Atomic Propaganda: A Media Student’s View on the Marketing of C.E.W.
By: Meighread Dandeneau
As a Communications Media student, I am often stopped by great advertisement, effective public relations campaigns, and excellent graphic design work. Immense thought and effort goes into the making and placement of such displays, which, upon examination, can reveal more about ourselves than any product being sold.
We live in a world today where media is so prominent producers are forced to use outrageous methods of persuasion to grab and hold the public’s attention. Because of this we as consumers have learned to filter through media at an outstanding rate. When I read this year’s Community Read, Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win WWII, I was surprised to see an early community where this ability began to form.
The narrative follows the stories of six women (all under thirty) who move to Oak Ridge, Tennessee to work on a top secret government project. On every billboard and every building, there is a mural depicting an eagle, an American flag, or a soldier wielding cautionary words and veiled threats. The directive - to stay quiet about their job. The women meet hundreds of other workers but are barred from talking about their roles in this secret community. People who do talk are never seen or heard from again.
While the men and women can leave the plant to explore the surrounding towns during their off hours, there is little company for the women besides each other. They learn to live with their new restrictions by organizing clubs and activities, intramural sports teams, and weekly dances. At the end of three long years the secret is revealed. The women have been working to enrich uranium for the first atomic bomb.
Without realizing it, Kiernan describes the first propaganda to resemble modern media - in other words, pervasive, overwhelming, everywhere. In comparison to the surrounding towns, Oak Ridge was a virtual Times Square.
Characteristics of 1940's Propaganda
The glittering, noisy imagery may dramatize the situation, but the main idea is there. Oak Ridge was unlike any other community in their use of propaganda to achieve their atomic goals. Take a minute to think about 1940’s media.
The media we know as typically “1940’s” has specific qualities that generate its recognizability; Bright colors (if not pictured in black and white) cartoony drawings, text that alternates between strong capital letters and cursive italics, subtle racism, and corny rhyming slogans all make 40’s propaganda inherently “40’s”. Then how can you compare modern media with such a stylized brand?
C.E.W Marketing in the 21st Century
It helps to look back at the lifestyle of the people at C.E.W. By having a closed off community, there is a captive audience (It’s actually much like a college campus). Imagine Facebook as its own closed community Take a minute to scroll through your Facebook feed. Now imagine that every sponsored post was a poster in your room. “Fabletics Leggings 2 for $24” reads the text on the wall. When you go outside, there are billboards depicting the same advertisement. When you eat at a restaurant, the waiter is paid to inform you about the great deal Fabletics is offering before taking your order. This seems like overkill, right? You’ve been made aware of the sale, now you can decide to purchase them or not. Oak Ridge differed in the way that their situation was not optional.
Today, we can break down the perception of media and propaganda into ten stages. Combined, these tactics follow a nearly foolproof formula for spreading fear, causing outrage, an otherwise provoking or guiding the public into a specific state of mind. If you’re looking for an academic breakdown, try this Stanford student’s paper on the use of media and propaganda to persuade people’s attitudes, beliefs and behaviors: https://web.stanford.edu/class/e297c/war_peace/media/hpropaganda.html
In the 1940’s, people accepted these tactics as a way to promote nationalism and build military forces. Look for this in the book Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Hepled Win WWII, and share your comments with the Community Read at Fitchburg at our next event!