Displaying Conservative Propaganda

“Choosing Sides: Right-Wing Icons in the Group Research Records,” is a digital exhibition that draws from the Group Research, Inc. Records from the Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Columbia University. Nicholas Osborne from the History Department at Columbia University, the curator of the exhibition, described the items in the exhibit as ones intended to highlight the ways in which cartoonists, illustrators, and designers participated in the dissemination of conservative points of view during the formative period (early 1960’s to mid 1990’s) of modern US conservative ideology. I chose to examine this exhibition because it uses the platform Omeka, has an educational mission, and is on a topic that I found fascinating.

The exhibition is divided into four main components: the introduction, picturing partners, envisioning enemies, and portraying patriotism. The introduction serves to briefly introduce the visitor to the topic and describe the collection from which all the items were taken. The introduction gives enough information for the reader to grasp the meaning of the exhibit, but it does not overwhelm. From the introduction page, the visitor can choose what section to read next from a menu on the left side of the page, or they can simply click the “next” button in the top right hand corner. I clicked the “next” button and found a paragraph length introduction to the Picturing Partners section. The introduction lays out the theme of the section, and describes its format. On the following page there is a series of vertical images related to the section, and each image has a paragraph to describe its historical significance and relevance to the exhibition. The item information is available by clicking on the image. Each subsequent section appears to have the same layout as the aforementioned section. The consistency makes it easy for the viewer to navigate. Although the exhibition is not visually intricate, its simplicity allows the visitor to focus on the images of the objects—which is the focus of the exhibition in the first place.

An example of conservative propaganda and the use of actress Jane Fonda as icon of conservative anger.
Figure 1. Russo, Gaetano Guy, “I’m Not Fond’a Hanoi Jane, front,” Columbia University Libraries Online Exhibitions, accessed May 1, 2015, https://exhibitions.cul.columbia.edu/items/show/2846.

The exhibit displays a range of images including posters, flyers, pamphlets, book covers, bumper stickers, panels, and other forms of propaganda. The unifying theme is the right wing and often-extremist attitudes that each object expresses. For example, the yellow bumper sticker captioned, “I’m not Fond’a Hanoi Jane” reference to the famous actress Jane Fonda’s trip to Hanoi, Vietnam in 1972. While in Vietnam, Fonda condemned the United State’s involvement in the Vietnam War on radio broadcasts (Figure 1). A retired Major General and a resident of Waterbury, Connecticut named Guy Russo created the bumper sticker in 1988; long after the war had ended. The intention was to stop the filming of a movie in Waterbury that starred Jane Fonda. The attempts were unsuccessful, the movie was filmed, but the bumper sticker remained popular for years, which indicates the “durability” of Jane Fonda as an icon of conservative anger.

The exhibition is educational, and there is plenty for a viewer to explore. Although the accompanying texts are sometime lengthy, they are necessary to understand the context behind the images. “Choosing Sides: Right-Wing Icons in the Group Research Records,” is certainly catered to a specific audience, but it explains its intentions so that unfamiliar visitor will know what to look for, and there is something to learn for everyone.

Exhibition: https://exhibitions.cul.columbia.edu/exhibits/show/group_research

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