Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Russ Castronovo's "Propaganda 1776," the movie

Featured at My Book, The Movie: Propaganda 1776: Secrets, Leaks, and Revolutionary Communications in Early America by Russ Castronovo.

The entry begins:
The first casting agent for the movie version of Propaganda 1776 had to be fired. His problem was that he couldn’t get beyond seeing propaganda in negative terms. Ever since World War I, propaganda has been reduced to deceit and dishonesty in ways that impoverish the concept. This first casting agent kept thinking that Voldermort, as the embodiment of evil, would be perfect for the role of an American propagandist. If not Voldermort, then Don Draper was the next choice since his philandering and deceptions, not the least of which are his own self-deceptions, would make him ideal for the part of an oily flimflam man.

But, as I said, the casting agent’s assumptions didn’t match the story of Propaganda 1776. By looking at the colonial network of pamphleteers, letter writers, printers and poets, this book shows how propaganda can be integral to democratic practice. Prior to the twentieth century, men and women of the eighteenth-century Atlantic world used an array of rhetorical devices—satire, barbed attacks, plagiarism, and the theft of confidential documents—to communicate unofficial truths.

The most important scenes in the movie don’t focus on principal actors but on ink-stained printers, crowds clamoring for the latest issue of the Massachusetts Spy, and riotous taverns where Common Sense is being passed around along with pints of rum. So casting extras is going to crucial for this movie. Hopefully the director will ensure that this historical picture won’t be marred as is Spartacus (1960) where tennis shoes and wristwatches can be spotted among the legions of Greek soldiers.

Indeed, Propaganda 1776 shows how effective revolutionaries occupy the shadows and keep their identities submerged beneath the flood of print. What was important to eighteenth-century democracy in America was not the individual actor but the unregulated flow of information. So the trick for casting Propaganda 1776 will be to find actors who will fit into—as opposed to stand out from—the raucous world of inflammatory pamphlets and accusatory broadsides.

Ben Franklin: Although he is celebrated today as an exemplary American, Franklin studiously resisted occupying center stage to ensure that the sources of secret information could remain secret. Either Paul Giamatti or...[read on]
Learn more about Propaganda 1776 at the Oxford University Press website.

My Book, The Movie: Propaganda 1776.

--Marshal Zeringue