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Selling Technocracy: How New Deal visual imagery promoted hydroelectric power to define a modern Pacific Northwest
AuthorHeslop, Katherine J.
AdvisorStarrs, Paul F.
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Franklin Roosevelt’s 1932 speech in Portland, Oregon, during his presidential campaign presented an abstract idea for federal electric-power development as a progressive socioeconomic response to the hard times of the Great Depression. Regional energy-based and water-controlling landscapes, or valley authorities, built government river-basin infrastructures primarily as big dam systems. As part of New Deal policy (c. 1933-1939), federal agencies attempted to persuade citizens of the Pacific Northwest to accept a new, tangible landscape and culture imbued with technocratic regionalism to define a Columbia Valley Authority (CVA). Films, photographs, posters, songs, pictorial art (Media) created by the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) and other agencies sought to convey ideological concepts denoting a federal “Promised Land” of socioeconomic utopianism centered on Columbia River Basin development. My research surveyed this New Deal media, selected relevant material, and identified technocratic patterns of communication, symbology, and images deemed instruments for “an acquaintance to the knowledge” of a modern electricity-enhanced society. I identify a Populist Media Paradigm, which demonstrates governmental use of the era’s realistic genres to conjoin the common individual’s experience and emotions with progressive government solutions through New Deal cultural platforms. Even as BPA marketing programs shifted away from notions of valley-authority regionalism in late 1939 to “power-load-building” and defense programs, hydropower images integrated symbology within the fabric of modern Pacific Northwest culture and its emergent energy socioeconomic society. This study found that state-sponsored, public-relations platforms directed their messages at the common citizen, but the enduring challenge was for Americans to accept what a democracy wanted to do for its people.