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Deutschland 83: The Spy Thriller Is Watching You!

Repackaged to serve anti-Russian propaganda, Deutschland 83  resolves moral ambivalence in favor of Western certainties and depicts socialist society as subtly threatening

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This post first appeared on Russia Insider


The author is writing a series of articles for RI about propaganda in the entertainment media.  He maintains a website called Prole Center, dedicated to advancing socialist ideas.


Deutschland 83 is another example of “entertainment propaganda” - fictional entertainment laced with propaganda messages - in which anti-heroes are used to reach a left-leaning audience. These individuals are drawn to the anti-hero because he or she personifies the moral ambivalence, disorder and confusion in a society. For those who have difficulty in seeing everything around them in either black or white, the anti-hero’s stumbling path to redemption appeals to their own sense of the complexity, uncertainty and shifting realities of the modern world.

In Deutschland 83, we get a good taste of this confusion in society and moral ambivalence in addition to a European viewpoint. The show was filmed in German and was distributed in the U.S. by the Sundance channel with English subtitles. Like The Americans, this show is intended for liberals and others with progressive proclivities or who are otherwise not completely wedded to American jingoism and exceptionalism.

The protagonist of Deutschland 83 is a young East German border guard recruited as a spy to go to West Germany in order to decipher NATO plans for a potential invasion of the socialist bloc. His cover is to impersonate a West German soldier who is set to become the personal assistant to a West German general.

As the story progresses we come to see the Cold War through the eyes of East Germans and Soviets who feel very threatened by the U.S./NATO, and West Germans who begin to feel like expendable pawns of the Americans. The propaganda is very cleverly interwoven into this drama that shows all kinds of points of view, but the net result is going to reassure loyal Americans and other Westerners that “our system” is better than socialism in terms of morality and economic efficiency. This “truth” apparently cannot stand on its own merits, but must be constantly reinforced through various mediums of propaganda.

Going back to our current case study, one of the more interesting aspects of Deutschland 83 is that the East German spy, Martin Rauch, is a much less menacing sort of an anti-hero as compared to the KGB spy duo in The Americans. It is the type of society that he represents, or is forced to serve, that is presented as menacing. Rauch is shown to be a victim who nevertheless begins to realize the “truth” that he is being manipulated by cynical and corrupt leaders more interested in preserving their own privilege rather than serving the common good as they claim. We go on this painful journey of discovery and redemption with Agent Rauch; and we are gently but decidedly led to the same conclusions.

As one of the 20th century’s greatest philosophers, Bertrand Russell said, “The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.” Put another way, to paraphrase John Stuart Mill, an 18th century philosopher, it is undoubtedly true that while not all conservatives are stupid, most stupid people are conservative. In short, conservatives are quite easy to dupe, but thinking people require a much more sophisticated indoctrination program - this is where the anti-hero and enemy point of view come into play in television shows like Deutschland 83 and The Americans.

The anti-hero is a great literary and propaganda device for making political and social commentary; combining this with what I call the “enemy point of view” or EPOV, you supposedly get to hear all sides of the story. It’s part of the American system of so-called fair play or plurality - that bogus concept, along with fake concern for human rights, that US elites used to bash the Soviet Union and continue to use to bash the Russian Federation.

In the American system of plurality you do get to hear multiple points of view, but the puppeteers of propaganda make damn sure that the weight of evidence is heavily tilted toward the viewpoint they want you to adopt. This is the same story when it comes to manipulating the electoral process at home and abroad . . . but that is another story for another time.

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