things) Eric Idle next to my words "The Fantasy of Being Beautiful". I always thought Eric Idle made the prettiest woman of the troupe. :)

Makabit said...

This is highly interesting to me, because Israel recently released a series of very heavy-handed videos warning young Israelis working abroad not to marry foreigners, because they won't understand you, and your children won't understand their grandparents.

It caused a lot of anger among American Jews, who didn't want to be portrayed as the people not marry if you wanted to keep your identity. The ads were withdrawn.

Inquisitive Raven said...

Since I think Google now owns YouTube and has owned Blogger for a few years now, I wouldn't be be surprised if the two talked to each other.

Bronwyn said...

I was trying to figure out if the idea at the end was that the girl was pregnant now. "New generation", right? That could explain the fighting followed by the ring. The film could have been proposing that now it was time for the man to stay home, get a job, and help raise the child as a proper Hungarian. (Not that that's the only way to work things, but we're talking about what does the film show as the right thing to do.)

Ana Mardoll said...

Ooh! That actually makes all kinds of sense in my head now. Good thinking!

Ana Mardoll said...

Ooh! That actually makes all kinds of sense in my head now. Good thinking!

thatlitgirl said...

Not to be too self-aggrandising, but I am becoming especially sensitive to discussions of Oz, because, well... this! :P

Of course, I still feel like the piece doesn't really present an argument and I don't really see how it could be effective in making people stay.

I am struggling to understand this as well. Perhaps the moral is the very saccharine notion of It is better to fail in your own home where your friends and family can support you to pursue the [Nationality] Dream?

swanblood said...

Haha, it seems like when I appear here, it's only to talk about otherkin issues... but, I mostly lurk, and then when I see people mention otherkin I have to pop up and make a noise~

Anyway, about the Little Mermaid, I have an otherkin friend who really sees it that way too (Ariel as otherkin). The Disney version was one of xir favorite movies growing up, because it connected so much with xir feeling of "there's another world out there, and I want to be part of it so much, this world and this body is not the one for me".

So, you definitely are not the only one who thinks that. Though, I admit, I didn't feel the same attached feeling to that story, I guess because there are so many stories and myths about beings with non-human bodies who want to become human, and really almost nothing in the other direction, and, the stories that are in the other direction always seem to be a kind of "caution message"... the person transforms into something else, but they find out it's "better to be human", in the end.

It bothers me a lot that young otherkin people growing up, have to find examples in the scraps of stories that feel like they were not made for us, but, made to say how terrible it would be to be anything other than human. (Because then, you won't have a soul! And things like that.)

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