Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Propaganda in the Arts

I'm just listening to one of the soundtrack CDs from Gladiator and I was reminded of the scene in the film (funny that I remember this although I've not watched the film in ages) where a street theatre is being performed in which Joaquin Phoenix's character, Commodus, bests Russell Crowe's 'Gladiator', Maximus. The play is pure propaganda which is meant to diffuse the enthusiasm of the general populace for Maximus... This then reminded me of the play which Terry Pratchett's Fool gets Vitoller and his Players from Ankh-Morpork to write and act a play on behalf of his new master, the less-than-popular Duke Felmet in Wyrd Sisters. The play is meant to portray Felmet in a positive light and put over the "real" story of how Felmet's cousin, Verence, (whose throne Felmet has usurped) came to die.

The use of propaganda in plays (or indeed in poetry - during the early stages of the First World War several "senior" poets, such as Thomas Hardy, were invited by the Government of the day to write poetry for use as propaganda in spurring on the British efforts) or other branches of the Arts is not uncommon: Shakespeare's Richard III, for instance, was written to show that Henry was forced to kill Richard III because he was an evil king, with a hunched back and a tendency to kill off the rightful heirs to the throne. It may be true, as Hamlet said that art holds a mirror up to life, but it's also true that occasionally it's a distorting mirror that's being employed by someone in power to present the "facts" of a situation in a way that supports their actions and protects their reputation.

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