By Pjotr Barakov
Semiotic analysis of the best Nazi TVC
In his masterclass Bruno Maag claimed that Nazis were the best advertisers the world has ever seen. So I decided to watch probably the best advertising piece by them, Triumph of the Will, to see what techniques were used there.
Triumph of the Will, shot in 1934 by Leni Riefenstahl, is considered by many critics as one of the best propaganda films in history. It chronicles the 1934 Nazi Party rally in Nuremberg that was attended by more than 700,000 Nazi supporters. It’s claimed that mass communication is the most efficient tools for spreading ideas and interests. As a consequence Triumph of the Will, as any other media in Nazi Germany, exalts the Nazi Party and idolizes its leaders. Nazism’s roots include racism, anti-Semitism, elitism, totalitarianism, nationalism, socialism, militarism and the ‘might makes right’ doctrine. The main root of Nazi ideology is, however, belief in racial superiority that finds its manifestation in anti-Semitism. Hitler succeeded in awakening nationalistic instincts and the ideas of revanchism in German people.
As every other propaganda, Triumph of the Will had to show only positive sides of the regime. In Triumph of the Will the main character is Adolf Hitler–the personification of the party, who’s appearance in the beginning of the film reminds of the ‘Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory’. Usually Hitler is surrounded by the most important party members and rises above the crowd–this shows hierarchy of the Third Reich’s totalitarian society. The militarism, another feature of Nazism, is presented here in the endless parades of the SA, which recruits soldiers from the Hitler Youth camps.
It sounds strange, but the most important part of Nazi ideology, the question of race is not raised in this film. After the fall of the Third Reich, Riefenstahl, responding to the critique, pointed out that Triumph of the Will contained ‘not one single antisemitic word’ and that she did not know about Nazi genocidal policies at the moment of making the film. As it seems to me, because of the fact that in 1933 elections Nazi Party did not succeed getting even 50% of the votes and Hitler still needed support from more Germans, he wanted to hide the racist nature of his party that could scare people. For the same purpose of prepossession, endless welcoming crowds (sometimes mounted), that are meant to create an illusion of an absolute love and support of Hitler by German people, are shown in the film.
It is important to remember that Leni Riefenstahl’s film is just a documentary, so it documents aspects of reality without telling anything itself. But it does not change the fact that the film achieves propaganda’s main aim to prepossess.
The fact that Triumph of the Will was Hitler’s idea shows that he clearly understood that particular potential of film. Furthermore, he even served as an unofficial executive producer. Such an attitude makes Leni Riefenstahl’s film really unique: do you know many films that were shot under such a strict supervision of a ruler of the country?
Triumph of the Will, represents most of the ideological values of Nazi Party (totalitarianism, socialism, militarism, elitism, etc.). Knowing the history after 1934, it’s clear that Nazi propaganda and so the media policy was successful. Skilful agitation led to a situation when most Germans shared Nazi ideas. During the World War II German soldiers were killing people keeping in mind the ideas Hitler and Nazi Party were advocating. Triumph of the Will as an example of this agitation, presents these ideas unobtrusively, but it still creates a positive image of a regime without revealing its main negative side (racism).