Propaganda is one of the most powerful tools a government has in wartime. These weighted messages are used to persuade citizens to follow commands and accept ideals proposed by those in power. Posters have been a large source of propaganda outlets prior to the use of media present today; such as television and the internet. These images carried a lot of weight with the people of their time. This is because there was not the same constant flow of information available. People were able to slow down and process messages from a more intricate illustration. This meant that a lot more information could be absorbed from a single source. Because of this, propaganda posters were able to convey strong messages through many details.
Often these propaganda posters were contracted and printed by the United States government. Posters used the movement of images, characteristics of subjects, and weight of wording to deliver different messages. Two great examples of this are, I’m Counting on You! and Someone Talked1, shown below. Both of these posters address information secrecy using many of the same elements in different ways. Ultimately, in these posters, very contrasting delivery methods are used that bring a different undertone and implication to the same message. One concept that is blatantly striking in these two images is movement. The first image depicts Uncle Sam using his finger to shush the viewer.
Additionally, Uncle Sam is blended into the background. It is suggested that he is wearing a blue jacket that is identical to the background he is against. You see this in the arm he is using. There is a slight distinction of where is arm is against the blue background, but only subtly. This blending into the surrounds suggests a secretive message between Uncle Sam and the viewer not to talk about what the military is doing; to keep the information as secretive as he appears. This also brings a certain level of secrecy to the viewing of the poster itself. As Uncle Sam delivers a message as he fades into the background of the poster. It gives a feeling that he came to speak to you about a very important message and is sneaking away. In the second image, a man is falling back into the water. The water in this image is very choppy and dark. He is also reaching his hand outward from the menacing water toward the viewer. There is a motion of falling back and reaching out. However, his hand appears both to be reaching out and pointing at the viewer. The words, Somebody talked in conjunction with the pointing suggests that the viewer may have been the one to talk and, furthermore, got this man into his grim situation. This play both on fear and guilt. The fear comes in when a viewer may be thinking twice about the things s/he has said and if they may have in fact caused some sort of danger for American soldiers. If the viewers feel there may have been something said, s/he could feel guilty being faced with the image of a drowning soldier. The poster insinuates that the soldier’s death is on those who told secret information to the wrong people. The viewer might also be caused to ponder who among the people surrounding them may be disclosing American secrets. Even those who feel they may have let something slip must wonder how the person they spoke to could have used that information. This breeds fear and distrust in others. If someone observing this poster had been involved in information sharing, there could be a level of guilt received from posters blaming them so blatantly for the deaths of Americans.
Another important aspect to these posters is the subjects they depict. In I’m Counting on You! Uncle Sam is a very well-known figure. The viewer instantly knows where this message is coming from. Uncle Sam is an embodiment of the United States. He is an older gentleman who gives the idea that the viewer is more able than himself to abide by the call to arms or financial aid often requested by this figure. His face is rather expressionless, gentler and more relaxed than the second poster, with a slightly pleading look that furthers this request. His entire ensemble is red, white, and blue to induce patriotism in the viewer as well as reinforce the source of the message being the United States government. The more a citizen feels connected to their government and country as a whole, the more likely that citizen is to go along with the request of government suggestions. His finger suggests the viewer do something but executed in a non-threatening manner. The subject is all around more comforting and produces a relationship based on that comfort and familiarity.
In the poster, Somebody Talked!, the subject has a very different look and ultimately connotation of the message. While the face of Uncle Sam is relaxed, the man in this poster appears angry. He gazes at the viewer out of the sides of his eyes. This indirect glare embarks an uncomfortable feeling of fear and/or guilt on the viewer. The shadows on his face give a thicker possibly furrowed brow that reinforces those feelings. The subject’s mouth is open with only his top lip visible. Because the viewer can not see his bottom lip there is no way to make out if any words are being spoken. The gaping mouth can be consistent with someone who is drawing and gasping for air. By seeing the subject as drowning there is a connotation of extreme severity within the message of information secrecy. This poster suggests this is the fate of soldiers when you talk about military strategies.