Ryan Mungia's Protect Yourself: Venereal Disease Posters of World War II uncovers many obscure propaganda posters that were, once upon a time, just as popular as the iconic "We Can Do It!" woman.
The posters represent a strange and uneasy attempt to refine wartime propaganda, and their various iterations tell a largely unknown story about sexual mores, puritanical anxiety, and how the establishment reconciled itself to the fact of sex.
The posters scream for themselves. They were the product of antagonistic collaboration between the military, the Surgeon General’s office, and the War Advertising Council, a cabal of New York admen given the task of fine-tuning American propaganda. The near-schizophrenic variety of messages and graphics in this collection reflects the internal conflicts of the U.S. propaganda machine, which was trying to appease several different agendas simultaneously. Few of the posters in Protect Yourself are attributable to specific years, but the book makes it possible to trace multiple evolutions that unfolded during the war. The bold, abstract designs of the Work Projects Administration give way to the straightforward illustrative schemes of the WAC, which resemble advertisements from the pages of Fortune or the Saturday Evening Post. In the parade of captions, you can watch the morphing attitude toward sex education. What begin as concerns over public health—“Whom Have You Exposed To Syphilis? Tell Your Physician, They Should Be Examined; They May Need Treatment”—become manipulations of guilt and shame: “VD Can Be Cured But There’s No Medicine for REGRET.”
Protect Yourself [Sam Sweet/Paris Review]