Saturday, May 8, 2010

Propagating Propaganda

"Propaganda (prŏp'ə-gān'də)

The systematic propagation of a doctrine or cause or of information reflecting the views and interests of those advocating such a doctrine or cause.

1718, from Mod.L. propaganda, short for Congregatio de Propaganda Fide "congregation for propagating the faith," committee of cardinals established 1622 by Gregory XV to supervise foreign missions, prop. abl. fem. gerundive of L. propagare (see propagation). Modern political sense dates from World War I, not originally pejorative." (

     When you hear the word "propaganda" what comes to your mind? What do you feel?  How big of an influence is propaganda in your life? What every day decisions do you make that are driven, at least in part, by propaganda? 

     Propaganda often elicits ideas of deception, betrayal, and manipulation.  Images of Nazi Germany, North Korea, and China come easily to mind.  However, is propaganda by nature unethical or wrong? Could there be positive propaganda? How pervasive is propaganda in the so called "free countries"? 

Before answering such questions, we must first address what propaganda is and how we can recognize it. 

An Introduction to Propaganda
          Propaganda is simply the expression of a certain view while purposefully excluding other contrasting views. As discussed previously, the word propaganda has been in use since the 1700's. However, propaganda techniques have been commonplace throughout all of human history. 

          The origin of the word "propaganda" is religious. In 1622 the Pope Gregory XV created the "Congregation of Propaganda" in order to win back defectors from the Catholic Church. Only recently has the word propaganda held such deep negative connotations. The word "propaganda" is now commonly used as a slander or attack against others, particularly in politics. However, propaganda is not necessarily a bad thing. Propaganda can be seen everywhere, it is used by every major faction or organization on the earth. Every hour of your day you will likely encounter propaganda, whether you are watching the television, reading a book, surfing the internet, studying in a classroom, or talking to a friend.  

         Propaganda is distributed through a variety of medians. In the 20th and 21st century world there have been great developments in methods to propagate propaganda.  These include radio, newspapers, posters, cartoons, movies, television, books, blogs, social media, and the internet. Among the most effective methods of distributing propaganda is to expose and integrate the message into the audiences recreational lives.  While you could spend weeks distributing thousands of pamphlets or booklets, this method hinges on the peoples desire to read them. In most cases it is much more effective to use the entertainment media to air a commercial or endorse your product.

         As a man flips through his paper a poster catches his eye. On the poster are familiar images that he has associated feeling towards; The swastika -- "Hitler", "Germany", "evil"; the Hammer and the Sickle -- "communism", "Russia", "evil"; The stars and stripes -- "America", "patriotism", "good".  Already in 5 seconds this poster has portrayed a message to this person's conscious and subconscious mind stronger than if he had spent an hour reading a pamphlet on the ills of communism and Nazi Germany.

Methods and Techniques of Propaganda
          The use of symbols in propaganda is very effective and widely used, especially in politics. As a casual observer, these symbols may seem to be easily tuned out or ignored due to their familiarity, however, while consciously these symbols may not have much impact on you, much of modern propaganda deals with subconscious perceptions and associations. This is particularly true in political adds. For example, in the 2008 presidential election, if you look at the participants advertisements you would notice a almost universal color scheme, with three colors, red, white and blue. They often have stripes and stars on it as well. I am sure that you are not surprised, but at the same time, I doubt that you took notice of it. Most often it is seen as just a common background for, but this is an often used subliminal message. This message affirms to you that the candidate is a patriotic "true" American, not only that but it can infer that if you are patriotic you must vote for them.
          Television goes one step further. How often have you seen an army commercial, the next time you see one pay close attention to the images and music they use to invoke feeling into you. 
          These examples are sensual ways that propaganda is administered, through symbols, through music, through color and shape. Other ways that it is administrated is through carefully intentional mental strategies designed to influence you. The following are some examples of cognitive strategies used in implementing propaganda. 

Name Calling: By giving labels to a person or an idea it allows their audience to quickly classify and judge the object. These names often elicit a "us versus them"  attitude,  Democrats vs Republicans, Christians vs Non-Christian.  This allows an audience to judge something off the of established prejudices and opinions rather than logical rational.  People want to have things in nice little boxes. When a box-like suggestion is presented we are inclined to accept it and apply all the attributes and emotions of that box to its new occupant regardless of its validity. This effectively helps the audience feel the "appropriate" emotions and come to the desired conclusion. Name calling can both detract from opposing viewpoints and build your own authority.  Generally when referring to adherents of your view you maximize their credentials through terms such as "scholar" or "expert"  while the credentials of those who oppose are minimized or ignored.  

Connections: The technique of connections is where a person gains authority or validity from a publicly trusted figure thus influencing people to a decision that they otherwise would have rejected or further questioned. Common administrative allusion is to the church, or the country, and especially science. They will often use these words to avoid conflict. "The pope said..", "according to science..." etc. Connections also are used through symbols; the swastika, the cross, a flag, Uncle Sam, a solider, a president, etc. This can be done explicitly or implicitly. You can openly declare your affiliations or you can be subtle by closing a meeting with a prayer, implying Gods sanction. Many times connections are made by quoting out of context, or omitting key thoughts from the texts.

Testimonials: Although testimonials are not necessarily misleading often times those who are giving the testimonials are not qualified to speak on topics they are testifying of (E.G. Jenny McCarthy on autism and vaccines). This is similar to connections as it is influencing the decision of a persona by the endorsement of a trusted, or idealized by the public, who more often then not are not qualified authorities in the matter.

Common Folk: This is where the aerator seeks to appear in the same situation as the audience, thus empathizing and leading them to their conclusion. This is propaganda because it is deceptive and manipulative, they put on an image to change people mind. This is done frequently in politics; candidates will take photo shoots or videos, chopping wood, fishing, gardening, etc. Then ask for endorsements because you can now see that he understands you and will represent you.

Bandwagon: Peer pressure, I am reminded of a saying from a catholic priest when asked what if they are wrong, that "if we are wrong there are 1 billion of us going down". That is security in numbers, a trust in the majority. Last night I was at a show comedic improvisation show.  With propaganda techniques on my mind I noticed how pressured I felt to applaud when all the rest were doing so regardless of the act or my desire to do so.  At the end there was a standing ovation which was altogether compelling.  The next time you are in a similar situation just don’t clap and keep in your seat and you will realize what a power that bandwagoning has over us. Altogether it is not bad for the uneducated decision to follow the majority, when making choices on this ground it will lead you into error and will invite manipulation. Who has not heard the justification of an obvious fallacy "Everyone is doing it"?

Half Truths: To gain validity you lull the masses into security with truths, but lead them into half truths; truths that can be viewed as true but are misleading, or even flat out wrong.

Fear: Perhaps the most explicit and also the most common propaganda technique. All of us have been exposed to it. From our earliest memories our parents used fear to control us: "If you are late again you are grounded!", "If you don't do you don't stop right now I'm going to send you to your room!". At school we are subject to is as well in the form of detention, suspension and expulsion. We may get it at church "If you don't ___ you'll go to hell", we get it from the government "We are in desperate circumstances and the only thing that will change this is ___". We get it from the TV and salesmen who are trained to present a problem and give the solution. It is now law that fear propaganda appear on all cigarette packs. Fear comes in the form of a threat to your way of life, whether it is your job, your home, your freedom, your family, your children, your religion, your ego, or anything else.

          In these modern days the greatest source of propaganda, and the greatest remedy is the internet. You can find anything that you want on the internet, but it is extremely hard to secure validity. For every cause there are lies and propaganda on both sides on the internet. This is ironically the same reason the internet is a remedy for propaganda; because the information is out there for anyone to see. Ultimately it lies in the hand of the readers desire and ability to distinguish truth. Many choose not to look for the truth, but look for propaganda that will support their existing prejudices.

US History Of Propaganda
          These are just a few of the several diverse ways that we can perceive propaganda. As far as a history of propaganda in the west goes, the start of a government sanctioned propaganda system really started when the US renounced its isolationist views at the onset of their entering into World War I. War is a tough thing. There is always opposition, and with opposition comes problems, governments turn to propaganda to turn the people, the use titles, symbols, ideas, and band wagon arguments and advertisements to control the people. World War I is when widespread US government funded propaganda truly initiated. Too see more on the rise of US propaganda during WWI see this short 1:30 clip below.

World War II American Propaganda
          The climax of explicit US government funded propaganda was during World War Two. Below are some pro World War II US implemented propaganda posters. As you view them notice how they implement different propaganda tactics. Notice the color tones, the symbols, the emotions they are playing on, and the end of their advertisement. What do they want you to do? Why? What will happen if you don't? How does this control the people?

Cartoon Propaganda
          The following are some well known animation studios that helped the government by producing World War II propaganda. Once again pay attention to the messages, it is important to note the audience, although it if for children the messages are for their day and effectively molding the minds in order to suit their agendas.

An American Perspective of how the Nazis work, and how they maintain control.

An attempt to solicit war bond purchases

Axis Propaganda
          Due to allied propaganda most are quite aware of the German, Russian, and Axis propaganda campaigns.  Due to this I will not spend a proportionate amount of time on them.  Of course on the other side of things there was even more propaganda implemented, but I will not spend as so much time on this due to the fact that it is widely known. But here are some anti-allied propaganda.

Post-Axis Russian Propaganda

Korean War Propaganda

Vietnam War Propaganda

Cold War Propaganda

          These posters and videos of wartime propaganda are somewhat explicit in their methods. They utilize emotions to trigger action. In modern days propaganda has often become more subtle, propaganda has not ended since the cold war.

Modern Propaganda
          Today we face it, in every aspect of out lives but still continually in war. As discussed earlier a way to control popular support for a war it to create and distribute propaganda. A good example is too look to the "War on Terrorism". The title in and of itself is propaganda. You go up to someone on the street and ask "Do you support the War on Terrorism", it would be counter intuitive to reply "no", because the title itself employs generalization, images, and symbols. Is invading countries, killing thousands, and uprooting governments really a War against terrorism, or is it terrorism itself? If you do not agree with the war then you are labels "Anti-patriotic", "Anti-american", and maybe even "terrorist". In a similar word game the "Department of War" changed its name to the "Department of Defense", not because of the lack of war but because of the connotations of the words. It still remains the Department of War, for that is what it deals with but the new sounds more noble and righteous rather than domineering.
(not an actually government issued poster)
A Pamphlet distributed the US Psychological warfare to Iraqis saying "This is your future with al-Zarqawi"
          As this is a current war it is more difficult to distinguish propaganda from fact, but a few things have come to the surface, and other are obvious. In this war the US starting using "Black Propaganda", which is creating false information published or distributed purporting to be from the other side of the conflict. America set up radio stations in Iraq that claimed to be pro-Saddam but reported pro-American material. Also a government funded operation was found in 2005, where American material was given to Iraqis to publish in their paper under Iraqis names.

          Aside from propaganda administered to the Iraqis, there is a large degree of propaganda administered to the American citizens. The first evidence of this is the fact that the above information was only revealed and admitted by the government after it was revealed by a source. I once talked to a man who drove a truck over there for over a year during the initial invasion of Iraq. He told me that the causality numbers and details that were released were far off from the actual. He told me a lot of things that isn't spouted off in the reports, some details, some numbers, some atrocities, many of which are not reported to the people. That is a form of propaganda, that knowledge is vital for citizens choices.

          Coming generally from the media and religious leaders is coming an influx of anti-Muslim/anti-middle-eastern propaganda. From name calling to racial profiling we see this is action. here are some examples.

          Aside from the misinformation of Americans, and deceptions of Iraqis there is also the same pro-War. Lets examine this recruiting commercial.

Notice what it is telling you to do, and why. It is telling you to join the army because:
1) It will make you the strongest person on earth (physically, mentally, emotionally, character, purpose)
2) You will gain the respect of others
3) You will receive rewards
4) You will be doing what is "good"
5) You will make friends and be part of a community where you belong
6) You will be serving your country
7) You will have adventure/amusement/excitment
8) You will be obedient
9) Help this earth

          Notice some of the symbols used to portray these aspects. A man receives a warm familiar embrace by his comrades for an unknown deed. A old apparent veteran that could well be your grandfather salutes you in a supposed parade with US flags waving in the background. A man embraces his supposed wife in a long embrace. A solider escorting children to safety. A woman gets decorated with a metal. A man fishing with his son. A group running slow motion with the US flag at their front. A woman receiving help from her comrades while scaling a wall. An american flag waving in the background right before the clinching sentence followed by soldiers in front on a US flag. Other methods employed in this short clip is the epic inspiring music. Try watching it with the sound off and notice the emotional difference. Another symbol of coarse is the uniform in and of itself has connotations within us. All this information in this commercial is in the positive, but we can easily infer it in the negative, that "if don't join the army you will not be ___" . All these messages portrayed in under 3 minutes.

          Propaganda is everywhere, but it is not all bad, it is not a dirty word. We cannot expect us for Obama to tell us what positives Mccain has in his argument and philosophies. We are the ones with the responsibility to be informed. A great majority of the problems of the world come from miscommunication and misinformation. As we educated ourselves we come closer to seeing the world as it really is. We cannot hope to rid ourselves of all our prejudices but we can actively try to seek the truth. I leave with a quote from William James:

"A great many people think they are thinking when they are really rearranging their prejudices."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Umm here are some corrections.

The Russian posters were not anti-allies. They were anti-fascist and pro-allies. Also, the first two posters on the "Axis and Russian" section aren't either. They're anti-American paintings from North Korea, which was established AFTER World War II.


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