During the Cold War, propaganda and advertisements were used heavily to create the “American identity”: that of a nuclear family reaping the benefits of a capitalist economy and living a quaint suburban lifestyle. Whether we realize it or not, we are continuously influenced by these types of media, and often use them to define our country’s values.
Because of the Cold War’s ideological nature, America’s success against the Soviet Union depended heavily on being a unified country, with all citizens believing in a consistent set of ideals: those of democracy and capitalism being superior. Therefore, it was imperative that the government somehow ensure that all citizens would subscribe to these ideals, which they set out to do by creating an “us versus them” narrative through various methods of propaganda. In Selling the American Way: U.S. Propaganda and the Cold War, Belmonte notes that government propaganda was meant “to provide cogent illustrations of efforts to define American national identity.” She goes on to analyze a number of government issued materials that accomplished this task. Furthermore, Spring asserts in Advertising in the Age of Persuasion that “market research, targeted advertising, and commercial media would lead every nation to voluntarily adopt American leadership and a free enterprise consumer economy.” These and many other scholars agree that both information given out by the government as well as consumer advertisements were essential in perpetuating the perfect American society as it was known during the Cold War, and how this society was not only different from, but greater than the Soviet way of life. After 9/11, the same “us versus them” dialogue created by this Cold War propaganda resurfaced, this time being American versus the terrorists. In my research, I want to analyze the post 9/11 media and advertising that we see today and how they speak to this dialogue. What should be considered propaganda, or what is simply advertising? Is any modern advertising truly unentangled with propaganda?