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All over the world, the wheel of propaganda keeps churning. Governments have launched propaganda blitzes to mold public opinion and further their political objectives. In certain instances, they have failed. In other cases, like global wars, they have caused mass deception and destruction. People employ numerous propaganda techniques for a variety of reasons. It may be to cushion the impact of a crisis, soften antagonistic sentiments of people governed, reinforce friendly relations between countries, or foil attempts to usurp power.
Propaganda in recent years has been used in a derogatory sense, characterized by doublespeak, coupled with endorsements from individuals capable of influencing others, to win public support for an idea or doctrine.
When employed by nations as an act of aggression, it can unleash a never-ending series of counterpropaganda measures, and become counterproductive. Learning about propaganda — how it works, and actual examples across cultures — provides many interrelated insights. Propaganda Theory I. The Meaning and Types of Propaganda
Propaganda is defined in many ways.
It is “a systematic effort to persuade a body of people to support or adopt a particular opinion, attitude or course of action” (Funk & Wagnalls Standard College Dictionary, 1963). Propaganda is something resorted to since ancient times, and has assumed many connotations through the years. It is commonly understood as the deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist.
Propaganda is a term culled from the Latin word propagare which “means to propagate or to show” (Jowett and O’Donnell, 2006, p.
2). French philosopher and sociologist Jacques Ellul, who conducted a thorough study on propaganda, propounded that it is a “sociological phenomena, not as something made or produced by people of intentions” (Jowett and O’Donnell, 2006, p. 4). Ellul did not discount the fact, though, that while it may have negative impact, particularly in discouraging critical thought, people have a need for it. Propaganda is characterized by certain characteristics.
It has to be total, seamless, with a target audience that is “self-acting and capable of screening out contrary messages for themselves (or) partial to the thrust of the message and willing to listen to it, and… works best when it prepares symbols that the public will understand, and then manipulates those symbols to achieve a desired effect” (Thompson, 2004, pp. 6-8). Propaganda, as widely used today, connotes “a coordinated strategy to minimize negative information and present in a favorable light a story that can be damaging to self-interests” (Jowett and O’Donnell, 2006, p.
3). This is blatantly shown by many news organizations and governments today. In most cases, “propaganda themes are produced not because the relationship between the state and the media is antagonistic and incompatible but because they serve a common purpose” (Wilcox, 2005, p. 4). To achieve the propagandist’s intent, there are several types and techniques employed. In the corporate world, one type of propaganda is a simple testimonial.
Testimonials may utilize celebrities and other people of prominence or credibility, or symbols like a flag or a respectable institution, in advertisements prodding and enticing people to purchase goods and services. Most advertisements that instill brand recall by being constantly aired on all forms of media are also a form of propaganda. Usually, the propagandist conceals his main agenda in a deliberate attempt to win public favor. Propaganda may be classified then as white, or “from a correctly identified source and is not intentionally deceptive” (Brahm, 2006, parag. 4) or black, which is the exact opposite.
As for the techniques, propagandists employ age-old techniques to influence or win over people to their side, like name-calling, whereby the object is to make a person see an object, person or idea in a negative light without carefully assessing evidences; use of glittering generalities that uses abstract terms, especially ideals like freedom, justice, and truth to appeal to the listener’s emotions or valued principles; card stacking, which highlights only one view to an argument while downplaying or totally repressing the dissenting or contradictory opinions in order to manipulate the sentiments or change the mindset of the audience; transfer technique, in which case the propagandist uses an object or symbolism that is generally revered or respected to win over people; testimonials, which uses prominent, authoritative or famous people to appeal to listeners’ emotions or in some instances, both the emotions and logic; and bandwagon, which presupposes that since majority of people are doing or supporting something, then that general trend must have merits worth considering. The propagandist, in this case, expects the audience to conform to the general will and reap the benefits offered (“The Art of Propaganda,” n. d. ). II. Propaganda Through the Years Propaganda’s various meanings and connotations have evolved through the years. In the modern world, the most common conduit or mouthpiece of propaganda is the news media, whether print, television, radio or online. Many governments have used media as disseminator of propaganda, especially during crisis moments or to win major support for conflict intervention.
Milestones that have been part and parcel of the history of propaganda go way back to 1622, when the Vatican, under Pope Gregory XV, “established the Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide, meaning the sacred congregation, for propagating the faith of the Roman Catholic Church” (Jowett and O’Donnell, 2006, p. 2). Succeeding events led to the loss of impartiality in the term propaganda. In the present information age, some people who are well-read and aware of issues and news developments are able to discern whenever their government has set into motion a major information campaign to gain public support for an electoral campaign or even a war effort.
There are also insidious ways individuals or governments use propaganda, like in the case of terrorist groups enlisting people to support their cause, or military leaders trying to outmart the enemy by overstating the size of one’s fleet or amplifying the sophisticated weaponry at their disposal. Propaganda has been used countless times for political warfare. History is replete with cases of governments swaying the populace to gain support for their cause or political ends. An example of 20th century propaganda are the anti-German propaganda materials widely disseminated by British agencies. Former US President George Bush’s propaganda machine emphasized an anti-terrorism stance. Ironically, he had denounced numerous propaganda tactics directed at the US which he thought to have vilified the country’s image in the global community.
The US government employed similar propaganda techniques during the Gulf War and Kosovo Conflict in the 1990s. Many political rulers, like Joseph Stalin, used propaganda in a damaging sense. Another clear-cut illustration of 20th century propaganda is Adolf Hitler’s reign of terror. Everyone knows how the charismatic dictator won over people to his side not only with his eloquent speeches but with his military tactics and well-oiled propaganda machinery. Naxi propaganda bordered on censorship. Books and films that ran counter to the beliefs of the rulers were burned. In their stead, radio communications called “People’s Receiver” were offered at a cheap price. There were also organized rallies that succeeded in gaining the public’s loyalties.
“In Nazi publications and German newspapers, newsreels, posters, ‘educational’ materials, etc), much use was made of cartoons from Julius Streicher–the Nazis’ vitriolic and foremost hate monger” (Thompson, 2004, parag. 11). On the other hand, there have also been countless examples of propaganda back in the 18th century. Propaganda was employed, to promote the cause of independence, through the dissemination of pamphlets during the American Revolution. In France and Europe, there was widespread criticisms for the ruling class by learned men. It was an age when anti-enlightenment ideas proliferated, and propaganda was at its peak. III. Propaganda in the Arab World Propaganda has found strong use in the Arab world.
“The anti-Semitic literature published by the Arabs since World War II has been voluminous…Arab propagandists and sympathizers have persisted in the charge that Israel is a foreign outpost of Western civilization, the intruding offspring of Europe inhabited by European survivors of Nazi brutality” (Peters, n. d. ). Consumed by the overriding belief that Israel does not have the right to exist, most Arab and Muslim states engaged in propagandist tactics, including biased reporting and use of language that detracts from the true meaning. Propaganda was also applied through the use of official newspapers that tackled how Jews manage all the world’s governments.
In similar manner, the US government has launched anti-Arab propaganda material, much to its own detriment and reputation in the international community.
References Brahm, Eric. (2006). “Propaganda. ” Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Retrieved May 31, 2009, from (1963). New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc. Jowett, Garth S. and Victoria O’Donnell. (2006). Propaganda and persuasion (4th ed. ). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. Peters, Joan. (n. d. ). “From time immemorial – the origins of the Arab-Jewish conflict over Palestine. ” Retrieved May 31, 2009, from
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