The Propaganda Remix Project

“Propaganda is the use of magic by those who no longer believe against those who still do.” – WH Auden

And Micah Wright, an artist specializing in the remix of old propaganda posters, is a magic master.

Wright has created an ongoing poster project known as the Propaganda Remix Project, a satirical collection of old military propaganda posters repainted to feature modern anti-(fill-in-the-blank after the dash) messages.

After 9/11, Wright became interested in the work of WWI and WWII poster artists and the patriotic messages they extolled. While this interest contributed to his idea for the project, he didn’t officially begin the Remix project until after seeing posters from the Bush Administration which reused old Nazi propaganda imagery.

Wright has worked in videogames, film, television, animation, graphic novels, and comics. He has released three books of political commentary which also feature his graphic posters: You Back the Attack, We’ll Bomb Who We Want!; If You’re Not a Terrorist, Then Stop Asking Questions; and Surveillance Means Security!!

His work has been featured in the New York Times, The Progressive, the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, and on Fox News.

Below are some of his remixed and re-messaged posters.

Wright's line, “a message from the Ministry of Homeland Security," adds a laughable satirical touch.

OPINIONS ARE DANGEROUS - A poster urging citizens to keep quiet.

A typical anti-war poster of Wright's, this one protests spending for the War in Iraq.

Another anti-war poster makes a mockery of U.S. policy.

Another poster comments on soldiers' usage of their GI bills.

A World War era support-the-home-front poster remixed to reflect modernity.

To view more of Micah Wright’s remixed war posters, click here.

Uncle Sam’s Origins

According to its creator, James Montgomery Flagg, the portrait went on to become “the most famous poster in the world.”

The portrait to which he referred is of an elderly man with white hair and a goatee wearing a top hat with white stars on a blue band, and red and white striped trousers. None other than “Uncle Sam” himself.

Originally printed in the magazine Leslie’s Weeklyunder the title “What Are You Doing for Preparedness?” the poster was renamed to “I Want You” when it began its career as a recruitment image. Over four million copies were printed between 1917 and 1918, and the image was also used extensively during World War II to encourage men to join the ranks.

AMERICA'S MAN - Uncle Sam is as much an American symbol as the bald eagle or the stars and stripes. He first appeared in World War I army recruitment posters.

Perhaps one of the most iconic American images, “Uncle Sam” bears resemblance to Flagg as well as to Samuel Wilson, who purportedly inspired the character.

As the story goes… during World War I, Sam Wilson was a meat packer living and working in Troy, New York. Each barrel of meat rations was stamped “US” before it was shipped to American soldiers. The soldiers of that time equated their United States supplied rations with Uncle Sam Wilson. The story grew to mythological proportions, resulting in a somewhat fictional image of Sam Wilson emerging as the white bearded, red-white-and-blue clad symbol of America.

THE MAN BEHIND THE IMAGE - The real Sam Wilson, a meat packer in Troy, New York during World War I, who reportedly inspired the character Uncle Sam.

The 87th Congress of the United States adopted the following resolution on September 15, 1961:

“Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives that the Congress salutes Uncle Sam Wilson of Troy, New York, as the progenitor of America’s National symbol of Uncle Sam.”

In terms of defining America, Uncle Sam is right up there with the bald eagle and the stars and stripes.

Sucks To Be Him

Clearly, this is not a prime example of a father. On the contrary, he appears to be the family disappointment.

I’ve seen this image before in history books, and I’d always assumed it was an American piece of propaganda. It is in fact British.

This 1915 British propaganda poster by Savile Lumley was based on a real-life father who worried what his children would later think of him if he didn’t contribute to the war effort by enlisting.

Designed in 1915 by the print artist Savile Lumley and mass produced by the British Parliamentary Recruitment Committee, it was intended to encourage men to enlist. Before conscription became law in 1916, the British government relied primarily on propaganda like this to up recruitment numbers.

One can imagine the scene. Presumably the girl has just learned about the Great War in school. Intrigued by the stories her teacher tells and the pictures she sees in her schoolbook, she innocently inquires, “Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?” in the way that children do, having no prior reason to believe that her father ISN’T in fact the great hero of World War I.

I think the poster captures the awkward moment between her question and his answer—the moment he realizes he has nothing to say.

It certainly inspires a sense of patriotic guilt and tugs at the emotions. No dad wants to be THAT dad.

Interestingly enough, though, the poster turns out to be based on a real-life THAT dad. The idea for the poster was actually that of a printer, Arthur Gunn, who reportedly imagined himself as the father in question. His son, Paul, later revealed the poster’s beginnings:

“One night my father came home very worried about the war situation and discussed with my mother whether he should volunteer. He happened to come in to where I was asleep and quite casually said to my mother, If I don’t join the forces whatever will I say to Paul if he turns round to me and says, What did you do in the Great War, Daddy? He suddenly turned round to my mother and said that would make a marvelous slogan for a recruiting poster. He shot off to see one of his pet artists, Savile Lumley, had a sketch drawn straight away, based on the theme projected about five years hence, although by the time it had taken shape the questioner had become one of my sisters.”  –Paul Gunn

Gunn soon after joined the Westminster Volunteers to ensure he wouldn’t remain THAT dad.