The Recipe for Visual Propaganda

For the propaganda infographic I designed, I chose the topic of childhood hunger and supporting local food pantries. I imagine this infographic appearing on subways, billboards, and shared digitally. To create it, I incorporated the six attributes used to define and identify propaganda. First, I intended to use my infographic to build consensus around the existence of childhood hunger in the united states. Though many people think of childhood hunger as an affliction of third world countries, the fact is that millions of children in the United States suffer from food insecurity. Many kids who grew up in the 1970’s and 1980’s likely recall their parents guilting them into eating their vegetables with the argument that “there are starving kids in Africa, you know.” However, the hunger epidemic applies to first world countries such as ours and it is important that people be aware of that.

Secondly, I wanted to pander to insecurities and anxieties. I specifically chose to create an infographic that had very little text and imagery. For text, I wanted to use a statistic that was particularly jarring as the centerpiece of the infographic. The notion of 16 million children starving in one of the richest countries in the world should be unnerving to anyone. The goal here is to shape cognition by changing the perception that hunger is a foreign issue and reinforce the fact that it is also a domestic issue — and a severe one, at that. I also chose a white child to appear in the poster as opposed to a child of color. I wanted to upend the misconception that mostly people of color live in poverty and suffer from food insecurity. In reality, many hungry kids are white. When people see others who look like them suffering, I think they tend to take it more seriously than when it is someone of another culture. Because the majority of the U.S. population is white, I wanted to make it clear that hunger is an epidemic affecting everyone.

In my infographic, the child’s wide eyes juxtaposed against a round, empty bowl are meant to immediately induce emotion. Most people are able to find a little extra compassion when it comes to kids, and I wanted the visual representation of a child with an empty bowl to remind the viewer what hunger looks like — literally. The image and statistic regarding the rate of childhood hunger in the U.S. is immediately followed by a call to action by way of a guilt-inducing question: “If you don’t support your local food pantry, who will?” With this call to action, I attempted to advance the position of reducing childhood hunger. Were this a real infographic, I would have chosen to include an 800 number or website that the viewer could visit to learn how to get involved. By putting the onus of this child’s hunger on the viewer, I hope to tap into not just their conscience as humans, but their hopes, dreams and sense of power as activists. Volunteering at a food pantry is something almost anyone can do. Those who don’t suffer from food insecurity are likely able to make periodic donations of nonperishables and canned goods. Getting involved is something they can do immediately and without great effort.

One of the things that really jumped out at me while I was designing this poster was how I was basically creating an advertisement. You could swap out the picture of the wide-eyed child with that of a man with a scruffy beard and change the headline to “16 million men are using the wrong beard trimmer…If you don’t take care of your beard, who will?” and (minus the emotional component) the effect would remain the same. It occurred to me that we always think of infographics related to politics as propaganda (as we saw in last week’s exercise) but when a similar infographic is related to something outside of propaganda, it’s considered advertising or activism.

Something you may or may not have noticed is that in the infographic, I don’t cite my source for the statistic in the headline with a footnote. Our textbook notes that “Because most Americans get their news from social media, we often experience content as headlines and snippets, without source information or context clues to assist in interpretation. Today, propaganda takes new digital forms that blur the lines between entertainment, information, and persuasion” (Hobbs 4). Now, it just so happens that I was not lying or embellishing the childhood poverty rate in America — it really is that terrible, according to the website nokidhungry.org. But if I was, what percentage of people who saw this infographic would have noticed? Some? Any? How many would have fact-checked that statistic before sharing the infographic as a meme or casually mentioning in conversation at dinnertime, further spreading what could easily be misinformation?

I have hopes that our younger generations — the ones who grew up with digital media and are used to having a world of knowledge at their fingertips — will be more likely to be skeptical of random statistics and feel empowered to fact-check what they see, read, and hear. However, I must admit that I’m not yet convinced they will. Older generations seem to believe everything they hear because they came from a time when the media had some type of gravitas; Walter Cronkite was respected and the words he spoke were accepted as truth. This is, in my opinion, why so many older folks believe everything they hear on Fox News: they just can’t imagine TV news anchors lying to them. Kids, on the other hand, are notoriously impressionable and not yet aware of the power of propaganda. In between kids and older people are adults and young adults…and many of them have simply not had the education necessary to differentiate fact from fabrication.

In fact, I think that the only way to empower the American population to think critically about the media messages they receive is to teach them about propaganda in grade school. By the time kids enter high school, they should be able to identify different ways that advertisers appeal to teenagers in television ads for food and clothing. By the time they are sophomores, they should understand the role that sex appeal plays in advertising and by the time they graduate, they should understand propaganda as it applies to politics. In other words, we no longer live in a world where we can afford to not educate youth on propaganda if we expect them to be able to think critically about mass media as they become adults.

Works Cited

“Facts about Childhood Hunger in America.” Nokidhungry.org, No Kid Hungry, www.nokidhungry.org/who-we-are/hunger-facts.

Hobbs, Renee. Mind over Media: Propaganda Education for a Digital Age. W. W. Norton & Company, 2020.