News from Newfoundland

Almost three weeks ago I moved to Canada to be with my girlfriend. I’ve never lived in another country before, so this emigrating thing is all completely new to me. I thought it might be interesting to write a bit about my experience of adapting to a new culture and environment.

I suppose I should start by explaining why I moved to Canada in the first place. I met my girlfriend in the UK but she isn’t a British citizen, so she found impossible to get a job there once we had both completed our masters. Mind you, I couldn’t find a job either and I am a British citizen so… As she was unable to stay in the UK and I couldn’t go to her country for various reasons, we had to find somewhere else. We chose Canada because it’s an English-speaking country, LGBT-friendly and relatively open to immigrants when compared to other places, like the UK, for example. We ended up in Newfoundland because my girlfriend has a friend living there already, so we would know at least one person when we arrived – and in addition we both wanted to apply for graduate courses and Memorial University in Newfoundland has the cheapest tuition fees in Canada. So here we are.
It’s been two weeks already, we have a little basement flat (or ‘apartment’, as they say here), my girlfriend has started her graduate course at Memorial and I am now waiting to apply for a work vacation visa because my course plans didn’t work out quite as I expected, for reasons which I won’t go into here because it would take an entire blogpost just to explain the whole sorry mess and it’s frankly far too dull and irritating anyway.

So, Newfoundland. Here is a list of things that I knew about Newfoundland before I arrived:

1) It is actually an island off the coast of Canada.
2) It has a very small population for its size
3) The main city, St John’s, is also very small, for a city
4) The winters are not as cold as other places in Canada but still definitely colder than the UK (average temperature in winter is 0 and it can apparently go down to -10 or lower).
5) You can go hiking, whale watching, kayaking and many other wildlife/adventure-oriented activities
6) Newfoundland dogs come from there

And here is a second list of things I have learnt about Newfoundland from speaking to locals and just generally absorbing the atmosphere:

1) It’s pronounced NewfinLAND, not NewFOUNDland or NEWfoundland. The first two syllables run together a bit and the emphasis is on the last syllable.
2) The “Newfie” accent is an odd but charming combination of Canadian, Irish and Somerset, if you can imagine that. If you can’t, here’s a video clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQc43b4OsRg.
This is because the European settlers who came over here mainly originated from Ireland and South West England.
3) Newfoundland has only recently become part of Canada (in the last few decades) and some people who live here still aren’t happy about it.
4) Many rural communities are very isolated
5) It’s apparently rare to see Newfoundland dogs but we’ve already met two people who own them
6) It can get VERY windy here and I imagine that in winter, when it’s cold and snowing, this is going to be an absolute bitch.

In addition to all this, people are very friendly and helpful – and drivers are also very courteous! I don’t know if this is a Canadian thing or just a Newfoundland thing, but if you start crossing the road (even if it’s not at a pedestrian crossing), cars will slow down and patiently wait for you – even on main roads. This is pretty amazing if you come from somewhere like the UK, where drivers are extremely reluctant to slow down for pedestrians and will probably honk their horns at you if you try crossing anywhere that isn’t an official crossing – or indeed if you use a pedestrian crossing just after the green man has gone. I like the fact that pedestrians seem to have a stronger presence on the road here – and this is despite the fact that St John’s is definitely more car-friendly in terms of distances to things like the mall or the supermarket. I had a car in the UK but it seems too much hassle to bother getting one here. This makes it a bit tiresome when lugging groceries back from the supermarket, but at least means that I am getting a bit more exercise!

I’ve decided to keep this quite a short post because I’ve only been here three weeks and therefore I’m still gathering impressions and reflections about the place, but I will make notes on new things as I come across them and write another blogpost fairly soon! I’ll leave you with some photos that I’ve taken of St John’s, which will give you a rough idea of what the city and surrounding area looks like – the first four are of the harbour, the next eight were taken at the top of Signal Hill, which is a short walk (and a hard climb!) from the harbour and the last one is of the street that we’re currently living on, all quiet and peaceful in the weekend sunshine!

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Pond Life

So this evening I took a picnic dinner to the park after work. It was still beautifully sunny and warm. I found myself a bench in a quiet corner of the park and ate my dinner. I messed about on Twitter for a while and then thought I might attempt some mindfulness meditation before heading back home. After struggling to concentrate for a few minutes, I focused on a pink flower in the middle of the small pond just in front of my bench. For some reason, staring at this made me want to investigate the pond more closely and see whether there might be any small fish in it. I crouched down on the ground at the side of the pond and peered into the greenish depths…

 

And a fascinating world opened up before my eyes. I couldn’t see any fish, but after barely a minute I realised that the pond was teeming with all sorts of different, non-fishy creatures, some of which I could identify and others which were unknown to me. Pond society also seemed to be clearly divided into levels, with different creatures in each one and also a few that moved between the levels. For example, there were tiny flies that landed briefly on the water, so light they almost seemed intangible, their bodies not making even the slightest ripple as they touched the surface. Then there were a couple of pond skaters, their splayed legs making faint impressions on the water as they paused before swiftly gliding to pastures new. Just below the surface, there were a couple of water boatmen, their elongated back legs looking exactly like a pair of oars. One very large one which hovered very close to the edge of the pond seemed to suffer from periodic attacks of nervousness, during which it would hide beneath a conveniently placed leaf, before cautiously venturing out again some moments later.

Further down in the depths there were bright red water mites darting about and silvery-transparent shrimp-like things whirring briskly along in short spurts, as if powered by a slightly dodgy motor that threatened to give out completely at any moment. I also spotted a couple of worm-like creatures wriggling about right at the bottom of the pond – these may in fact have been leeches, Google tells me, but I can’t be certain.

The most interesting creature, however, was one which moved from the depths to the surface and back again with a swiftness I would not have believed possible from such a large, chunky creature. This was a water beetle, a good few centimetres long with black wing cases and strong, thick legs. It would shoot up from nowhere and then pause at the surface, upside-down with its bottom poking up in the air. After a minute or so, it would plunge back down into the water again and disappear. I was frankly baffled by this – at first I thought it must be coming up for air, but when I noticed it was upside down, I decided that couldn’t be possible. However a quick Google search on my return to the flat proved that my original guess was correct. The beetle carries an air bubble lodged between its outer wing cases and its abdomen and breathes in the air through little holes in the abdomen known as spiracles. When the air has been used up, it returns to the surface and refreshes its supply. Essentially, the beetle carries round its own scuba tank!

I was crouching there, gazing into the water, for a good twenty five minutes, by which time it had begun to get slightly cooler and the light was starting to fade. It struck me that pond-watching was exactly like a smaller-scale version of scuba diving over a reef. It was all there – the vicious shark-like  predators (water beetles will attack almost anything and are also known as ‘water tigers’), the large, turtle-like creatures (water boatmen), the coiling sea serpents lurking at the bottom (leeches) and the busy little fish buzzing in and out of the weeds (water mites and shrimp). I can just imagine how exciting it would be to shrink down to the size of a tadpole and go scuba diving in a garden pond – but terrifying too – tadpoles are popular prey! It would be a fascinating experience and probably just as full of wonder as diving in the open ocean.

I have included a picture of the pond below, to illustrate the fact that even though it is clearly a man-made environment and designed purely for ornamental purposes, it does in fact contain a large number of easy-to-spot creatures and taking the time to observe them would be well worth a few minutes of your day.

 

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pondskater

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*All photos apart from the top one are from Google Images*

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Video Killed The Radio Star…Or Did It?

Last weekend I was having a discussion with some friends about the quality of British television. Our main conclusion was that most of the programmes broadcast in this country seem to be reality TV shows, game/quiz shows, adaptations of classic novels and documentaries. Whilst there is nothing wrong with such programmes in and of themselves, there seems to be less and less original drama on television and a greater reliance on long-running programmes with a guaranteed audience that seem to have been going since the beginning of time and will probably keep going for a similar period. New drama series such as Broadchurch seem to be the exception rather than the rule – whereas in America, they are apparently popping out hit shows faster than you can say “boxset”. Obviously America has more money to throw at new TV series – the production costs of shows like Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad must run into hundreds of thousands of dollars per episode. But the success of series such as Broadchurch – and the popularity of US TV series in this country – shows there is a hunger for exciting and innovative new drama – and it can be done on a slightly more modest budget. Perhaps one factor is the risk involved in commissioning a new drama series – if it doesn’t go down well with Joe Public, an awful lot of time and money has just been wasted. Of course there is a risk with any new programme, but reality TV and gameshows cost much less to make – you don’t have to employ as many actors and writers, for a start – so if you fail to produce a hit, at least you won’t have lost as much money.

But if British television is currently going through a dry spell in terms of creativity and innovation, the same cannot be said of British radio – and in particular, of the BBC radio stations. If you want to be up-to-date with the latest trends in pop music and culture, Radio 1 is packed to bursting with fresh new tunes and enthusiastic presenters. Radio 2 provides a slightly broader range for those people whose tastes in music go back further than the last ten years. Radio 3 gives you art and culture in profusion – opera, plays and concerts galore, interspersed with documentaries, for those who want to learn a bit more about the art and music they’ve just heard. I must confess, I know very little about Radio 5 or about 6Music, although they’re apparently both great for sport and alternative/fringe music respectively. But Radio 4. Ah, Radio 4 is a different story altogether. It has hours of excellent original comedy and drama (as well as the requisite number of adaptations – there were some complaints recently about a new version of “Pride and Prejudice”, which, to be fair, has already been adapted more times than you’ve had hot dinners), along with fascinating factual shows on a quite mind-boggling range of topics, various quiz shows and unclassifiable oddities such as the Shipping Forecast. It is a veritable cornucopia of audio delights.

For those of you who are not keen on the idea of a non-visual medium, let me now try and persuade you of its merits. Firstly, rather like reading a book, listening to the radio gives your imagination some exercise and allows you to create your own mental picture of the characters and scenery. But, unlike reading a book, you do get given different voices for each character, sound effects and even, in some cases, a soundtrack. To highlight the effectiveness of radio as a broadcasting medium, I will give you a personal example. A year or so ago I listened to several Shakespeare plays broadcast by Radio 3, including Twelfth Night, Romeo & Juliet and The Tempest. The latter, in particular, stood out for me because I had previously seen a live outdoor performance of it and despite these optimal conditions, I hadn’t thought much of it. But the radio version was terrific. The lack of visuals allowed me to concentrate more on the superb imagery conveyed by the words and the sound effects used for Ariel made the spirit seem far more ethereal and other-worldly than watching an actor on a stage wearing a wispy skirt.

Just in case you still needed convincing, here is a short list of some of the other advantages of radio when compared to television.

  • No licence fee
  • Entire series of several programmes available to download for free on iTunes
  • Mobile devices do not require such a strong internet connection to play the programmes
  • Even people outside the UK can listen to radio programmes on iplayer

So don’t delay – switch on your radio today!  *advert jingle*

And finally, here is another list, this one is includes some of the fabulous radio programmes available to you right now, for free!

In Our Time

Great Lives

Poetry Please

Words & Music

Desert Island Discs

 

 

 

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Cooking On Gas

About a year or so ago I decided that I wanted to get better at cooking. Although I was capable of making basic meals, I very rarely bothered cooking something entirely from scratch, because frankly it seemed an awful lot of time and effort when it was only me who was going to eat it and I didn’t think it would be possible for me to use up all of the fresh food I would need to buy before it went out of date. So most of my dinners consisted of subtle variations on microwaved quiche, some new potatoes and a handful of peas. Whilst this was clearly not very adventurous, it did at least contain one proper vegetable and had not come out of a small plastic tray. However, I knew that some of my friends could make much better food than this and having watched a few episodes of various cookery programmes on TV, I was inspired to try and improve my culinary skills. I was also harbouring a secret desire to be the sort of person who can invite a few friends round for dinner, whip up something amazing entirely from scratch and then bask in the glowing admiration of all those present! I just love the idea of being a Domestic Goddess, à la Nigella Lawson. In addition, food and cooking is very much about home to me, as I imagine it is for a lot of people. One episode of the Food Programme focused on people’s food memories and listening to their stories was just so wonderful and heart-warming, because the memories were so closely tied to loved ones – usually parents or grandparents.

Fast forward twelve months or so and I have just finished the biggest baking session of my life. Last weekend I made pumpkin muffins, Dutch speculaas biscuits, chocolate fudge, peanut butter fudge, coconut mice, mince pies AND I marzipanned, iced and decorated the Christmas cake I made a few weeks ago. I had in fact made the peanut butter fudge whilst keeping a sharp eye on (and occasionally basting) the honey and garlic pork that was roasting in the oven, which was not perhaps the best idea, because although the pork ended up being delicious, the fudge was somewhat dry and over-crumbly. I probably shouldn’t try making more than one thing at once – at least until I’ve become considerably more accomplished!

This transformation from reluctant cook to someone who is so enthusiastic about making food that I received a slow cooker, two recipe books, an oven glove, a set of cookie cutters and some cupcake cases for Christmas, has done far more than improve my meals, however. I have become more confident in my ability to provide for myself and take on new challenges, as well as becoming much more informed (and opinionated!) about food and the way we make and eat it. I started a recipe blog a while ago but my fear about the copyright implications of reproducing other people’s recipes on my blog – even if they were fully credited – meant that I didn’t get very far with it. However, having seen from other, more well-established recipe blogs that it is possible to cite other people’s recipes on your own blog without bringing down hordes of lawyers on your head, I shall almost certainly be posting on that more often, probably starting with some of my favourite recipes that I’ve used a lot in the past year.

For now, here is a short list of the blogs, books and programmes that have inspired, encouraged and enabled me to foster a new-found love of food and cooking:

  • BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme. I have downloaded every single episode of this that I could find on iTunes and I am now working my way through them, from 2010 right up until now. It is absolutely fascinating – there are episodes about different types of food, different cooking methods and different ways of producing food. It’s just glorious.
  • agirlcalledjack.com – This blog, written by Jack Monroe, shows you how to prepare healthy, filling meals on a VERY tight budget, whilst interspersing recipes with her views on politics, food banks and other vital issues. Important stuff, particularly in today’s tough times of unemployment and austerity.
  • The English Kitchen – Another recipe blog, this one is written by Marie, who moved to the UK from Canada 12 years ago and fell in love with English cooking. I have probably used more recipes from her blog than any other website – just superb.
  • Google – I know there are specific websites which allow you to type in random ingredients and then provide with a list of things you can make using them, but having tried a couple of those sites, with varying degrees of success, I have decided that the most effective is still Google. Typing “chicken, courgette, coconut milk” into the search bar (I urgently needed to use up the latter two ingredients that evening) and finding a delicious curry recipe using all three was a particular highlight.
  • Supermarket magazines – notably Asda, which is where the Christmas cake recipe came from. Their November and December issues were absolutely chockful of things to make for Bonfire Night and Christmas – and they also had price breakdowns for several of their recipes, which is very helpful if you have a limited budget.
  • I have a few cookery books as well, but I don’t think I have used one in particular more than any of the others. You can get recipe ideas from anywhere really – books, TV and radio programmes, websites – some types of food packaging even have a recipe or two on the back.

That list is just to give anyone else who is interested in boosting their culinary skills some idea of where to start. As I said, I will definitely be posting more recipes on the food blog I started – my New Year’s Resolution might be to post one a week – a tall order, perhaps, and I don’t know who would read them, exactly, but it will be a nice record for me, a sort of online personal recipe book!

Anyway, thank you for reading and I wish you all a deliciously scrumptious Christmas and a very happy New Year!

NB. The title of this post comes from the phrase ” to be cooking on gas”, i.e. “to be making good progress and to be likely to succeed” (thank you Free Online Dictionary), which is pretty much where I see myself on the ‘Complete Novice —> Michelin-starred Chef’ Chart!

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What A Difference A Job Makes

I was planning to write a post about food and my new love of cooking, but I’ve been reading and listening to so many different things related to that subject recently that I was finding it difficult to condense my thoughts into a coherent post. Instead I’ve decided to write about my new job. Partly for myself, to remind me how far I’ve come in the past month or so, and partly in case any of you might be interested in reading about my progression from joblessness and despair to feeling like a useful and productive member of society again. 

To re-cap, I finished my masters course last summer and then started looking for work as an assistant psychologist or research assistant. After applying for many different jobs, only having interviews for unpaid positions and being told I needed more experience in order to get even those roles, I decided I needed to widen my search considerably, so I applied for a few teaching assistant (TA) and learning support assistant (LSA) jobs, which were advertised as being suitable for psychology graduates. A couple of agencies got back to me VERY quickly and invited me for interviews. I got my current job a couple of weeks later and I’m now working as an LSA at a primary school. 

I never, ever thought I would be able to do this kind of job. My “nightmare jobs” – i.e. things I never imagined I would be capable of doing – included nursing/care worker roles and teaching. I have never been “good with children” – even as a child I found it difficult to communicate effectively with other children! My brother and I never had any young cousins and I have no nieces and nephews, so I had very little experience of being around young children before this. So I was very nervous about working in a school environment. I did have a trial day at the school before I started working there, which was actually immensely helpful, because it meant I had at least a vague idea of what the school was like before going in for my first day of work. 

In the first week, in particular, there were several incidents which I found almost completely overwhelming, the most memorable one being on the third day, when it was raining at lunch break, so the kids were inside their classrooms during playtime. I was left in charge of a class of about 25 6-year-old kids, on my own, for about half an hour. It was terrifying. But I survived it and it was an excellent learning experience, just like pretty much everything else I’ve done since I’ve been there, really! Most of what I’ve learned so far has been picked up from observing how other teachers deal with things and then putting that into practice when I have to deal with a similar situation myself.

Things I have done for the first time since starting this job:

1) Supervised a whole class of children on my own for brief periods of time.

2) Comforted and applied first aid to injured children

3) Sorted out playground disputes

4) Used Scary Teacher Voice on naughty children

5) Used facepaints

6) Attended a professional review and arranged personal goals and targets

 

Things that I have found unexpectedly joyful and brilliant:

1) Listening to kids read (I have 1:1 reading sessions with five children each week)

2) Hearing their cries of amazement at an arts-and-crafts thing I made as an example for the teacher to show the class (seriously, you would have thought it was a masterpiece of craftsmanship from the reaction it got!)

3) Being recognised and waved at from some distance away in the playground/lunch queue etc

4) Seeing them smile in response to encouragement, praise or even general interest in their chosen activity 

5) Using my Scary Teacher Voice on naughty children (to good effect, I might add).

 

Conclusion: I have learnt an incredible amount in the past few weeks. I’m doing a job that is challenging, tiring and sometimes still slightly overwhelming. But I love it. I don’t know whether I love it enough to completely change my career and become a teacher, (especially now I’ve seen how much hard work, responsibility and strength of character is required for that role!), but it is a good job at a lovely workplace with great colleagues and I am enjoying it very much, which is more than I could possibly have hoped for back in October.  

 

 

 

 

 

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On Unemployment, Or, The Government Are Shitheads

I did think about writing a blogpost on this subject before, but it would have been so dull and miserable and whiny that everyone who read it would almost certainly have wanted to punch me in the face – not least myself!

However, the seemingly endless stream of “anti-scrounger” rhetoric currently pouring from Tory HQ is making me feel slightly less whiny and a lot MORE angry. Not because I don’t have a job. My lack of experience is almost certainly the number one reason for me not having found anything yet and no one is to blame for that apart from myself.

The thing that makes me so angry is that unemployed people are increasingly being made to seem “other” – we are unwanted, outcasts, not part of Dave’s cosy little “Big Society”.  We are non-productive parasites feasting off the hard-earned wages of the decent British public.

As if the endless rounds of jobcentre visits, mind-numbing application forms and the bitter disappointment of yet another rejection were not enough cope with, people are now being stigmatised for their inability to find work. The idea of punishing people who already feel useless, unwanted, unskilled, untalented and utterly miserable is just piling Pelion upon Ossa – and shows a callousness and lack of understanding that would be shocking if it hadn’t been so depressingly predictable, on top of benefits cuts and the introduction of farcical new taxes.

I know that there are now more people with degrees and fewer jobs for them to go into. I know that work experience is absolutely vital in order to get some work (this bitter little irony is particularly vicious) and without it, the only jobs that are easily obtainable will be those offered by graduate schemes. I know that we are just coming out (or still in the middle, depending on who you speak to) of a recession and that the situation in other European countries is hardly better – and in some cases much worse.

But that knowledge does not help when you are faced with the soul-crushing (and it really is that bad) realisation that no one wants to employ you. When you go for an unpaid internship and get rejected (again) and the woman giving you feedback tells you that you should probably get more volunteering experience, when you advertise yourself on Twitter saying you’ll work for free to gain experience and someone replies that you should “have some self respect” and “solidarity with fellow professionals”, when you start volunteering somewhere in the hope that it will give you some much-needed experience and then the job centre says this may negatively affect your benefits, when you’ve applied for 200 jobs and have only been offered one interview – this is when the feeling of utter hopelessness begins to sink in. When the days seem interminably long and empty and you start to feel claustrophobic inside your own bedroom and you don’t even have the motivation to keep applying any more, because what’s the point? Nobody wants you. You have no skills, no talent and – most devastating of all – no value.

I am lucky. I am able to live off my savings, so I do not need benefits, and am therefore spared the frequent jobcentre appointments and the compulsory number of job applications per week. But the shame and stigma of not working are universal, whether you are on JSA or not – unless you are retired or genuinely have no wish to work. The vast majority of people, however, do want to work, not just to provide for themselves and their families, but because it gives them a sense of pride and worth, or enables them to fulfil a creative need. Sigmund Freud said:

Love and work are the cornerstones to our humanness”

And although I think he was quite wrong about any number of things, sometimes – as in this instance – he hits the nail squarely on the head.

 So what can you do, if you are unemployed, struggling to find work and beginning to despair? I think one of the hardest things about not having a job is the isolation – because you are usually sat at home alternately filling in application forms and weeping about your sorry state – and therefore not seeing very many people. So keeping in touch with friends, in particular those who know what it’s like to be out of work and can therefore sympathise, is extremely important. Furthermore, actively supporting your friends who are out of work is also of incredible benefit, whether that involves telling them about a job vacancy you’ve seen, checking their CV, or simply listening to them bitch about the incompetent fools who work at the job centre.

Do not allow yourself to become isolated. You are not the only one – far from it! There are many other people struggling to find work right now. Keep doing things that you enjoy – hobbies and leisure activities. If you can’t afford the things you used to do, find cheaper ways to amuse yourself. It is so easy to sink into depression and despair when you have little else to do but wallow in your own dark thoughts and feel yourself slowly losing motivation and hope. Go out. See friends, socialise, do things that make you happy. I know (dear god I know) how hard it is to remain hopeful when you’ve had so many rejections you can’t even count them and you don’t know what else to try, or even whether to bother trying. But please do try. Don’t give up, not yet.

The government are so very very wrong when it comes to unemployment. We might forget the exact things that have been said, but we will never forget the way we were made to feel. And when the next election comes around, I hope we will all remember it.

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Propaganda – Power & Persuasion

I haven’t written a blogpost since February. So much for my New Year’s Resolution of writing one every month! I am going to attempt to salvage something from the wreckage by doing at least a couple of posts before the year is out.

This one is about the Propaganda exhibition currently on display at the British Library. I found it fascinating, disturbing and thought-provoking – and if you are in London tomorrow with nothing better to do (it finishes on 17th September), I would definitely recommend you try and see it. The exhibition began by showing the origins of propaganda and then four main themes were explored – Nation, Enemy, War and Health, followed by a section highlighting the use of propaganda in today’s society.

 The term ‘propaganda’ (meaning “the organised dissemination of information, allegations,  etc, to assist or damage the cause of government, movement”) originates from the word ‘propagate’, which was first used by the Catholic Church in the 17th century to describe “spreading the faith” and the various methods used for doing so. But propaganda, or the art of promoting a particular cause or organisation, has been practised since ancient times – for example, decorating coins with a picture of the current head of state is an excellent way of presenting people with an idealised image of their leader in a format that will be seen and used by everyone on an almost daily basis.

caesarcoin

Another, slightly less subtle, way of ensuring that people a) are reminded that you are in charge and b) don’t forget you when you are gone, is to build vast monuments highlighting your military successes or just general awesomeness. The Ancient Egyptians, for example, clearly took propaganda VERY seriously – in particular, Ramses II, who not only erected more monuments of self-celebration than any other pharaoh but also deliberately changed or erased numerous edifices belonging to previous pharaohs!

ramessesII

The next section of the exhibition incorporated propaganda designed to bolster military campaigns, such as an impressive painting of Napoleon surrounded by various symbols of power, which was completed only a year before he was defeated – at which point the painting was simply returned to the artist, who was sadly not even paid for his work! The best (or worst, depending on how you look at it) example of military propaganda was a board game called Pretoria which was designed to boost popularity for the British cause during the Boer War (if my memory serves me correctly). The board was a map of the area surrounding Pretoria and players had to race to be the first to reach the city. On the way, they could either win or lose counters depending on what squares they landed on. The instructions actually suggested that when a player gained some counters due to landing on a ‘victory’ square (denoting that the British Army had won a battle), they should sing “God Save the Queen”, an idea which I personally found rather revolting!

The next section was Enemy, which depicted propaganda used by governments to demonise other countries, or even a particular section of the population within their own countries. The most infamous example of this is, of course, the anti-Semitic propaganda produced by the Nazis. Joseph Goebbels was a master of propaganda and was fully aware of both its power and possibilities. He ordered the distribution of cheap radio speakers known as Volksempfänger (‘people’s receiver’), so that almost every household in the country would be able to afford one – thus ensuring that the Nazi message would be heard by everyone. At the start of WWII, the Nazis made it a criminal offence to listen to foreign radio stations, although in spite of this edict, many Germans continued to do so.

I was interested (and slightly shocked) to learn that the anti-Semitism promoted by the Nazis was not actually initiated by them – they were building on existing prejudices within society and taking it much further, which is what all such propagandists must do in order to be truly successful. This section also contained a horrifying short film produced by the Nazi regime describing in detail how “the Jew” acted as a parasite on society. This is undoubtedly the darkest area of propaganda – in particular because I could not help being reminded of the Russian government’s crackdown on LGBT “propaganda” and the way that their new laws are also building on existing beliefs – see this link for more information about that situation – http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/08/12/1228471/-Understanding-Russia-s-homophobia.

I was also intrigued to learn that it was not just the Nazis who produced impressively successful propaganda – during WWI the British government produced an enormous amount of anti-German atrocity stories (the most striking one claiming that the Germans were converting the bodies of their dead soldiers into glues and lubricants in so-called “corpse factories”) and many of these were later shown to be either exaggerated or completely made-up. This caused people to be suspicious when stories of concentration camps began to leak out during WWII. It is deeply sobering to note that the success of the British propaganda machine in WWI may in fact have had a detrimental effect on people’s willingness to believe in the horrors perpetrated by the Nazi regime.

The next section of the exhibition covered propaganda used during wartime, either to boost morale at home or reduce morale among the enemy population. During both World Wars there were several very famous poster campaigns intended to increase support for troops and promote a sense of unity and patriotism, for example, this well-known US Army recruitment poster:

UncleSam

 Other wartime posters encouraged people to buy war bonds or warned against the dangers of idle chatter when German spies could be listening in – “Careless talk costs lives”. Both Germany and Britain dropped propaganda leaflets in enemy territory in an attempt to convince those on the opposing side to give in and surrender, or at least damage their morale. In order to prevent British people reading the leaflets dropped by German planes, the British government sent out a warning that the Germans had put poison in the packages they released which would affect anyone who tried to open them!

The following section of the exhibition showed what might be seen as the more positive side of propaganda – public health campaigns. These ranged from the “Coughs and sneezes spread diseases” adverts to the HIV/AIDS warnings issued in the 1980s (?) and also included the recent “Change 4 Life” campaign which aims to encourage a healthier and more active lifestyle. Of course, for those who are not happy with this level of governmental interference in the lives of ordinary people, this type of propaganda is merely an extension of the “nanny state”, but in a situation like the recent AIDS crisis where there was a lot of ignorance surrounding the spread of the disease and methods of contamination, an awareness campaign went a long way towards educating people about the disease, although the disturbing nature of the adverts probably did not do much to reduce people’s fears!

 AIDS_campaign

The final part of the exhibition addressed the use of propaganda in today’s society and the impact of social media. I think the exhibition organisers may have been trying to make the point that in some ways the widespread use of social media means that propaganda is easier to disseminate, but in other ways, the transient nature of cyber-information (witness the meteoric rise and fall of viral videos on YouTube) means that any message may not have a particularly long-lasting effect. I didn’t feel that this section was as well integrated as the others, perhaps because it was aiming to reflect the current situation in our society, and there is no period of history more distant (and thus harder to observe) than the recent past.

 Having seen some of the uses to which propaganda had been put over the last few centuries or so, it was not particularly surprising that to learn the word ‘propaganda’ was itself the subject of an exercise in spin, by the modern master of spin himself, Edward Bernays. He recognised that recent events during the 20th century (particularly WWII) had resulted in an antipathy towards propaganda in general, despite the fact that in reality, propaganda is ethically neutral. He therefore invented a new term to describe propaganda – PR, or public relations.

In theory, every citizen makes up his mind on public questions and matters of private conduct. In practice, if all men had to study for themselves the abstruse economic, political, and ethical data involved in every question, they would find it impossible to come to a conclusion about anything…To avoid such confusion, society consents to have its choice narrowed to ideas and objects brought to its attention through propaganda of all kinds. There is consequently a vast and continuous effort going on to capture our minds in the interest of some policy or commodity or idea.”

This obviously brings to mind advertising as well as propaganda – the main difference being that advertising is used by companies and businesses to persuade the public to buy their products, whereas propaganda is employed by political, state or religious organisations to change or influence people’s opinions and beliefs. In spite of this difference, there are in fact great similarities between the two and the dividing line can become so thin as to be almost indistinguishable – as, for instance, when Bernays managed to make it acceptable for women to smoke in the1920s, thus providing an enormous boost in profit to tobacco companies. Obviously not every woman took up smoking, but such a large shift in societal attitudes simply in order to sell a product effectively demonstrates the combined power of advertising of propaganda, when conducted on a large scale.

The exhibition ended with a message that seemed to me to act almost like a warning, The most successful type of propaganda is that which is not even recognised as such and assuming that you is immune to propaganda is a surefire way to make yourself even more susceptible to its effects.

“Propaganda becomes ineffective the moment we are aware of it”

–Joseph Goebbels

Living in a Western democratic country may actually increase our vulnerability to propaganda, as emphasised John Pilger in a video interview used as part of the exhibition, in which he quotes the author Urbanev:

 You Westerners believe everything you see and read in TV and newspapers, but we have learned to read between the lines.”

Perhaps the most important lesson I learnt from this exhibition was that if the message is subtle and pervasive enough, it can become so deeply entrenched that we will not even know how it arrived – we may not even be aware of its presence. It is therefore not surprising that propaganda has such a bad reputation, but this exhibition did a good job of showing that the use of propaganda is far more complex than we might have imagined.

References

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