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Episode #24: American Propaganda Posters of WWII (Season 2, Episode 4)

Episode #24: American Propaganda Posters of WWII (Season 2, Episode 4)

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If I was to choose the single most recognizable figure from World War Two for an average American to identify, I would ask you to picture a brunette with an arched eyebrow,  her hair tied up neatly in a red-and-white polka-dot kerchief, flexing her right arm, baring her bicep, and fiercely making eye contact with the viewer. The words “We can do it!” blare in a dark blue word bubble over her head to confirm her determination. Yep. You know her. You love her. She’s colloquially referred to as “Rosie the Riveter,” even though the term is a misnomer here, and her image was created by illustrator J. Howard Miller in 1943 for the Westinghouse Electric corporation as a design to boost morale internally. Today, it is one of the most widely recognizable and widely disseminated images of the 20th century. 

The funny thing about the “We Can Do It” poster is that its current ubiquity is in contrast with its actual usage back in the 1940s. It was only one of the posters printed for Westinghouse Electric’s morale-boosting campaign, each poster-- about 40 in all-- were only on display in the Westinghouse factories in Pittsburgh and in midwestern Cities for two weeks. Two weeks- that’s not a very long time to have a motivational poster up on display. This makes it almost an oddity, compared to other propaganda posters in the United States during the Second World War. And that’s not all-- it’s also one of the calmer and more positive, both in terms of message and in gender politics, than most-- because as we’re about to see, others were more graphic, more manipulative...and sometimes, far more terrifying.

On this episode, we're going to take on American World War Two propaganda posters: what they were, who created them, and how America was fighting the war via words and pictures, as well as manpower.

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Episode Credits

Production and Editing by Kaboonki Creative. Theme music by Alex Davis. Research assistance by Stephanie Pryor. Social media assistance by Emily Crockett.

"Coffee and Time" by P C III is licensed under BY 4.0 (Based on a work at www.pipechoir.com); "Onistwave" by P C III is licensed under BY 4.0; "Pulsars" by Podington Bear is licensed under BY-NC 3.0; "The Soul Leaves The Body In Eternal Glory" by Jozef van Wissem is licensed under BY-NC-ND-3.0; "soli" by Kai Engel is licensed under BY-NC 4.0

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Want more art-historical goodness? Check out the links below:

Oberlin College: Representations of Women in WWII Propaganda

Women of WWII: Recruitment Posters

Museum of Modern Art: Press release for War Poster Exhibition

Museum of Modern Art: National War Poster Competition (1942-43)

Museum of Modern Art: The Museum and the War Effort

National Archives Exhibition: Powers of Persuasion: Poster Art from World War Two

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ArtCurious is sponsored by Anchorlight, an interdisciplinary creative space, founded with the intent of fostering artists, designers, and craftspeople at varying stages of their development. Home to artist studios, residency opportunities, and exhibition space Anchorlight encourages mentorship and the cross-pollination of skills among creatives in the Triangle.

Episode #25: The Draft, Doctrine, and The Duck (Season 2, Episode 5)

Episode #25: The Draft, Doctrine, and The Duck (Season 2, Episode 5)

Episode #23: Combat Artists of WWII (Season 2, Episode 3)

Episode #23: Combat Artists of WWII (Season 2, Episode 3)