Target Audience Children: An Analysis of U.S. Propaganda through the Comic Book Medium
Stephens, Delmont Gary
In the fall of 1996, the U.S. government, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), and DC Comics produced a landmine awareness comic book for distribution during peacekeeping operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina: Superman - Deadly Legacy became the first of several comic books designed to address the hazards of landmine remnants found in war-torn countries during such peacekeeping operations. The designers hoped to reach teenaged children to educate them on lifesaving measures. The American propagandistic misinformation no matter how benign its intentions about proper landmine risk education techniques embedded into the storylines calls into speculation the effectiveness of using the comic book medium on a foreign target audience.The historical integration of comic books as propaganda and education by both civilian and military organizations such as the Committee on Public Information (CPI), the Office of War Information (OWI), and Psychological Operations (PSYOP)/Military Information Support Operations (MISO) provides background into understanding how printed items are used to transmit messages that "win hearts and minds." A review of commercial U.S. comic book methodology and construction reveals the power of the medium and its influence on readers. Superman - Deadly Legacy, and Superman and Wonder Woman - The Hidden Killers were evaluated for content and design involving propaganda and education. Case studies from the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) conducted between 2002 and 2005 involving Bosnia, Nicaragua, and Kosovo were also reviewed for lessons learned regarding the these specific books. Finally, studies conducted over the course of comic book history for use in classrooms as an education tool were analyzed to determine if comic books are an effective medium for teaching a target audience.The analysis of the two comic books and the GICHD studies reveal that the superhero design and educational messages did not effectively reach the target audience as originally intended. The superhero concept was not easily identifiable by a foreign target audience in remote areas, such as Nicaragua, and if distributed to children that were too young, the intended message had countering life-saving effects. Studies reveal that the comic book medium can be an effective teaching tool, but its use requires incorporating research about the target audience during the development phase of the product. By applying lessons learned from previous operations which utilized comic books, it is clear that comic books have the capacity to be an effective part of the U.S. government print arsenal for both propaganda and humanitarian/peacekeeping operations if they are properly used with an awareness of the daily concerns and the cultural assumptions of the target audience.
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