Propaganda in Films


Propaganda in Films

To what extent how is the visual media effective on implementing of propaganda and did the film, Triumph of the Will, which contain propagandistic messages, have an important role on the affecting the audience?

Thesis statement:

This research will argue that how visual media is effective in propaganda and how did the film, Triumph of the Will, give propagandistic messages.


Before mentioning about the role of films in propaganda, the construction of propaganda should be recognized. ‘Propaganda, in the most neutral sense, means to disseminate or promote particular ideas.' (Jowett, O'Donnell, 1999) Another explanation and aim of propaganda is: ‘Propaganda is created to influence the minds and actions of people, in order to generate a response that achieves the goal of the propagandist. Politicians and governments often use propaganda to obtain support/compliance for their policies.' (Maki, 2008) In addition, if propaganda is compared with education, it is possible to say that ‘education' teaches people how to think, while ‘propaganda' teaches them what to think. (Taylor, 1998) In other words, propaganda has a special purpose that requests attention from target audience. Moreover, there are so many ways to facilitate or promote the propaganda, such as mass media (television, cinema) or print media (newspaper, books). The importance of visual media in propaganda can be defined as a main way to influence the target audience which consists of every age of people, because, visual media is the best way to infuse the idea to target audience. This research will aim to give information about the place of visual media in propaganda as well as demonstrate the propagandistic messages in the one of the main propaganda films ‘Triumph of the Will'. However, some evidence problems can occur at the explanation of film, because this is a film and some scenes which contain tactics of propaganda should be watched as well as analyzed; but, they will be explained throughout the research. The film ‘Triumph of the Will' is a propaganda film made by Leni Riefenstahl in 1935. This can be seen as one of the main propaganda films, because it is considered as a documentary about the 1934 Nuremburg Party Congress. The film consists of many speeches of Nazi leaders at congress, also speeches of Adolf Hitler and his closest associate Joseph Goebbels. The film represents Germany as a great power also represents Hitler as a ‘True German Leader' and ‘Hero of the Glory' (Hoffman, 1997). Additionally, this film will be explained as an instance of visual media propaganda and it will be used to show the films' direct roles on propaganda.

-Films in Propaganda

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It is widely known that visual media is acknowledged as an important potential weapon of propaganda. In addition, the role of visual media in propaganda has been mentioned by some well-known people in order to demonstrate this significance of visual media. ‘Lenin remarked that ‘of all the arts, for us cinema is the most important.' Stalin described it as ‘the greatest means of mass agitation' and Trotsky called it ‘the best instrument for propaganda.'' (Taylor, 1998) At the early times of using visual media (cinema, television), using propaganda in visual media was an advantage due to admiration of technology. People had strange feelings about the visual media, and surely, meeting with a new technological miracle was a significant event for them at that time. ‘Now of course we can all watch television and see man walking on the moon, but in the 1920s this ‘universality' was seen as an amazing breakthrough.' (Taylor, 1998) Due to this signification, visual media played a big role on the implementing of propaganda. On the other hand, films generally serve genocides and crimes, however, when they serve these genocides and crimes in a political way, they eternize racial hatreds or symbolize people to influence the audience. The Nazis are seen as trailblazers of this case, because they were snatching the German film industry, and facilitating new film directors to enhance Adolf Hitler's power or make concerns to their enemies (Rentschler, 1996). Furthermore, if the job is concrete, it is worthier than an abstract job, because it can be more memorable when it is concrete. Film is the most powerful one in the propagandistic ways (Hippler, 1937). Essentially, there are so many films that include propaganda, and there is one aim: influence the audience.

-Triumph of the Will

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-Research Models of Propaganda in ‘Triumph of the Will'

To examine the propaganda in the film ‘Triumph of the Will', firstly models can be used to demonstrate it. The first model of propaganda is seven tactics of propaganda. ‘The aim is to deeply connect the audience to the message by associating it with values and concepts which they care about' (Maki, 2008). Generally, name-calling tactic is used in the film. According to Maki (2008) name-calling tactic is defined as ‘This involves the use of words to connect a person or idea to a negative concept. The aim is to make a person reject something without examining the evidence because of the negative associations attached to it.' During the film, we see the symbols of Jewry, and Bolsheviks also the Nazi symbol in the whole film. Addition to name-calling, Nazi symbol on the flag is the tactic: Transfer. Other tactic which was used in the film is Plain Folks tactic. This tactic is the way that propagandist positions him/herself as an average person, just like a normal person from an audience to show that s/he feels the same things what the audience feels (Maki, 2008). During the film, in some scenes it is seen that Hitler as an artist and architect, or a person from the audience. This is a brief example of plain folks. Furthermore, it is possible to see the tactic of Card Stacking. The film only concentrates on the one side: Adolf Hitler - Nazi Germany. It examines the issue by one side and takes a side. In addition, Hitler is delineated as a god in the film, who does not have human qualities. Thus, Card Stacking is commonly used in the film.

In addition to seven tactics of propaganda, it is possible to see a deflective model in this film. There is a propagandist (Hitler, Goebbels), also a deflective source (the film, Triumph of the Will) and the target audience (German community). As it is mentioned in the graph of deflective model, there is not a direct relation between propagandist (Hitler, Goebbels) and the target audience (German community). The target audience is influenced by the film; however, propagandist controls the film. In this model, the propagandist, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels, were the members of socialist party which has had fascist ideology (Herztein, 1987). However, in the film, it is seen that Goebbels and Hitler's main aim was not only to influence German community. Especially, Goebbels tried to hinder any opposite movements at their propagandas. In the film and at the deflective model, the target audience is German community; however, the aim was slightly different from that is seen. Therefore, it is possible to say that the main person was the Goebbels in the film; additionally he was behind the Hitler picture as a creator of propaganda. (Herzstein, 1987)



* Herf, J. (2006). The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda during World War 2 and the Holocaust. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

* Hippler, F. (1937). ‘Der Film als Waffe' Unser Wille und Weg. German Propaganda Archive.

* Herzstein, R. E. (1987). The War That Hitler Won. New York: Paragon House Publishers.

* Hoffmann, H., Broadwin, J. A., Berghahn V. R. (1997). The Triumph of Propaganda: Film and National Socialism, 1933-1945. New York: Berghahn Books.

* Jowett, G.S. and O'Donnell V. (1999). Propaganda and Persuasion. 3rd Ed. California: Sage Publications.

* Maki. (2008, 25th January). The Art of Propaganda: 7 Common Tactics Used to Influence Behavior.

* Fox, Jo (2007). Film propaganda in Britain and Nazi Germany: World War II cinema.