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The Techniques
of Propaganda

FAsideorin amany years, the idea of studying propaganda

communication class was deemed laughable.
from wartime, which was often typified by
managed countries, and corporate piracy at World-
Com, Enron, and elsewhere. And we can expect
more propaganda coming to us from religious, po-
heavy-handed propagandistic techniques, propa- litical, and economic ideologues as they try to sell
ganda didnt seem to be operating. Only a few their systems of beliefs and values.
cheered the addition of this propaganda chapter As you can see, far from being a rickety and anti-
nearly two decades ago. Many thought it a waste of quated concept, propaganda is alive and active in this
time to cover an antiquated topic. At about that first decade of the new millennium. As receivers, we
same time, however, a new focus in propaganda need to recognize propaganda when we encounter it
emerged, and the communication discipline began and respond accordingly. This chapter outlines the
to investigate ideological communication in its var- dimensions of modern propaganda and offers some
ious formsespecially as it operates in popular tools for recognizing and responding to it.
Since that time, we have witnessed dramatic ex-
amples of the power of modern propaganda includ-
ing the fall of the former Soviet Union and its D E F I N I N G P R O PA G A N D A
satellite states and the dismantling of long-standing
liberal programs in social welfare at home. Propa- What do you think of when you hear someone say,
ganda forced the South African government to free Thats just propaganda? How do you differentiate
Nelson Mandela and helped reverse the longstand- propaganda from persuasion? How does it differ
ing practice of apartheid. Propaganda was also used from coercion or education or culture or ad-
to justify the use of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, vertising or public relations? Some people would
financial bailouts of the economies of several ill- say that they are all one and the samethat virtually


everything involving communication to persuade is a few other personsfamily, dorm floor, fraternity
in some way propagandistic. The problem with or sorority, or friend. The 1993 American Heritage
defining propaganda as everything is that it gets College Dictionary echoes this approach, defining
you nowhere. It doesnt allow you to say the words propagandize as to engage in propaganda for (a doc-
I love you or Im sorry or I think I understand, trine or cause). Thus, not all communication is pro-
but please go over it once more for me without pagandapropaganda deliberately spreads a doctrine
spreading propaganda. If you have a definition that or a cause.
cannot distinguish one kind of persuasive commu- What about all those negative connotations that
nication from another, you dont have much of a pop up when the word propaganda is mentioned?
definition. Lets look at the origin of the word and Where did all that negativity come from? Some of
at its denotation or dictionary definition. it has come from overzealous religious propagan-
The word propaganda comes from the Latin dists who knock on our doors or grab us by the arm
propagare, which means to spread or grow, much as and ask us whether we have been saved or reborn.
the word propagate (which comes from the same Some of it comes from deep-seated prejudices
Latin root) indicates growth or spreading. Origi- about race, gender, social class, or ethnicity. But
nally instituted by Pope Gregory XV in the Sacra most of the negativity associated with the word
Congregatio de Propaganda Fide in the seventeenth propaganda stems from wartime propaganda his-
century, its purpose was to spread the faith and torically used by us and them. Figure 1 exhibits
Christianize the world. It was a noble cause to be a such propaganda. And much of the paranoia about
true and successful propagandist in 1623. propaganda stems from the tremendous communi-
Websters Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition, de- cation power made possible by current and future
fines propaganda as ideas, facts, or allegations spread technologies. As Garth Jowatt and Victoria
deliberately to further ones cause or to damage an ODonnell (1986) note in their book Propaganda
opposing cause. Three key words in this definition and Persuasion,
help distinguish propaganda from other kinds of
communication. The most important is cause, The late nineteenth and early twentieth cen-
which implies some sort of dogma, value system, or turies were periods of great expansion of pro-
ideology that one is trying to propagatewhether it paganda activities. The growth of the mass
be religious dogma, political dogma, economic media and improvements in transportation led
dogma, vegetarian dogma, anti-vivisectionist dogma, to the development of mass audiences. . . .
pro-life dogma, pro-choice dogma, or a host of oth- Each of the mass mediaprint, movies, radio
ers. This helps us rule out many kinds of communi- and then televisioncontributed its unique
cation that arent dogmatic or related to a cause. For qualities to new techniques of propaganda.
example, although advertising promotes a brand, it Radio, in particular, brought into existence the
doesnt promote a cause or ideology; and the same possibility of continuous international propa-
holds true for most public relations. They might pro- ganda, whereas television has increased the
mote a new bank in town, the Pumpkin Fest in problem of cultural imperialism, where one
my town, or a local hospital, but they usually arent nations culture is imposed upon another
used to promote a cause or ideology unless its a can- nation. (p. 63)
didate or religious organization. The second-most-
important word in the definition is deliberately, To see some modern and historical examples
because it helps us rule out a great many kinds of of propaganda in action, access InfoTrac
communication in which there is no intent to spread College Edition, and enter the word propaganda
any cause. The third-most-important word is in the subject search engine. Select the subdivisions
spread, which carries with it the idea of reaching option and then the analysis option. Select the item
many persons with communication about the cause. titled Selling the War on Television, by Susan
This helps us distinguish propaganda from instances Douglas, about the six-part reality television series
in which individuals are trying to affect only one or Profiles from the Frontline, produced for ABC by Jerry
FIGURE 1 Here are several examples of wartime propaganda. You can see
that they are quite heavy-handed. Not all propaganda is so obvious.
(Rosie the Riveter, We Can Do It! courtesy of U.S. National Archives. Produced by Westinghouse for
the War Production. Created by J. Howard Miller. Modifications Jone Lewis 2001.)

Bruckheimer (Black Hawk Down, Pearl Harbor, and ternal communication at Ford that is aimed at
Top Gun). Report to the class on some of the filmic employee morale tries to do just that, and thus
techniques used by Bruckheimer. If possible, view is propaganda.
reruns or archived episodes on the ABC Web site. Propaganda circumvents the reasoning process. Usu-
ally, propaganda appeals to the hearts and not
A Working Definition the minds of the audience. If the propagandist
presented both sides of the issues, people
It is essential to define the object of ones study as
would make up their own minds, and the pro-
specifically as possible to distinguish it from similar
paganda would probably fail. To bypass logical
but not identical concepts. We need a definition
thinking, propaganda uses biased information
that will allow us to identify the critical differences
that stirs up audience emotions and forces the
between, for example, propaganda and debate or
audience to the opinion or conclusion of the
propaganda and advertising. If we defined every-
propagandist. For example, television evangel-
thing as propaganda, it would be both easy and im-
ists use their (biased) sources to work on audi-
possible to identify it.
ence fears, desires, and so on to move their
Propaganda is ideological. For our purposes, pro- audience to a foregone conclusion (such as
paganda is, first and foremost, ideological. repentance, making a donation, or converting
It tries to sell a belief system or dogma. Propa- others).
ganda can be religious, political, or economic.
Using this definition, we can see that not all ad-
Propaganda uses mass media. Propaganda uses
vertisements are propaganda: They usually are not
some form of mass communication to sell ide-
ideological, and we usually know the source and
ology. Media that could be used in the propa-
the goal. However, some advertisements are propa-
ganda process include speeches; documentary
ganda. Remember the harp seal ad from Chapter 1?
films, TV programs, and radio shows; posters
It was clearly ideological and circumvented the rea-
and billboards; and mass mailings. In addition,
soning process. It concealed its source and the fact
postage stamps, coins and paper currency, and
that harp seal meat wasnt used in the fish sandwich.
music, art, and drama have all been used for
Finally, it certainly aimed at uniformity of behavior
propaganda. This fits with the key words de-
and used mass media.
liberately and spread from the dictionary
The pro-life film Silent Scream, touched on in a
definition. However, beliefs that are spread
previous chapter, is an example of propaganda on
interpersonally do not affect large numbers of
film. It uses all the terms and techniques discussed
people and so do not qualify as propaganda.
thus far to suggest to the audience that an
Propaganda conceals. One or some combination aborted fetus was a living human being until the
of the following is concealed from the target abortionists forceps crushed its skull. On the other
audience: (1) the source of the communica- side of the issue, the pro-choice forces made simi-
tion, (2) the sources goal, (3) the other side of larly emotional suggestions in a recent magazine ad
the story, (4) the techniques being used by the that depicted an unbent coat hanger with its sharp
source in sending the message, and (5) the re- ends, along with the headline To Many of Our
sults of the propaganda if successful (Taylor, Daughters, This Looks Like a Coat Hanger. Sub-
1979). headlines then asked the reader to Please Sign the
Propaganda aims at uniformity. Propaganda seeks Pledge to Keep It That Way and Add Your Name
commonality in the beliefs, attitudes, and be- to MineAfter Sixteen Years of Safety, Time Is
haviors of its receivers. So, although most ads Running Out.
want you to believe something about the A computer program entitled Womb with a
brandsay, Fordsthey generally dont try to View probably qualifies as propaganda by our
make you believe in the brand. However, in- definition. It suggests that it merely provides infor-

mation about pregnancy and the babys develop- Instead, he was referring to emotional appeals and
ment in the womb, but it is sponsored by Project the predetermined conclusion. Thus, in Doobs
Reality, a pro-life organization affiliated with an- definition, propaganda refers to a well-planned
other organization, Birthright of Chicago. The campaign of carefully orchestrated messages and
source clearly spreads an ideology using a mass cues that would lead the ordinary person to a speci-
medium while it conceals its real intention fied conclusion.
through its self-characterization as educational. It Take, for example, Leni Reifenstahls 1934 pro-
aims at uniform behavior (carrying the fetus to Nazi film Triumph of the Will. Throughout the film,
term) by involving the target audience in emo- we see row upon row and rank upon rank of Ger-
tional versus logical appeals (notice that all refer- man troops as far as the cameras eye can see. The
ences are to the baby, not to the fetus, and that ranks and columns are all giving the Heil Hitler
mother learns about what she is experiencing salute and raising their flags and banners. These im-
while recording her personal thoughts and spe- ages are accompanied by stirring martial music,
cial moments.) Hitler Youth brigades beating drums, and flames
Lets look at what some experts on modern pro- burning from eternal torches. Above it all stands
paganda have to say and compare their views with the fhrer himself, looking out over the crowds as
our definition. if to fix each person with his gaze. He begins to
speak, quietly at first, but then building volume
Views of Modern Propaganda until he is almost screaming his message. The
crowd roars back, Sieg Hiel! as the camera fo-
Modern propaganda began with the development cuses on Hitlers emotion-filled face, dripping with
of the modern mass media of communication (see sweat from his exertion. Even viewers who didnt
Chapter 13 for more on this point). With the ad- know either German or history would understand
vent of the loudspeaker, radio, film, and television, the suggestion given by the filmic cues. A less
persuaders and demagogues quickly learned to turn spectacular example of suggestion might be a pic-
these media to their advantage. In the United ture of a car wreck accompanied by the words
States, people such as Huey Long and Franklin Dont let a friend drink and drive.
Roosevelt used these new media to gain the sup-
port of millions. Elsewhere, Joseph Stalin in the
Soviet Union and Adolf Hitler in Germany used To learn more about this famous propaganda
the new technologies to great advantage. Scholars film and its genius director, access InfoTrac
and social critics became concerned about the in- College Edition, and type the name Reifenstahl
fluence of propaganda especially when it was cou- in the search engine. Read the article and look at
pled with electronic media. the photographs of shots from the film. If you can
Early investigators also tried to define propa- arrange for a showing of this masterpiece with your
ganda. For example, L. W. Doob (1935), a world- class, do so.
famous sociologist, said that the use of suggestion is
the key. If suggestion is used, then this process may
be called propaganda, regardless of whether or not J. Driencourt, a French student of political sci-
the propagandist intends to exercise control. How- ence, defined propaganda this way: Propaganda is
ever, if the same result would have occurred with or everything (Taylor, 1979). Of course, that isnt
without the use of suggestion, then this process very helpful in distinguishing propaganda from
may be called education regardless of the intention other communication forms, as we have noted. To
of the educator (p. 20). Doob used the word sug- Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi minister of propaganda,
gestion very explicitly. He did not mean everyday it had to be covert: Propaganda becomes ineffec-
suggestions like I suggest trying the burritos here tive the moment we are aware of it (Taylor, 1979,
or I suggest trying this sweater with those slacks. p. 23).

J. A. C. Brown (1963), a British scholar inter- scribed how this blurring could be carried out even
ested in propaganda, emphasized several critical in such bias-free subjects as mathematics. He re-
points as he developed a definition. First, he said, ported the research of one social scientist who
propaganda is a scheme for propagating a doctrine found that a widely used American math textbook
or practice for influencing the emotional attitudes contained over six hundred problems that focused
(p. 12). So, not all communication is propaganda on such capitalistic concepts as rent, interest, and
it must propose a doctrine, a dogma, or an ideology investments. Yet you and I would be unlikely to
aimed at peoples emotional state, not their rational think that the textbook was propagandistic. Finally,
state. Under this definition, most advertising is not propaganda has to be part of a deliberate scheme
propagandistic unless it promotes an ideology. for indoctrination (p. 22).
(Some would argue that advertising does promote Other people (including Jacques Ellul, whose
an ideology: conspicuous consumption.) Under theory we will examine later) maintain that in a
Browns definition, most religious communication technocracy propaganda is the combined rules, or-
would be considered propagandistic because it es- dinances, administrative directives, patterns of liv-
pouses a dogma and makes use of emotional, not ing and learning, and social graces of the modern
logical, appeals. Similarly, most governmental com- political state. It also is an automatic extension of a
munication would be considered propagandistic be- technological society and can be covert or overt
cause it promotes the ideologies of, say, democracy (Ellul, 1979). In other words, in this view, much of
and capitalism. our contemporary technocratic culture is propa-
Brown added another stipulation to distinguish ganda. Figure 2 demonstrates the use of propaganda
propaganda from argumentation: In propaganda, during the American Revolution.
the answers are determined in advance (p. 13). All Propaganda scholar Dierdre Johnson (1994) sug-
propaganda attempts to change peoples minds, but gests that propaganda messages fall along a contin-
not all mind changing is due to propaganda; if there uum ranging from pure propaganda to little or no
is an honest interchange of arguments, or group propaganda. Many messages are only partially propa-
discussions without hidden agendas, that is not pro- gandistic, using some propaganda devices. She does
paganda. A court trial is not propaganda eitherit agree with our working definition, noting that three
espouses no dogma, and the final outcome isnt pre- critical elements in any propaganda message are con-
determined. Legislative debate over policy issues cealment, manipulation, and the short-circuiting of
may use some of the techniques of propaganda, but logical reasoning through emotional arguments and
as a whole, it is not propaganda, as the outcome suggestion. As she notes, Its a matter of degree.
isnt known in advance. Propaganda experts Anthony Pratkanis and El-
Brown maintained that propaganda is always liot Aronson (1992) agree with Johnson that not
against something at the same time that it is for all persuasion is propaganda. They remind us that
something elsethe communication isnt propa- the conception of propaganda developed from the
ganda if there are no alternatives. There can be pro- traditional view that it was something only the vil-
paganda by censorship as well. Brown pointed out lains used to a more contemporary view involving
that it wouldnt have been propaganda to teach that mass suggestion or influence through the manip-
the earth is the center of the solar system in pre- ulation of symbols and the psychology of the indi-
Copernican times, but it would have been propa- vidual (p. 9).
ganda to suppress, censor, or conceal the ideas of Jowatt and ODonnell (1992) support the views
Copernicus or Galileo, as was done by the Catholic of Johnson and of Pratkanis and Aronson. They
Church until 1822. Propaganda nearly always con- trace the development of propaganda from the Vat-
ceals something: the purpose of the propagandist, icans Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide to the
the means used to achieve that purpose, and so on. idea that only the bad guys use propaganda. And
The distinction between education and propaganda they take a more current communication perspec-
is this: The former tells people how to think; the tive focusing on all the elements of the SMCR
latter tells them what to think (p. 21). Brown de- (sourcemessagechannelreceiver) model, show-

FIGURE 2 Here is an early use of propaganda: a depiction of the Boston

Massacre engraved, printed, and sold by Paul Revere. It tells only one side of
the story, and Reveres goal is not clear.
(Used by permission of The New York Historical Society, New York City.)

ing that propaganda is a subcategory of persuasion that these words actually describe only the character-
as well as information (p. 3). Jowatt and ODon- istics of propaganda messages, and not the goal of
nell also identify terms often used as substitutes for the propagandathe crucial element to focus on.
propaganda (such as deceit, brainwashing, psy- The propagandists goal or purpose implies deliber-
chological warfare, and distortion), but they note ate intent, which, they say, is linked with a clear

institutional ideology. . . . In fact, the purpose of For example, in one famous advertising cam-
propaganda is to send out an ideology to an audi- paign, Mr. Bartels and Mr. James, dressed as
ence with a related objective (p. 2). What might be country bumpkins, sat in rockers on the porch of a
the ideology in Figure 3? farm house promoting their Bartels and James wine
In sum, not all communication we get via the coolers. In actuality, both were multimillionaires.
mass media is propaganda by our definition. You Because they werent promoting an ideology, this
can identify messages that clearly are propagandistic use of plain folks was not propagandistic, but many
or that border on being propaganda. Being able to uses of the tactic are. Public relations appeals fre-
identify propaganda reduces its effectiveness and quently use the plain-folks technique. In the face of
perhaps even renders it harmless. However, know- falling enrollments and complaints that my univer-
ing what propaganda is represents only part of the sity was not user friendly, the president, his staff,
story; we also need to know how the propagandist and the deans of colleges showed up at the dorms
works. What tactics are used, and how can we iden- on move-in day dressed in Northern Illinois
tify them? T-shirts to help students unload their belongings
and move into their rooms. Though not propa-
ganda, because no ideology was being promoted
T H E TA C T I C S O F P R O PA G A N D A and nothing was concealed, this PR appeal did use
the plain-folks approach.
From the early uses of propaganda to move entire
nations in World Wars I and II up to the present, Testimonial
many people have attempted to pinpoint the tactics
propagandists use. The Institute for Propaganda The testimonial is a familiar device in todays world
Analysis identified certain devices, and many in- of advertising, where well-known celebrities or
structors taught them (Miller, 1937). In fact, some athletes tell us why we should buy this product or
of you may be familiar with them. They are a good that. Under our definition of propaganda, this use
place to begin the study of propaganda tactics. of the testimonial is not propagandistic, but other
uses of testimonials clearly are. Examples include
Plain Folks refugees who testify about atrocities committed by
the government in their homeland, persons held
The plain folks tactic is used by propagandists to captive by terrorists relating their experience, and a
convince the audience that the public figures or politician testifying as to the difficulties of disman-
groups they represent are not well trained, shrewd, tling apartheid in South Africa. In each case, we
and manipulative but are just plain folks like you cannot tell whether the people giving the testimony
and me. Politicians are using this device when they are actually reliable sources of information. They
put on bib overalls and work boots and carry a red might be dupes of some government. Further, we
bandanna to meet with rural audiences. Sometimes, do not know for certain what the goal of the source
the technique is as simple as using common lan- is. Did the hostage become converted to the terror-
guage to appeal to the audience. The tactic might ists ideology? (This sometimes happens.) Have the
take the form of plain, everyday actions such as refugees been duped by their spokespersons? And
splitting wood or driving a tractor. These devices what will be the outcome if we follow the advice of
use pretense to create identification between source the testimonials? These are but a few of the con-
and receiver. But such sources are not plain folks at cealed elements in these testimonials.
all. Instead, they are trying to manipulate the audi- Of course, there are also many testimonials that
ence into following their call through a false feeling do not promote any particular ideology or dogma.
of kinship. They try to communicate that the can- A previously obese man holds up his old jumbo-
didate or spokesperson is of the people even sized trousers and testifies that he lost all that
though that might be far from the truth. weight simply by eating one of Subways low-fat

FIGURE 3 This ad uses emotional language in describing what it is like to live

in a totalitarian state. What parts of the description fit the definition of
propaganda given in this chapter?
(Reprinted with permission of United Jewish Appeal, Inc.)

sandwiches for lunch every day. A recent purchaser persuaders try to tell both sides of a story, but re-
of a muffler tells about how much she saved by sponsible persuaders at least suggest that there are
going to Magic Muffler instead of Midas. Neither other sides. With card stacking, however, the other
of these qualifies as propaganda by our definition, side may not even be recognized, or it might be
although both are probably effective advertising or downplayed or possibly denigrated. Thus, the audi-
PR. However, when the spokesperson (celebrity or ence gets only one version of the story. A good
ordinary citizen) testifies that a certain candidate example is the abortion issueclearly, both sides
or religion is superior, the use of testimonial would stack the cards with overwhelming evidence.
be considered propaganda as we have defined it. Public relations firms often use scads of evidence to
stack the cards on behalf of their clients. Critical re-
Bandwagon ceivers must try to identify at least the existence of
another side.
Propagandists, like some advertisers, try to convince
the audience that it is almost too late to take advan- Transference
tage of the offer, to join the organization, to follow
the fad, to vote for the candidate, to be contempo- The propaganda technique of transference is similar
raryto get on the bandwagon. The history of the to Ranks association tactic for intensification. For
word bandwagon gives us a clue to the basic in- example, when a politician is photographed in front
tent behind the appeal. In previous centuries, when of the Lincoln Memorial, the aura of the U.S. gov-
the circus came to town, part of the razzmatazz ernment and historical Washington, DC is trans-
used to attract customers was the circus parade ferred to her or him. The implication is that the
along the main street. The first wagon in the parade candidate is a patriot who will follow in the foot-
always carried the band. Being on the bandwagon steps of the great leaders of the past. This tactic
became synonymous with being a leaderthe per- seeks to carry over the authority, sanction and
son who was out in front of an idea or a fashion. prestige of something we respect and revere to
During World War II, propaganda posters stressed something (the propagandist) would have us ac-
that everyone needed to be involved in the war ef- cept (Institute for Propaganda Analysis, 1938,
fort. One noted that 85 Million Americans Hold n. p.). When presidents refer to Gods will or
War Bonds. That would have been more than half Gods goodness or close their speeches with prayer,
the adult populationquite a bandwagon. Again, they are using the ultimate transfer.
not all uses of the tactic are propagandistic. When Transference also resembles an endorsement or
an advertiser announces, Everyone Will Be at Our a testimonial in that the credibility of the endorser
Annual 50% Off of 50% Off Sale! this is band- transfers to the product. In international politics,
wagon tactics but not propaganda. Saddam Hussein was compared to HitlerHitlers
When you receive a pitch such as Sign the pe- negative qualities transferred to the Iraqi dictator.
tition now! Send a wake-up call to the legislature! In Illinois, calling a politician a machine Demo-
The peoples rights before the rights of capitalistic crat links him or her with traditional Chicago pol-
corporations! those phrases are tip-offs. The time itics and transfers the negativity of the Chicago
limit and the emphasis on joining the people sug- political machine to the candidate. In contrast, call-
gest that everyone is getting on the bandwagon ing the candidate a downstate politician dissoci-
dont miss out! Most petitions are appeals to get on ates him or her from the Chicago machine and
the bandwagon. transfers the positive values of small-town Illinois
to the candidate.
Card Stacking To destroy credibility, the opposition is linked to
an undesirable action, person, or organization. Or
Building an overwhelming case on one side of an the candidate is linked to big business, lobbyists, the
issue while concealing another, perhaps equally per- CIA, or organized crime, and any negativity associ-
suasive, side is called card stacking. Of course, few ated with these groups transfers to the candidate

and ruins his or her credibility. Again, the transfer market an ideology or dogma, so, under our defini-
technique is used in public relations. The credibil- tion, they dont qualify as propaganda.
ity/visibility of some celebrity is used to transfer
credibility/visibility to a particular brand, candidate, Name Calling
good cause, or organization.
The other side of glittering generalities is name-
Glittering Generalities callingusing words that have highly negative
connotations to smear another person or group.
Abstract language, highly charged with emotion For example, we might call a certain religious
and cultural values, is used by propagandists because group a bunch of zealous, fanatical Jesus freaks to
of its power. Such words seem to glitter with high marginalize or even demonize them. During
purpose and energy that can short-circuit peoples World War II, Germans were called huns,
reasoning process and make them jump to conclu- krauts, or heinies, and Japanese were called
sions. Words such as justice, freedom, dignity, Japs or nips; during the Korean and Vietnam
equality, patriot, integrity, and wisdom are wars, the enemies were called gooks, slants,
actually not very specific, yet they evoke powerful slopes, or Charlies. Why? These names reduced
emotions in audiences. Who hasnt heard some the enemy to the level of brutes with low intelli-
speaker introducing a candidate who is dedicated gence and apelike behavior.
to the continuance of justice for all in this great na- The current controversy over political correct-
tion of ours; who has worked diligently for our ness highlights the power of name-calling. For ex-
freedom and dignity, fighting for equality. My ample, at Penn State University, a student was
friends, I give you a patriot of great integrity and almost dismissed under the campus speech codes
wisdomSenator Fogbound! Later, of course, the ban on hate speech (a term that turns up fre-
voters may discover that Fogbound drinks too quently in speech codes). He had called a group of
much, sexually harasses his assistants, and accepts black women water buffaloes, and though the
bribes. Former Speaker of the House of Represen- charges were ultimately dismissed, his case drew
tatives Newt Gingrich provided GOP candidates national attention to the political correctness issue
with a list of glittering generalities to use to refer to and to the name-calling (National Report, 1993).
themselves or GOP policies during the campaign Newt Gingrich also supplied GOP candidates
of 1998. The list included words like activist, with a list of name-calling words to use when dis-
candid,challenge,change,family,children, cussing their opponents or Democratic policies
choice, courage, dreams, duty, freedom, during the campaign of 1998. The list included
hard work, help, humane, listen, peace, words like anti (flag, family, and so on), betray,
share, strength, and success. These simple corruption, crisis, decay, devour, failure,
words seem concrete but lack real referents and greed, hypocrisy, incompetent, liberal,
hence rely on their glitter to have an effect. lies, self-serving, shallow, sick, unionists,
The glittering generalities of the advertising and waste.
world are only slightly less emotional and vague.
Some examples are heavy-duty, youthful, vital- To learn about these and other, more sophis-
ity, jumbo, old-fashioned, homemade, and ticated methods and examples of propaganda
glamorous. No one has ever heard of a light- analysis, access InfoTrac College Edition, and enter
duty battery or a medium-duty vacuum cleaner, the word propaganda in the subject search
just as no one has ever heard of a small or engine. Select the subdivisions and then the analysis
medium shrimpthey come in only three sizes: option. Go to the item titled Understanding Pro-
colossal, mammoth, and jumbo. Leaf through any paganda from a General Semantic Perspective by
popular magazine, and you will find hundreds of Charles Fleming to see how various tools for ana-
glittering generalities like these. Of course, in these lyzing language have been used in contemporary
cases, the glittering generalities arent being used to contexts.

CONTEMPORARY the audience using suggestion. During the 1996

Democratic National Convention, for instance,
PERSPECTIVES actor Christopher Reeve was a key speaker. He had
O N P R O PA G A N D A been paralyzed from the waist down during a horse
riding accident. He informed the convention and
J. A. C. Brown, whom we met earlier in this chap- television audiences that one in five Americans suf-
ter, examined propaganda from a contemporary fered from some sort of disability and that the
perspective. He identified several prerequisites for Democratic Party had always stood for taking care
propaganda and the stages through which propa- of the downtrodden. He reminded them that
ganda passes. Brown surprised many critics of pro- Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who could hardly lift
paganda because he rejected the propaganda as himself from his wheelchair, had lifted the country
deceit and brainwashing approaches. Instead, he out of the depths of the Great Depression. All these
held that to be truly successful propaganda has to references served to evoke feelings of guilt in those
tell not lies but the truth. What makes the propa- who didnt have a disability or who hadnt helped
ganda effective is the way in which the propagan- someone who did have a disability, thus setting the
dist interprets the truth. Brown (1963) quoted an stage for major planks in the Democratic platform
official of the British Broadcasting Corporation clearly a piece of propaganda by our definition.
(BBC) commenting on British propaganda in After attracting the audiences attention and in-
World War II: terest, the propagandist creates emotional tension.
Perhaps the audience is told that they have been
Do not say anything which you do not believe kept from some opportunity, that their legal rights
to correspond with the facts as known to you; have been trampled, that their heritage has been
and secondly do not say anything to one coun- stained, or that they have been lied to. The power-
try, or audience, which is or looks inconsistent ful emotional tension that is developed is identified
with what you are saying to any other country with some enemyusually an out-group such as
or audience. (p. 94) the Jews in Nazi Germany. According to Brown,
the out-group is identified in several ways:
This makes perfect sense in terms of our old friend
credibility. If you use lies and are caught, you de- Stereotyping. Through powerful descriptive lan-
stroy your credibility. However, if you interpret the guage, the out-group is characterized with
truth to your own advantage, only your interpre- negative attributes and qualities. Thus, in pro-
tation can be questioned. We know that during paganda, the Jew is cheap, the black is lazy, the
World War II many persons in occupied Europe Scottish and the Irish are drunkards. Of
and even in Germany listened to the BBC because course, there are members of these groups
it was the most credible source of news. There was who are not model citizens. For example, rates
a Nazi news service, but it had been caught lying of alcoholism in parts of Scotland and Ireland
too many times, and the public distrusted it. are some of the highest in the world, but this
Brown also described the stages through which does not mean that all Scottish and Irish are
propaganda passes. In the pre-propaganda stage, drunkards.
propagandists seek to make their messages stand out Substitution of names. Again using powerful lan-
among all the competing messages. The propagan- guage, the propagandist substitutes unfavorable
dist may spend time distributing leaflets, knocking labels for neutral ones. For instance, instead of
on doors, or displaying posters. The purpose of this using the label pro-choice, many abortion
stage is to catch the audiences attention by appeal- foes label the other side as pro-abortion. This
ing to powerful emotions already in the audience, irritates those who want to maintain the right
such as hatred, jealousy, envy, love, fear, hope, and of women to choose because many in the pro-
guilt. Frequently, creating guilt feelings in the audi- choice camp would never consider abortion as
ence does this. Guilt is most powerfully called up in a viable option for themselves.

Repetition. Propaganda tells the same tale over psychology can take over, and violent acts (lynch-
and over again using similar language, exam- ings, riots, and so on) are committed in the hysteria.
ples, and references. Nazi propaganda minister And because the group shares the guilt, no one in-
Joseph Goebbels thought that the masses would dividual need feel remorse. As Brown (1963) put it,
believe anything if they were told the big lie Each society has its own kind of circus and hopes
enough times. We see this approach used all the that after the performance is ended, the participants
time in slogans and jingles. will return less reluctantly to their dull round of
Pinpointing the enemy. Specific members of the daily life (p. 73). Propaganda provides tickets to the
out-group are selected as representing the worst circus for members of the mob.
aspects of the stereotype. Thus, liberal Demo-
crats are described as big spenders who increase
the budget deficit, and Republicans are painted To learn more about stereotyping, access
as the wealthy elite who push tax breaks for the InfoTrac College Edition, and enter the
rich. These tactics are especially powerful if word stereotype in the search engine. Select the
they fit with the preexisting perceptions in the subdivisions and then the narratives option, and
audiences mind. select the one titled Burger Queen by Erin Sharp.
Relate to the class how differently Erin was treated
With the emotional tension built up and identi- when she told people that she was a student at Cor-
fied with an out-group that has been properly den- nell University versus when she told them she
igrated and dehumanized, the propagandist can worked at McDonalds.
then impel the audience to action by giving them a
way to relieve their tension. This almost always in-
volves the real or symbolic destruction of the out- Particularly interesting are the ways in which
group. Real destruction can mean imprisonment, the technology of film was used for propaganda
torture, killing, and even genocide. In symbolic de- purposes from its earliest years. A few of the titles of
struction, the out-group is stigmatized in some propaganda films during these early years give a feel
way. Brown explains this process in terms of for how they might have appeared. Tearing Down the
Freuds ego defense mechanisms. The symbolic de- Spanish Flag, produced during the Spanish Ameri-
struction involves projection, or characterizing the can War in 1898, was nothing more than a flagpole
out-group as having the propagandists own weak- flying the Spanish flag, whereupon it was torn
nesses or sins. Conformity and identification per- down and the American flag raised in its stead; this
mit large numbers of persons to follow a spectacle had sensational effects on the audiences.
charismatic leader because they believe he or she is During World War I, films such as The Kaiser, The
their voice. This sanctions whatever the leader de- Beast of Berlin, and Battle Cry of Peace (1915) showed
cides to do. Germans attacking and demolishing New York
Finally, propaganda is most likely to emerge in City. The most famous propaganda film of the early
the modern state, in which individuals are isolated years was the Russian-produced Potemkin (1925),
(as you may now feel if you are on a large campus), which justified the Bolshevik Revolution to the
unknown, and helpless to control their own destiny. Russian people, most of whom couldnt read but all
The supporters of many propagandistic mass move- of whom could look at a movie screen and see the
ments are the uneducated or the unemployed brutality of the czar and his troops. This example
those who feel helpless and hence find the move- recalls Meyrowitzs observations about literacy and
ment attractive because it promises change. Feelings television: Media with simple access codes can be
of loneliness and isolation are countered by becom- powerful in influencing people who have minimal
ing a member of a group. The group offers individ- or no literacy.
uals substitute identification and value. Further, a Radio, developing at the same time as film, be-
group, and especially a crowd, is likely to behave came a propaganda medium early in the twentieth
more emotionally than any single individual. Mob century. Lenin described it as a newspaper without

paper . . . and without boundaries and directed its necessity never establishes legitimacy; the world
development to communicate communist ideology of necessity is a world of weakness, a world
to illiterate peasants at home and in other countries. that denies man. To say that a phenomenon is
Radio Tokyo began propaganda broadcasting in necessary means, for me, that it denies man; its
1936. During World War II, the BBC was the necessity is proof of its power, not proof of its
major source of Allied propaganda. Soon thereafter, excellence. However, confronted by a necessity,
more than eighty nations were broadcasting some man must become aware of it if he is to master
kind of radio propaganda. Radio as an economical it. . . . Only when he realizes his delusion will
and efficient propaganda technology has had a great he experience the beginning of genuine free-
impact in Third World countries, where it is not domin the act of realization itself. (pp.
uncommon to see a peasant listening to a Walkman xvxvi)
while plowing a field with oxen.
Although television has not been frequently used Can we do this? Can we step back from our hectic
for direct propaganda, its impact in the area of cul- culture and at least identify the many myths that
tural imperialism has been immense. Most Third keep us twitching? Ellul thought so; he said that the
World programming comes from the United States, probable alternative is a life in which
Great Britain, and Germany. Each year the United man will be fully adapted to this technological
States alone sells 150,000 hours of programming to society, when he will end by obeying with
other countries, conveying American values, fash- enthusiasm, convinced of the excellence of
ions, and capitalist ideology. The programming area what he is forced to do, the constraint of the
that is most propagandistic is news reporting, which organization will no longer . . . be a constraint,
has raised the issue of the free flow of information and the police will have nothing to do.
between the Western world and developing nations. (p. xviii)
This brief history of how technological devel-
opments lead to increased and more efficient pro- All propaganda, according to Ellul (1973), relies
paganda underscores what Jaques Ellul (1973) was to some degree on one of two basic psychological
saying: Propaganda is la technique that is an indispen- devices: (1) the conditioned reflex (or the auto-
sable condition for the development of technical matic, knee-jerk response), and (2) the democratic
progress and the establishment of a technological mythLets put it to a vote! Stereotypes such as
civilization and has become an inescapable neces- that of the prissy English schoolboy, the emotional
sity for everyone (p. 95). One of the major myths Italian, the authority-driven German, or the in-
put forward by la technique (the modern political scrutable Japanese might also be used to evoke con-
technocracy) is that progress is always goodit is ditioned responses. By a myth, Ellul meant an
desirable to improve our products, our processes, our all-encompassing image: a sort of vision of desir-
bodies, our minds, our lot in life, and a host of other able objectives . . . [which] pushes a man to action
things. You and I have no future without progress; precisely because it includes all he feels is good, just,
that piece of propaganda is essential to us. At the and true (p. 30). Examples might be the myths of
same time, I know I should do something about the race, progress, wealth, and productivity.
myth of progressaccept it, reject it, or something. According to Ellul, both the conditioned reflex
Ellul suggested that most of us find ways to anes- and the myth are part of a pre-propaganda phase in
thetize our dependency (and la technique frequently which people are prepared for action by being con-
supplies them): television, narcotics, family, alcohol, ditioned to accept the values of a culture. When the
pleasure, the me generation, careers, sex, the Web, time comes for action, the leader or the establish-
the cult of the self, and so on. ment can prompt a reflex response by appealing to
Ellul (1973) emphasized, however, that just be- peoples mythic beliefs. For example, our American
cause la technique is necessary doesnt mean it is culture treasures the myth of democracy, according
therefore good and to be fostered. Rather, to which the wisdom of the people, when operat-

ing in a democratic fashion, leads to the best deci- The same approach could be used with the
sions and will prevail. The assumption is that many other myths we embrace: the myth of
democracy, coupled with a free marketplace, will progress, the myth of pleasure, the myth of produc-
reverse the economic and political slavery experi- tion, the myth of the individual, the myth of status,
enced by other countries. Events seem to demon- the myth of success. Are they humane? Healthy?
strate that the answer isnt nearly that simplistic, yet Rewarding? These are the kinds of questions Ellul
our trust in the myth of democracy continues to wants us to ask once we have identified the propa-
lead us to recommend democracy as the best po- ganda of la technique.
litical system for other countries.
Another myth of la technique is that efficiency is To learn more about Jaques Ellul, and espe-
good. As long as we buy the legitimacy of this myth, cially about his concerns regarding technol-
we are conforming with the propaganda of la tech- ogy, access InfoTrac College Edition, and enter the
nique. What does such conformity imply? What can name Ellul in the search engine. Read the article
we do about efficiency-related issues when we dis- that appears.
agree? An interesting example is the inefficiency of
the family farm. In the film Country, starring Jessica
Lange and Sam Shepard, a young family trying to
make it on a family farm in the 1980s must confront
the myth of efficiency. Those who believe in the EIGHT CHARACTERISTICS
myth help the bureaucracy foreclose on the defaulted
loans and dispose of family belongings at auctions.
However, la technique is blunted by individual action
Elluls theories of propaganda were analyzed by
and by rephrasing the questions implied by the myth.
Clifford Christians and Michael Real (1979). On
In Country, instead of asking of the family farm,
the basis of their analysis, Elluls work can be seen as
Will it work? the heroine, Jewel Ivy, asks, Is it a
revolving around eight central ideas that help iden-
healthy way to bring up children? Is it a humane way
tify the propaganda of la technique.
to relate to other people? Her questions turn the
myth of efficiency on its head and ultimately lead 1. Propaganda is always associated with industrial-
the local administrator of the Farm Home Adminis- ized societies in which la technique (or the quest
tration to quit his job rather than pursue the myth of for ever more efficiency through technology)
efficiency by foreclosing on the Ivy farm. Neverthe- supersedes human social interaction.
less, la technique seems to work its will over the Ivys,
2. Propaganda is not a set of tricks but an ongo-
when a bureaucrat from Washington supervises an
ing, ever-present, interrelated system of meth-
auction of the Ivys belongings, machinery, and
ods, technologies, or techniques that pervade
tools. However, Jewels son makes a critical action
modern society.
and statement as he bids all his savings on his grand-
fathers horse harnessesthe ultimate symbol of in- 3. Propaganda inevitably occurs in societies in
efficiency in modern farming. This act spurs the rest which people are depersonalized and unknow-
of the crowd to recognize that it has been duped by ingly forced into groups or masses while being
the myth of efficiency. They refuse to cooperate in isolated as individuals. They derive their iden-
the auction and bid ridiculously low pricesseven tity from the mass, which is united through
cents for a combine, a dime for a tractor, and so on. propaganda.
The bureaucrat tries to reassert the myth by threat- 4. The purpose of modern propaganda is not to
ening to haul the belongings to another county to agitate the masses to action but to integrate
auction them. Jewel retorts, When you try to auc- them into society. This is done through peer
tion off this land and get no bids, you cant take it to pressure, social norms, and collective standards
another Goddamned county! La technique loses. usually expressed by a leader.

5. International propaganda tends to come from individual, and various myths. This phase also in-
propaganda blocs such as the United States, volves resisting standardization, whether imposed by
China, the Arab states, the Israelis, and the the media, government, economic institutions, or
Third World. Propaganda is intended for inter- some other force. Stage 2 involves the transforma-
nal consumption to calm, not agitate, the tion of the self into a nontechnological human. This
masses and can come from governments, cor- requires us to identify ways in which our lives can be
porations, political parties, or religious groups. changed. In Elluls view, we need to identify the
6. Propaganda in a highly technological society is ways in which we are influenced by the propaganda
totalitarian. Everything is infused with some el- of la technique and reject as much technology as pos-
ement of a propagandistic message. Totalitarian sible. Ellul was certain that realization of the dangers
propaganda also infuses our social interactions. of la technique, coupled with disengagement from
We find flags in church, pledges of allegiance at technology, would lead to stage 3the action stage.
the Lions Club, patriotic songs at school and Here, Ellul advocated creative nonconformity . . .
church, and mealtime prayers in many homes. spontaneous movement . . . and tangible acts which
ipso facto circumvent the socio-technological order
7. Contemporary propaganda isolates the individ-
(1979, p. 154). He was not prescriptive about spe-
ual, stereotypes public opinion, and offers sim-
cific actions and instead urged a passion to play, or
plistic answers to complex social questions.
a return to festivals and rituals that emphasize hu-
8. Propaganda in Elluls terms is everywhere. Our mane values.
art and musiceven antipatriotic and non- Even Ellul recognized that stage 3 is extremely
political art and musicidentify our cultural difficult and potentially dangerous. For our pur-
values and beliefs. In fact, this book, which asks poses, realization, reflection, and then avoidance
you to be a conscientious receiver of persua- may suffice. If we accept Elluls ideas, asking hu-
sion, would be but another example of propa- mane questions of technological institutions seems
ganda if seen through Elluls eyes. to be the most promising action we can take. At
If all of this sounds negative and depressing, least it has the potential of raising the consciousness
dont be surprised. It is. In fact, this is one of the re- of others in regard to the dangers of la technique.
curring criticisms of Elluls workit offers so little
hope and is so nihilistic. Elluls (1979) own words
often prompt such criticism: REVIEW AND CONCLUSION
The individual is in a dilemma: either he
decides to safeguard his freedom of choice . . . Our interest in propaganda and its uses always ap-
thereby entering into competition with a pears during times of war or national crisis. At
power against which there is no efficacious other times, our interest in propaganda diminishes,
defense and before which he must suffer defeat; and we become more concerned with everyday
or he decides to accept a technical necessity, in events and with personal problems. Yet, as we have
which case he will himself be the victor, but seen, the absence of war does not mean the absence
only by submitting irreparably to technical slav- of propaganda. A major difficulty arises in identify-
ery. In effect, he has no choice. (p. 84) ing just what propaganda is, what its sources and in-
tent are, and how and why it affects us. Even if Ellul
However, a closer reading of Elluls work and overstates his case, his theory is useful. It jars us. It
that of his critics reveals a position that is not totally forces us to look deeperto take a second and even
hopeless. Ellul saw the solution in a three-step a third look at many of the things that are happen-
process (Christians & Van Hook, 1981). In stage 1, ing around us. In those second or third looks, we
we recognize the existence and dangers of la tech- often can identify propaganda that we might other-
nique in its many forms: bureaucracy, isolation of the wise have overlooked.


1. Are you being persuaded through a technique 7. Are any of the traditional American cultural
of which you are only dimly aware (for exam- values being urged on you? If so, can you iden-
ple, telemarketing)? If so, what is it? tify the source of the urging?
2. What is the plain-folks device? Identify its use 8. Where in your world is the value of efficiency
in several examples of persuasion. espoused? Look at advertisements, editorials,
3. What is card stacking? Identify uses of it. political campaigns, and so on.
4. What is the transfer device? Identify uses of it. 9. In what ways do you agree and disagree with
Jacques Elluls ideas about propaganda?
5. What is the glittering generalities device? Iden-
tify uses of it. 10. What can we expect in the future regarding
6. Which medium discussed by Jowatt and
ODonnell is the most underused for propa-
ganda purposes? Which has the most potential?


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