PUBLISHED 07 July 2017
When you're a subculturally inclined kid who also loves history - a Goth magazine called PROPAGANDA fits snugly into this empty part of your brain. When this is honeyed up with a large dose of taboo & fetish imagery that you don't know turns you on - YET - PROPAGANDA FUCKS YOUR BRAIN.
PROPAGANDA was a Punk & Goth zine started by Fred Berger back in 1982 when there wasn't a whole lot of distance between those two things. Fred is a photographer & his artistic mind really set Propaganda apart from other zines by approaching Dark Rock&Roll & its fashion cults as an aesthetic & artistic value with cinematic qualities, inspired by movies like Road Warrior, the Night Porter & the Hunger ( all worth watching or else I wouldn't mention them).
Editor Fred Berger said of his magazine, "Propaganda reported on the Punk, Goth & Industrial movements in a selective way according to my own personal tastes & interests, & I also introduced certain elements based on that subjective criteria. David Bowie & ‘70s Glitter Rock introduced me to androgyny, & that is something which I focused on throughout most of Propagandas 20-year existence. The ideal which I sought out, and also fabricated to some extent, was that of a gender-ambiguous, painfully thin & ghostly pale creature based on Ziggy Stardust, but of a darker, more sinister persuasion. That darkness would be rooting in certain taboos, such as vampirism, demonism, fetishism, homosexuality & Nazism – things that would shake up mainstream society. But it was more about the aesthetics of evil (“forbidden fruit” if you like) rather than the actual practice of it. I thought evil had a sensual & stylistic edge over virtue, but I’ve personally always lived by the Golden Rule of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Propaganda never advocated Satanism, occultism, Nazism, sadomasochism or homosexuality, but that didn’t stop some people from making accusations to that effect. Being an aesthete, I see things from a stylistic standpoint, but people who aren’t often read a lot of political & philosophical meaning into the imagery. I proclaim my innocence with regard to any agenda other than art, but there were some who never accepted my “artistic license” defense. Even so, Propaganda was the biggest, most popular & most influential Goth-Industrial-Post-Punk publication in the United States throughout the ‘80s & ‘90s. It was carried by all the mainstream retail chains & was reviewed in mainstream newspapers & magazines. Sure a few people were offended, & were very vocal about it, but for the most part Propaganda was seen as iconoclastic & artistic, & not directly associated with any of the maligned “isms” which it referenced for dramatic effect."
Fred Berger did us all a favor by opening up the ideas of Gothic Punk past the Damned, Siouxsie & the Banshees, TSOL & 45 Grave outwards including Post-Punk like Bauhaus, conceptual art bands like Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Zodiac Mindwarp & Laibach. Glam Rock bands like the New York Dolls, Hanoi Rocks & Guns N' Roses. Industrial Noise bands like Non, Skinny Puppy & Nitzer Ebb. Heavy Metal Bands like Motorhead & I'll just say Judas Priest but I don't think they were in there & layering that on top of the Gothic Birthday Cake.
"I’m mostly known for the androgyny I suppose, & that probably comes from the strong influence David Bowie had on me as a teenager - I was totally captivated by his Major Tom & Ziggy Stardust personas in the early 70s. My less appreciated work was inspired by my interest in militarism & Punk Anarchism. There are quite a lot of soldiers & warriors, as well as Skinheads & Mohawk punks throughout Propaganda, & although they contributed to the magazine’s violent & fascistic reputation, it was the gender-benders that got most of the favorable attention. Teenagers have a lot of sexual angst & are pretty confused, & most of the readers were in that age group & sexual anarchy appealed to them, not only in terms of gender-bending but also in terms of sadomasochism, vampirism, & homoeroticism - all of which were represented in my work." - Fred Berger
"I never tried to follow a trend - being trendy doesn’t stand the test of time. But being your own person, regardless of what others may think, that’s a timeless quality. I never sold out. When Goth started becoming more commercial & mainstream in the mid-90s, I changed the direction of the magazine toward a more fetishistic, homo chic, junkie hustler orientation. This alienated about a third of Propaganda’s readers, & the magazine’s popularity declined as a result, but I was being true to myself. Besides, I was burnt-out on gothic glamour & the vampire mystique & was looking for something more real, darker, & more decadent." - Fred Berger
PROPAGANDA stands the test of time because Fred Berger approached his magazine & its subject like art & painted in broad-strokes - pulling people in from the sides & making it a cool place to feel uncomfortably comfortable.
- Sean Äaberg