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Rising media awareness against propaganda

Most of our convictions have roots in our childhood.


I know who the worst people in the world are! I was very proud to share my knowledge with my father on the way home from kindergarten. And who are they, asked my father intrigued by the surprisingly serious conversation he was having with his four and something-year-old daughter. Well, the Turks! Why, he asked. Because they murdered the workers! I remember I got confused to see my father’s reaction, wondering why it is not obvious to him what the right answer was. Two weeks after this conversation I was no longer going to that kindergarten but to another one where the propaganda for the idea of shaping a new type of man in Romanian society didn`t arrive. For my father, the sensible solution was to remove me from that place, to protect me from the influence of state propaganda.  A new way of thinking, of behaving, of dreaming, was about to be forged in communist Romania to build the “new man” and, now, many wonders if this project did succeed. One can ponder upon this question by comparing Romanian's life before 1898 and December 1899’s events, with the outcome of nowadays.  


Propaganda in movies


The power of propaganda is a mighty instrument not only in an autocratic or dictatorial society but in a democratic one as well. The U.S. movie industry exemplifies amply how in an economically developed country with democratic rules, following some simple guidelines, a selected few, with a clear agenda, succeed to determine the masses to think, want and act in the intended way.  Here are just a few examples: “Wag the Dog” – an emblematic movie about manipulation in media. What happens when the impression one gets is not what's actually happening, we can see in “Orson Welles - War Of The Worlds - Radio Broadcast 1938.” The program's news-bulletin format was described as cruelly deceptive by some newspapers and public figures, leading to an outcry against the perpetrators of the broadcast. nevertheless, the episode secured Orson Welles' fame. In a globalised economy, “The Joneses” with David Duchovny and Demi Moore, a movie directed by Derrick Borte is another notable example. The Joneses” is a movie about a seemingly perfect family that moves into a suburban neighbourhood, but who are living a lie, in a complex scheme to exploit, to over stimulate consumerism for their neighbours.


Propaganda meant different things at different times.


Since the twentieth century, propaganda grew into something sinister in the public eye. Synonyms for propaganda are considered to be lies, falsehood, deceit, brainwashing and many more. Choosing the right word to get the expected reaction is essential when talking about propaganda. If we think about the time when the U.S. was preparing the public for events going to happen in Iraq, at first the U.S. used the word "crusade" but it was quickly dropped when it was put to the test of gathering allies, especially European ones. It was a mistake. The rhetoric, therefore, shifted to "war."  The Gulf War of 1991 was called a "war." The bombing of Serbia, in 1999, was called a "humanitarian intervention". Manufacturing consent and obtaining public approval seem to be important in the large schema of projecting a democratic image upon a society.


At the same time, a widely held belief is that propaganda is cancer on the body politic, which manipulates our thoughts and actions and should be avoided at all costs. In recent years, it is considered that propaganda devalues democracy in politics deteriorating life quality in general under the influence of “spin doctors”. Propaganda is not focused on offering information about facts but to obtain a certain reaction. Clearly, the scale on which it is practiced has increased in the twentieth century. The main difference between propaganda and information lies in the purpose of the communicator. With rapidly changing technology, propagandists, propaganda followed changes into a new era of communication and learned to use new opportunities. With the growing knowledge of social, political, and anthropological topics propaganda had, clearly, stepped up on the scale on which it is practiced. Propaganda may be overt or covert, good or bad, truthful or mendacious, serious or humorous, rational or emotional.


Propagandists assess the audience and decide on methods to be used and means they consider to be most effective.


We are witnessing a proliferation of ‘information superhighways’ and digital data networks. Legitimate concerns have been expressed about the nature of media proprietorship, its capacity to influence the political and ethical convictions of elected representatives, its influence in policy making and in shaping public opinion as well as the extent to which information flows freely. It is a series of concerns and questions put by Noam Chomsky who is looking for a rational answer in “Manufacturing Consent". Thought control in a democratic society is the core of Chomsky’s preoccupation. “Propaganda is to democracy what violence is to dictatorship,” says Chomsky. In this context, when reading a history book, a newspaper or when listening to a news bulletin we should realize that what we have is a selection of events. Who is doing it and in whose interest? Answers to these questions vary from the point of view of who is answering. We can have a large palette of interpretations from the angle of the one who is paying for obtaining the information to the one who is offering the so-called information.


Fear is the preferred instrument of propaganda in democratic societies.


Because propaganda needs to have a purpose, a select few who are deciding upon to what end they want to use this instrument an interesting phenomenon arises. The freer a society is the more it’s necessary to resort to devices like induced fear. In order to create convictions, the selection of symbols propaganda refers to must be made so it eliminates critical discussion. Coercion and bribery are forms of imposing power over targeted subjects that lead to a mass of executors. The central element in propagandist inducements, as opposed to compulsion on one side and payment or bribery, on the other, is that they depend on ‘communication’ rather than concrete penalties or rewards. More subtle, and more complex in its message, propaganda persuades and creates followers, believers with strong principles to defend.  


Propaganda in education systems


When comparing to other ways of moulding a society’s convictions one may get the idea that propaganda, as a technique, is similar to education. The spread of controversial attitudes is propaganda; the spread of accepted attitudes and skills is education. But are they always opposite one other? Sometimes, they might seem to be complementary. Something learned while being a student may recur in everyday life in a press article, a political statement, or a civil movement. The difference lies in the intent. A propagandist wishes you to think as he or she does. The educator is giving selected information, putting it in a certain order to help clarify a topic and encouraging you to go beyond the initial set of information, to form an authentic, original opinion. An attempt to sum up these observations gives a possible definition. Propaganda is the promotion of an idea or set of ideas, it’s a form of communication that is concealed in its origin or sources, the interests involved, and the methods applied.


Propaganda as a form of social control


For maximum effectiveness, propaganda starts by using fragments of ideas, words, symbols, and things that are considered common knowledge, and easy to relate to, in order to grab attention. From that point on it is a matter of reshaping communication, putting words in a new order in such a way that the end result serves the purpose of propagandists. It is about the manipulation of collective attitudes by the use of significant symbols (words, pictures, tunes, anything that can be empowered) rather than violence, bribery or boycott. Therefore, propaganda is a technique of social control, of social movements that are striving to cut off any possibility of a different opinion, or action than the predicted one. The task of propaganda is to attract followers - the key word being “attract”. Media is having a huge impact. In “Manufacturing Consent” Noam Chomsky said:“The U.S. Media are alone in that it is you must meet the condition of concision. You got to say things between two commercials or in 600 words. And that’s a very important fact because the beauty of concision – you know, saying a couple of sentences between two commercials – the beauty of that is you can only repeat conventional thoughts”.


Propaganda is offering credos while discouraging the subjects from comparing, and examining, to test the ideas they are asked to accept, and has existed throughout the history of human society. Propaganda engages only the emotional level of a person subliming logic, and reasoning. Leaders and institutional representatives are always desirous of furthering their objectives without argument. They wish to win converts and to reproduce (Propagare) the conclusions, the essential statements and values of their ideology. As Noam Chomsky said in “Manufacturing Consent”: The mass media themselves are complicated institutions with internal contradictions. So on the one hand there is the commitment to indoctrination and control, but on the other hand, there’s the sense of professional integrity.


Given this context, how can a journalist function in good conscience? By internalizing values, by striving to learn about topics important for the development of a society. In this respect, it is of crucial importance to be able to recognize the moments when this knowledge can be made public as it is to learn about the best ways to do it. It is not a form of self-censorship. It is the sensible solution.


Edited by: Kyenila Taylor


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Tags: #movies #propaganda #manipulation #media-literacy



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