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Propaganda is so pervasive that a student of critical thinking must learn to deal with it. Like mosquitoes in the woods, you can't make it go away, but there are things you can do to make things more bearable.

Think about all the sources of propaganda you encounter each day. The radio, the television, billboards, bumper stickers, magazines, signs at the grocery store, text books, teachers, friends, parents, and on and on. If you watch thirty hours of TV per week, you will view roughly 37,822 commercials per year. That about 100 TV ads per day. You will see another 100 to 300 ads per day through the other mass media. Advertising manipulates people into buying all sorts of things that they don't need for all sorts of illegitimate reasons.And that's only advertising. By no means is all the propaganda you encounter advertising. In fact, advertising is perhaps the least insidious. Even though advertising is effective (that's why advertisers use them), the results aren't usually that serious. At some level most of us don't really trust ads. What you've got to worry about are those whom you do trust, your teachers for instance. With those whom you trust, there is a tendency to let down your guard. There are two very important things to realize about propaganda. First, it is partly true. Indeed advertising does give the potential buyer some useful information. For instance, one may not have known that the product existed otherwise, or where to buy it, and so on. But we all know that there's a lot the advertiser doesn't tell us.  Second, propaganda works because the audience wants it to work.

1. PROPAGANDA - a simple definition
Propaganda is that which is sent from one individual to another and is not true when taken as a whole.

Goebbels insisted that Nazi propaganda be as accurate as possible. That is very interesting, because people think of propaganda as nothing but a pack of lies. Because propaganda is often true, at least to a degree, people more easily succumb to it.

The term "propaganda" embraces the following: psychological action, psychological warfare, reeducation and brainwashing, public and human relations, and advertising.


Propaganda is a form of myth

1. Example: "Communist propaganda" The very term is propaganda. It creates the myth that anything a communist says is propaganda. It also implies that anything non-communists say is not propaganda.

2. Example: "Marlboro cigarettes" One cannot think about Marlboro cigarettes without thinking of cowboys and the American west. And yet they are manufactured on the east coast. Tobacco isn't grown in the west. It is likely that most people who buy them are not cowboys. The image is nothing more than a created myth that is artificially associated with this brand.

Propaganda works only when the target audience wants it to work

1. If you ever saw propaganda that seemed ridiculous to you, chances are that it didn't work because you didn't want it to work. Remember the Ford Mustang ad where the lonely accountant buys a Mustang, and suddenly girls chase him down the street? Nobody thinks that will happen, right? Well, sales of Mustangs went up in correlation to the ad campaign.

Education is a prerequisite for propaganda.

Students are inadvertently conditioned to be receptive to propaganda by their schools. How can this be?
It all starts with the parents' appropriate admonition, "Always listen to your teacher." Then they go to school, and here's what happens:

1. Students absorb large quantities of second-hand, unverifiable information.

 2. Students are made to feel that they should have an opinion on every important question. Most of these issues are very complex, so the student falls prey to the propaganda of those whom they trust.

 3. Students feel capable of judging the merits of these opinions for themselves. In most cases they haven't learned how to evaluate these opinions.

It is not that schools are evil. It is an unintended byproduct of the system. The real problems come when the student leaves school. Other sources of propaganda become the "teacher." The student applies the same principles of school to other media, such as the television, radio, magazines, and so forth. The three things listed above happen to every student in every type of school. And almost every person has gone to school. So almost every member of modern society is conditioned by the school to be receptive to propaganda.

Total Propaganda

1. Total propaganda is a phenomenon which takes place when all the media act together and bring about a complete change in perspective of the weltanschauung (paradigm) of the society. Almost no one disagrees with the belief. In fact, few people are even aware that they have the belief.

2. For instance, many Canadians are propagandized to believe that science can ultimately solve any problem.

Vertical and Horizontal Propaganda

1. Vertical propaganda is that which comes directly from the source to the target audience. It is analogous to lightning striking the ground. Examples are any advertisement, a campaign speech given by the candidate, press releases from political action groups.

2. Horizontal propaganda takes place when the vertical propaganda has taken hold among a few members of the target audience. It then spreads among the group, either by word of mouth or by example. It is analogous to a fire spreading from the point of the lightning strike. This is the bandwagon effect.

3. Both vertical and horizontal propaganda are needed for the propaganda to be effective.

Reinforcing function of propaganda

1. Propaganda also serves to reinforce beliefs. For instance, people who listen to Rush Limbaugh are mostly those who already agree with his perspective. His function is to help maintain and strengthen the beliefs of the converted.

There are many techniques commonly used in the dissemination of propaganda.

BANDWAGON: The basic idea behind the bandwagon approach is just that, "getting on the bandwagon." The propagandist puts forth the idea that everyone is doing this, or everyone supports this person/cause, so should you. The bandwagon approach appeals to the conformist in all of us: No one wants to be left out of what is perceived to be a popular trend.

EXAMPLE: Everyone in Pukatawagan is behind Dan George for Chief. Shouldn't you be part of this winning team?

TESTIMONIAL: This is the celebrity endorsement of a philosophy, movement or candidate. In advertising, for example, athletes are often paid millions of dollars to promote sports shoes, equipment and fast food. In political circles, movie stars,
television stars, rock stars and athletes lend a great deal of credibility and power to a political cause or candidate. Just a photograph of a movie star at political rally can generate more interest in that issue/candidate or cause thousands, sometimes
millions, of people to become supporters.

EXAMPLE: "Sam Slugger", a baseball Hall of Famer who led the pros in hitting for years, appears in a television ad supporting Mike Politico for U.S. Senate. Since Sam is well known and respected in his home state and nationally, he will likely gain Mr. Politico many votes just by his appearance with the candidate.

PLAIN FOLKS: Here the candidate or cause is identified with common people from everyday walks of life. The idea is to make the candidate/cause come off as grassroots and all-Canadian.

EXAMPLE: After a morning speech to wealthy Liberal donors, Jean Chretien stops by McDonald's for a burger, fries, and photo-op.

TRANSFER: Transfer employs the use of symbols, quotes or the images of famous people to convey a message not necessarily associated with them. In the use of transfer, the candidate/speaker attempts to persuade us through the indirect use of something we respect, such as a patriotic or religious image, to promote his/her ideas. Religious and patriotic images may be the most commonly used in this propaganda technique but they are not alone. Sometimes even science becomes the means to transfer the message.

EXAMPLE: The environmentalist group PEOPLE PROMOTING PLANTS, in its attempt to prevent a highway from destroying the natural habitat of thousands of plant species, produces a television ad with a "scientist" in a white lab coat explaining the dramatic consequences of altering the food chain by destroying this habitat.

FEAR: This technique is very popular among political parties and PACs (Political Action Committees) in the U.S. The idea is to present a dreaded circumstance and usually follow it up with the kind of behavior needed to avoid that horrible event.

EXAMPLE: The Citizens for Retired Rights present a magazine ad showing an elderly couple living in poverty because their social security benefits have been drastically cut by the Liberals. The solution? The CRR urges you to vote for Conservatives.

LOGICAL FALLACIES: Applying logic, one can usually draw a conclusion from one or more established premises. In the type of propaganda known as the logical fallacy, however, the premises may be accurate but the conclusion is not.

     Premise 1: The Prime Minister supports gun control.
     Premise 2: Communist regimes have always supported gun control.
     Conclusion: The Prime Minister is a communist.

We can see in this example that the Conclusion is created by a twisting of logic, and is therefore a fallacy.

GLITTERING GENERALITIES: This approach is closely related to what is happening in TRANSFER (see above). Here, a generally accepted virtue is usually employed to stir up favorable emotions. The problem is that these words mean different things to different people and are often manipulated for the propagandists' use. The important thing to remember is that in this technique the propagandist uses these words in a positive sense. They often include words like: democracy, family values (when used positively), rights, civilization, even the word "Canadian."

EXAMPLE: An ad by a cigarette manufacturer proclaims to smokers: Don't let them take your rights away! ("Rights" is a powerful word, something that stirs the emotions of many, but few on either side would agree on exactly what the 'rights' of smokers are.)

NAME-CALLING: This is the opposite of the GLITTERING GENERALITIES approach. Name-calling ties a person or cause to a largely perceived negative image.

EXAMPLE: In a campaign speech to a logging company, a Member of Parliament referred to his environmentally conscious opponent as a "tree hugger."

For more variations on these Propaganda types as they apply to advertising see:

Create Some Slogans of Your Own. Select five of the following products and create an appropriate slogan for each one.
Give a name to your product if you need to do so.

     a) Motorcycle
     b) Tires
     c) Candy bar
     d) Car wax
     e) Roller Blades
     f) Shampoo
     g) Jeans
     h) Chewing Gum
     i) Automobile
     j) Athletic Shoes