Biomimic Propaganda

Hendrik-Jan Grievink
February 11th 2010

The symbolic power of animals has always appealed to people. There are numerous examples throughout human history where representations of animals play a significant role in the cycle in which meanings are determined: from the animal-gods of the ancient egyptians via the lamb of god to more recent examples like Mickey Mouse and the eagle – a symbol of power in both the USA and nazi Germany.

The American Eagle and the Nazi Adler, here both featured on a coin.

Nature as a metaphor
Regular visitors of this blog are probably familiar with what call Biomimic Marketing: the utilisation of images of nature to market products or services. In that respect, the above mentioned examples fall into the category of metaphorically driven Biomimic Marketing. But maybe we can expand our vocabulary a little, with adding a variation this theme that I would like to call Biomic Propaganda: using images of nature for adressing ideologies or political ideas. A well known example of Biomimic Propaganda is the use of the donkey and the elephant as symbols for respectively the Democratic- and the Republican party in the United States – and their various ironic spinoffs to mock each other. But how did they ever come into being?

The fairytale of the donkey and the elephant
The now-famous Democratic donkey was first associated with Democrat Andrew Jackson's 1828 presidential campaign. His opponents called him a jackass and Jackson decided to use the image of the strong-willed animal on his campaign posters. Later, cartoonist Thomas Nast used the Democratic donkey in newspaper cartoons and made the symbol famous.

Nast invented another famous symbol — the Republican elephant. In a cartoon that appeared in Harper's Weekly in 1874, Nast drew a donkey clothed in lion's skin, scaring away all the animals at the zoo. One of those animals, the elephant, was labeled “The Republican Vote.” That's all it took for the elephant to become associated with the Republican Party. Democrats today are thought to believe that the donkey is smart and brave, while Republicans say the elephant is strong and dignified. Metaphorical use of Biomimic Marketing for political purposes: Biomimic Propaganda.

‘The Third Term Panic’, a cartoon political cartoon featuring both the donkey as the elephant by Thomas Nast. Published in Harper’s Weekly November 7, 1874.

Political safari
For the people behind More Party Animals, both creatures are fine and dandy, but as a twosome they make for a pretty uneventful safari. They think it's time to ‘don our khaki apparel and gear up for a jungle adventure filled with more and more species of the political party animal kingdom’.

More Party Animals is an apolitically-political idea born out of a heartfelt disenchantment with the status quo. As the current system continues to polarize the USA, More Party Animals strongly believe America is in need of a wider selection of political parties.

“We say our idea is apolitical because More Party Animals is steadfastly devoted to being policy-free. Our animals represent a potential symbol for new beliefs, not the beliefs themselves. That, we leave up to you. Our purpose is to encourage and help people start their own party, promote their own ideas and create a genuine alternative that might actually catch on. More choices leads to better results… it’s the American way. Are red white and blue so engrained in the design palette of the American political system? Apparently so. At least the quixotic usage of the elephant and donkey provide some fodder to build upon for political design fun. And the animal logos look good on t-shirts, too.”


Nature as ideology
But in the end there is another hidden, largely unconscious, yet even bigger propaganda mechanism going on. Perhaps even the shrewdest political campaign managers are not really aware that political ideas sold using this kind of Biomimic Propaganda, simultaneously promote a very one-dimensional and romanticized notion of nature. Along with the promotion of ideologies, nature is being promoted as the sensible, harmonic, soothing, authentic, healthy, honest and beautiful force in life. The darker, more negative, side of nature is consistently omitted by the biomimic propagandists, as you can’t sell your political party with diseases, death, hurricanes, floods, or other extremely crude, unpredictable and amoral qualities nature has to offer. Nature itself is the most successfully marketed product of our time.

Well, they sure look good on shirts. And we’re very happy that the beautiful Animal Wallpaper designed by Karl Grandin and which features as the background for this website, finally got some trans-atlantic cousins.

Share your thoughts and join the technology debate!public: 1


Posted 30/03/2010 – 11:52

Fantastic insight, though as you are probably aware you could take this much further and there are deeper relations that can be drawn. Anyway I'd also like to comment on the previous post about Nazi Germany and the Adler/ eagle symbol. It is important, especially as the general population becomes further detached from past events, to teach and reinforce correlations throughout history. With this in mind it is only logical to use the most comparitive sources for the symbol which are Imperial Rome, Nazi Germany and the "Democtratic" U.S.A.

Posted 14/02/2010 – 00:06

@vierundachtzig: thanks for your kind words, and your critical comment. Indeed, a euro coin with the Bundesadler would have done the job, exept that I also wanted to illustrate here that Biomimic Propaganda is not limited to our time only and certainly not only to unharmful ideas and ideologies, sadly enough. Of course not, and let’s use your own words “to remind how terrible the Germans still are“. I understand your sensitivity around this subject but if we don’t deal with the symbols and images of the past – whether we want it or not – we, as mankind have a serious problem. This image is used in an editorial context and you should understand that. The Next Nature staff strongly believes that the best way to anticipate our future, is to understand our present – and our past.

Posted 12/02/2010 – 23:32

Possibly it was not your intention, but was it really necessary to show this coin from Nazi time, with the German words, and remind (indirectly) once more how terrible the Germans still are? You could have taken a Euro coin with the Bundesadler as well. Even the argument it would represent an ideology is wrong because the most powerful sign was the Hakenkreuz itself without the eagle. Maybe I am oversensitive, but belonging to the third generation after the war I am fed up with the Nazi stuff. What about showing the Germany of our times?
Except for that: Fantastic blog, very inspiring :-)

What is your view on the coronavirus?

Siri Beerends: I really embrace the idea that viruses can teach us a lesson in modesty. It is necessary that our position as the dominant species on the planet is being challenged. I also agree that it is a mistake to think that we are becoming Gods. But unfortunately, this is actually what is happening now. Corona doesn’t teach us to be modest, it teaches us how we can -as quickly as possible- go back to business as usual: saving our capitalistic economy.

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