Selling Genocide I: The Earlier Films

Reason Papers 38 (1) (2016)
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In this essay, I review two earlier anti-Semitic propaganda films of 1939, to wit, Robert and Bertram, and Linen from Ireland. I begin by rehearsing some of Abram de Swann’s analysis of genocide and then discuss in greater detail a classic sociological analysis written during WWII by Hans Speier. Speier distinguished three broad kinds of war of increasing ferocity: instrumental war, agonistic war, and absolute war. While the first two sorts of war are relatively constrained, in absolute war the in-group regards the out-group as inherently evil, and consequently the goal of such a war is to exterminate the out-group, with no limitation on methods. I suggest in the piece that the focus of these films is precisely to get the audience to view Jews as three different things: different (not Germans as “Aryans” are supposed to be); disgusting (loathsome, somehow degenerate); and dangerous (a threat to Aryan Germans by their very nature). I cover both films, pointing to the scenes that are crafted to engender in the audience exactly these feelings. To help explain how the various scenes manipulate the audience to push the regime’s Anti-Semitic narrative, I use Robert Cialdini’s theory of the use of psychological mechanisms in marketing.
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