Reinventing the Rules

Discover the Latest Innovations and Lessons Learned in Rule of Law and Legal Empowerment Projects

Using Popular Culture to Build Rule of Law in Chile

Last month I conducted an interview with Professor James M. Cooper and this sparked an interest in understanding more about the role media can play in strengthening rule of law. I found an article he had written especially interesting on “Using Popular Culture to Build The Rule of Law in Latin America”. While I’ve read about initiatives to raise awareness about people’s rights using tv and radio, this was the first time I learned how other countries used similar approaches in the past to initiate cultural reform. Specifically, Professor Cooper examines how the US in the 20th century generated popular culture en masse to further political ends. The article also discusses how the Soviet Union used certain techniques to promote communism. The combination of these lessons learned provides some interesting examples of how popular culture has been used to promote rule of law in Latin America. Check out the excerpts below!

Credit: INTI

Credit: INTI

In the process of moving from the inquisitorial to adversarial model of criminal procedure, it became clear that training the legal sector of [Chile] was necessary but not sufficient in sustaining reform efforts.  The general public had to support the reform and that meant that it had to know something about the reform. To address the bigger human capacity building challenge, the creation of public education campaigns was necessary: the general public had to know about its rights and how to get access to the criminal justice system. It was clear also that popular culture would be an effective tool in educating a civil society.

This would not be the first time that popular culture would be used in civic education. Those working on this project had a playbook from state-funded public education and propaganda campaigns of the past – state-funded movements like Soviet Agitprop and the U.S. Public Works Administration. Both created popular culture for the purpose of promoting political, economic and social ends.


The advent of radio, [film], and television in the Twentieth Century enabled the United States to became not just a great generator of popular culture, but turned it into a lucrative business. Institutions throughout “history ha[ve] seized upon various media of communication and used them to build up monopolies of knowledge.” The U.S. Government quickly understood the value of using popular culture to promote policies. The political message, as an overt characteristic of images that permeate and comprise the fabric of popular culture, began in earnest in the years leading up to World War I. Even U.S. agriculture used popular culture with Popeye and the drive to increase spinach consumption. Smokey the Bear encouraged us to prevent forest fires and Uncle Sam himself was an image.

In 2004, the U.S. Embassy in Santiago de Chile was quite concerned about the proliferation of pirated goods – fake music CDs, films on DVDs, software, and other innovations from U.S. rights holders – on the streets of Chile’s major cities. ACCESO was hired to create and produce a public service announcement about the dangers of Intellectual Property violations and the scourge of piracy. ACCESO created a video that played as a trailer before movies released by United Pictures International and others, in Blockbuster video rental stores, theaters, and around public access television.

The public service announcement plays to the youth and gives them reasons not to participate in the theft of ideas – a concept that appeals to young, idealistic South Americans with a history of this ideal. The use of the rhythm of the streets, both visually and through the soundtrack, speaks to different levels of theft including that from artists. The announcement tries to appeal to cultural sovereignty and economic nationalism, for the best artists, musicians, film-makers of Chile do not have much of a market internationally for their products.

The rap lyrics and song that was written for the public service announcement utilized local slang. Notwithstanding this assignment from the U.S. Government, Proyecto ACCESO’s iconography and graphic style have also been informed by the Soviet Agitprop movement, a very influential campaign for the consolidation of the Soviet regime in the aftermath of the 1917 Russian Revolution.


An abbreviation from the Russian agitatsiya propaganda (meaning agitation propaganda), Agitprop was a political strategy utilizing techniques of agitation and propaganda to influence and mobilize public opinion. Thus, agitation is the “use of political slogans and half-truths to exploit the grievances of the public and thereby to mold public opinion and mobilize public support. Propaganda, by contrast, is the reasoned use of historical and scientific arguments to indoctrinate the educated and so-called ‘enlightened’ members of society, such as party members. In English, the word agitprop is now used to describe “any work, especially in the theatre, that aims to educate and indoctrinate the public.

The Agitprop section [of the Communist Party] was responsible for the content of all official information, overseeing political education in schools, watching over all forms of mass communication, and mobilizing public support for party programs. Agitprop was instrumental in the maintenance of power in Stalinist Soviet Union, the era that followed Lenin’s brief regime.

Agitprop art was used to manipulate ideological beliefs, specifically to spread the ideals of Communism in Russia. Trains and boats were decorated to travel the lengths of Russia and educate the public about Communism. The trains usually had a cinema carriage that showed films of revolutionary leaders V.I. Lenin or Leon Trotsky, and in addition they were well-stocked with revolutionary manifestos, pamphlets and leaflets.

Credit: Proyecto ACCESO

Credit: Proyecto ACCESO

ACCESO has also used trains, the very transportation method used in Agitprop, on several occasions. [In December 2002, forty-two lawyers and law students from Argentina, Bolivia, Canada, Chile, Germany, Mexico and the United States began a train journey from the altiplano to the Pacific Ocean to highlight the criminal procedure reform in the region. Prosecutors joined with public defenders, law professors with law students, and justice ministry officials with judges as the group travelled to La Paz Bolivia and then to Arica, Chile together.]

[With other projects] the ACCESO graphic, web design and animation team knew that it was helping shepherd in a new era for the rule of law – one in which there could be greater confidence in the administration of justice. How does one design when transparency, fairness, and participation are the goals? The team approached its work from the perspective that the rule of law be depoliticized and that all parts of society require a fair administration of justice – from those who hold intellectual property rights and require shareholder protections and to those whose interests lay in promoting labor, women’s, student and human rights. The team focused on notions that the industrialized North takes for granted – procedural guarantees like the right to a fair trial or the presumption of innocence would become the norm. The animated public service announcement, Soy Inocente (“I am Innocent”), was the result of this paradigm shift in thinking.

The team also built on local technologies, uses and customs. By using local codes, colors, Bolivian actors with Aymara accents, and Plaza San Francisco, which is at the heart of downtown La Paz, the team captured the excitement and unfettered chaos that defines this Andean capital.

While ACCESO has not yet been able to survey all the regions in Chile which have now implemented the new criminal procedures, there is a general feeling that the reform process has been a success. Due soon is a new set of public opinion polls and research in Chile to determine what was it that made the Chilean reform process a success, when similar criminal procedure reform elsewhere in the region has failed.

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This entry was posted on August 15, 2013 by in General, Innovative Programs, Reports and tagged , , .

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