Mind over Media: Are You More Powerful than Propaganda?

Part of Exhibition: State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda

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Review

of an Exhibit

by Shana Oltmans

Published on March 20, 2012

  • Description:

    On numerous occasions I have visited museums or historic sites and thought about how much more powerful my visit would be if my tour guide was a person who lived through the event I was learning about. At the “State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda” exhibition at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum technology provides the visitor the opportunity to have an interactive texting tour with a Holocaust survivor. This tour engages the visitor and creates a more personal experience when walking through the exhibition.

    When visitors approach the entrance to the “State of Deception” exhibition they encounter a large panel displaying the definition of propaganda, next to the definition is a smaller panel describing the interactive texting tour. This panel has a recent picture of Margit Meissner, a survivor of the Holocaust, and a black and white picture of her when she was younger. This panel is well displayed and includes a challenging title to the visitor, “Mind over Media: Are You More Powerful than Propaganda?” On my visit I noticed most visitors stopped to read this panel and many discussed the texting tour with each other and took out their cell phones to participate. The panel provides clear instructions about how visitors can join in the texting tour. Visitors simply need a mobile device that receives texts. A phone number is listed and visitors are instructed to call that number in order to begin their tour. After calling the number, visitors listen to a recording of Margit explaining who she is and a little bit about her life during the Holocaust. She explains that there will be nine stops during the tour where visitors will receive texting challenges about certain aspects of the exhibition in order to see if they are able to recognize propaganda.

    While the different texting challenges may not entertain all visitors like some museum games, they certainly engage visitors by being scattered throughout the exhibition and encouraging visitors to continue exploring the exhibition in order to find and complete the next challenge. Stops are marked throughout the exhibition with a cell phone icon and the number of the stop signaling the visitor that this is an area for one of the challenges. Visitors also receive a text with directions about where to look for the next challenge spot. This is helpful because while the phone icons are large enough to see, it helps visitors know exactly where to look instead of getting lost or frustrated about being unable to find one of the stops.

    One example of a challenge is a question about a Nazi video that promotes nationalism and inclusion playing in a theater. The challenge asks, “What emotions did the Nazis hope these images would evoke among Germans?” After texting their reply to the challenge, visitors receive a text in response to their answer. An example of a response to the above challenge is, “Nazi propaganda played on emotions to make some people feel included. But as a Jew I was excluded.” While the texting tour does not provide visitors with additional information about the exhibition, the first person response makes the experience in the exhibition more personal and powerful. These different challenges not only ask visitors to think about what is being displayed but also enhance their experience by providing a platform to start discussions. I saw a group of teenagers excitedly texting on their phones and discussing the challenges and different parts of the exhibition.

    After visitors have completed the challenges and walked through the exhibition they receive another phone call from Margit. In this call Margit thanks visitors for coming to the exhibition and talks a little bit about her life after the war. Margit encourages visitors to be on the lookout for propaganda and to take photographs of any propaganda they see in their everyday lives and upload them to the museum’s website so that the discussion about propaganda can continue. Margit says she will text visitors a link to the website where they can upload their photos. This is a wonderful way for visitors to extend their experience outside of the exhibition and prompt further discussion about propaganda through this website. Unfortunately, the text visitors receive after the phone call from Margit does not include a link to that website, but a link to a survey about their experience on the texting tour. After some searching I was able to find the website that Margit describes, but some visitors may be deterred and give up when the link they use takes them to a survey. This idea of texting visitors links they can visit regarding the exhibition could be taken further. I heard numerous visitors discussing Margit and wondering about her life. Visitors could expand on their knowledge from the exhibition and extend their visiting experience to their homes if they also receive a text with links to websites that provide more information about propaganda and Margit’s life.

    While the interactive texting tour in the “State of Deception” exhibition does not provide visitors with additional information about the exhibition, it is a great use of technology to offer visitors a more personal experience and keep them engaged throughout their visit.

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