Advertisement and Propaganda in the Atlantic Monthly

I am thinking along several different threads here that, I’m hoping, I can weave together by using the New Mexico travel advertisements in the Atlantic Monthly. I was drawn to Humm’s article for her discussion of the visible versus absent photograph of Three Guinea’s and the ways in which this then connects to memory. Humm writes that  the “…absent photographs…act in dialectical tension with the five visible photographs. It is the absent photographs, or rather the narrator’s memory of these photographs, which in a major way shape the narrative of Three Guineas and its dense visual plentitude” (197). Humm’s exploration of the visible versus absent images depicted in Three Guineas could also apply to the travel advertisements in the Atlantic Monthly.

Before I turn to those advertisements, however, I also want to briefly touch of Prevost’s “The Psychology of Propaganda.” Prevost writes the following on the distinction between propaganda and advertisements: “Propaganda has been compared with advertising; yet this is an error, for advertising is concerned always with commercial gain. On the other hand, propaganda makes itself felt in lands far removed—lands which are necessarily neutral in time of conflict and from which nothing is to be gained” (Prevost 674). This distinction of advertising versus propaganda seems to me interdependent not independent.

There are two advertisements for Nex Mexican tourism that could be interpreted through Humm’s ideas on printed versus absent photographs, and on the slippery distinctions Prevost seems to articulate for advertisements and propaganda. The first depicts a Native American with pueblos and mountains in the background, and advertises seeing “[t]he little-known and fascinating Spanish-Indian country…with its age-old inhabited pueblos and isolated mountains.” The second ad has copy that reads “You’ll see Strange scenes Unchanged by Passing Centuries” if you vacation to New Mexico, with the image depicting a man and woman next to a car overlooking native Americans in a village. The ad describes features such as “weird ceremonial dance,” “modern accommodations,” “Conquistadors,” and New Mexico as the “Land of Enchantment.”

These advertisements, to me, feel propagandic of perpetuating the volatile history of genocide in the American west by advertising Native American history only through the lens of enchantment and tourism. These ads conflate commodity (tourism) with “lands far removed,” both physically in the deserts of New Mexico and temporally by emphasizing the lands as unchanged by centuries. The decision of what is made visible in the ads obfuscates what is absent; that is, the history of genocide that the U.S now markets as a tourist destination.