"Convulsions of pure lust and panic."

Ryan Mungia: Protect Yourself: Venereal Disease Posters of World War II

The posters scream for themselves. They were the product of antagonistic collaboration between the military, the Surgeon General's office, and the War Advertising Council, a cabal of New York admen given the task of fine-tuning American propaganda. The near-schizophrenic variety of messages and graphics in this collection reflects the internal conflicts of the U.S. propaganda machine, which was trying to appease several different agendas simultaneously. [...]

Their twisted charisma comes not only from the shocking nature of the subject matter, but from the dissonance between message and medium. The posters are paragons of graphic design principle -- but beneath their tidy exteriors are convulsions of pure lust and panic.

Propaganda craves the personification of an enemy for its goals. [...] They portrayed VD as a colleague of the Axis caricatures, and as the creeping specter of the grim reaper. But none of these strategies was as arresting as the one that became the hallmark of the anti-VD campaign: the personification of sexual disease as the secret weapon of womankind.

The military insisted that VD was mainly a symptom of prostitution, resulting in multifarious depictions of "Ladies of the Night." Over the course of the war, the posters expanded the threat to include "pick-ups," "good-time girls," and "amateurs." The escalating suspicion climaxed with the most famous VD poster of all, which showed the face of a doe-eyed teenager emblazoned with the tagline: "She May Look Clean -- BUT." This was no longer a campaign about disease control. Its message was blatant: any woman who displayed an inkling of sexual desire was to be viewed as a walking sickness, an enemy of the state, and a direct threat to manhood.

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One Response:

  1. tgj says:

    Dude is a more than a little breathless. The posters have nothing to do with female sexual desire. They are obviously trying to deflate MALE sexual desire in the very specific context of ongoing military operations, where sex has a lot more downsides than upsides. Anyone who reads it as "convulsions of pure lust and panic" and a campaign against every "inkling of (female) sexual desire" is reading way, way too much into it, like so:

    HELLO DOE-EYED TEENAGERS. UNLIKE THE FASCIST MILITARY, I AM IN FAVOR OF YOUR EVERY INKLING OF SEXUAL DESIRE, AT ALL TIMES AND IN ALL PLACES, BUT ESPECIALLY WHEN IT THREATENS THE STATE, MY HEALTH, AND MY MANHOOD. DIRECTLY. IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN.

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