When I was a kid, many many moons ago, I used to love hearing my gran talk about the war. The occasions were rare as she was not fond of the topic and her tales were usually cautionary in nature yet I kept begging for more. One of my favourites was the one of the young German soldier who came to my grandparents’ house and ‘asked’ for a place to stay. In exchange he gave my aunt her first piece of chocolate. My 6-year-old self – whose fairytale world consisted of dragon-slaying princes, evil witches and elfish princesses – was completely smitten with the dashing young knight and his galantry. It was only much later, when I stopped believing in fairytales, that I looked back on the story and realised for what it was, a brilliant example of influence management.
Which brings me straight to an article I read recently in the Daily Telegraph. The article was highly critical of the graphic novel Zana & Max. The comic book narrates the adventures of two aid workers employed by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Department (ECHO) struggling to secure funding for the fictional state of Borduvia, which has been affected by an earthquake. It has been issued by the European Commission in English, French, German, Italian and Dutch versions and has been sent to schools and homes in the UK and across the continent.
It is safe to say that there is not much love lost between the editors of the Telegraph and the EU, so I was not surprised to see the dreaded P-word pop up in relation to the graphic novel. They let the honour to the CEO of the TaxPayers’ Alliance who did not hesitate to question the moral character of it all adding that it was “pure political propaganda aimed at kids. A classic tactic of corrupt and unaccountable regimes down the ages.”
While the tale of my childhood is a classic example of non-verbal propaganda, conciously and deviantly aiming to positively influence my relatives, I would argue that Zana & Max‘s adventures rather fall under the category of Public Diplomacy. In all fairness, the term Public Diplomacy may indeed very well be seen as a mere euphemism for propaganda yet I adhere more to the point of view that it is a form of Public Relations. Familiarising European children with how the EU functions in a fun and attractive manner can only be stimulated in my opinion. Terms like European Commission and European Parliament, its respective tasks and challenges should be part of the school curricula. Turning it into an adventure may create greater interest therefore increasing the odds that kids will actually retain the terms.
Does it have an influencing character? Of course it does, most communication does. The comic book effectivily does try to create a familiarity and likeability with the EU but the difference with that piece of chocolate is that while the aim is the same, the means to go about it is quite different.
A final note about the cost: One copy costs 75 cents to produce. Surely informing your children about institutions which impact their everyday life cannot be called a waste of spending.