May 10 2011: Youth in the GDR: The Everyday Life of Young People Under Socialism by Jochen Weyer (1974)
Passing through the Cattle Market on Saturday morning, I noticed this bright yellow booklet, about the size of a pocket diary, sitting on top of a random heap of junk in a cardboard box.
Intrigued, its blend of propaganda and justification proved hard to resist, and it came home with me, to join the various other fragments of forgotten, fake and generally neglected history in my office files.
For all that the booklet sells the idea of the GDR as a kind of young people’s paradise it’s impossible not to acknowledge that the reality was almost certainly closer in texture to The Lives of Others than this account of a state where “peace and friendship”, “…everyone with the same opportunities…” and “varied and meaningful leisure” are the ruling principles.
The tragedy is that while the propaganda of this 1974 publication is now largely transparent, the extraordinarily similar glosses of our own time and place, where Corporate brochures, University prospectuses, Government mission statements, Supermarket planning applications and all kinds of purported representations of the society we inhabit pass mostly unquestioned, despite deploying all the same tropes as these GDR photospreads and captions.
Perhaps propaganda only starts to be seen for what it is when it passes from normal usage into history and its tenuous connections to truth have been exposed in hindsight.
By then, sadly, it’s usually too late to realise that – far from having disappeared – it’s merely mutated again, and surrounds us once more in another unnoticed guise.
(See also: Soviet Union Magazine (1964), as posted on July 14 2011).