What is Propaganda? And why do we care?
Propaganda designers have been putting messages into television commercials, news programs, magazine ads, and other things we read and see for years. These messages have been carefully designed to influence our opinions, emotions, attitudes and behavior. Their purpose is to persuade us to believe in something or to do something. These messages have been designed to benefit someone, and that someone may not be you!
It's not as easy as you might think to spot hidden messages. Propaganda does not rely on pictures or words. Sound, scent, color and design can carry many hidden messages. Propaganda designers know you are on your guard. To get around your guard, they don't put one message into a piece of propaganda - they put lots of messages into each piece! The more you know about propaganda techniques and how they work, the less likely it is that someone will sneak something by you!
Is everything we see and hear propaganda? No, it is not. The word propaganda refers to any technique that attempts to influence the opinions, emotions, attitudes, or behavior of a group in order to benefit the sponsor. The techniques of propaganda are used every day, in the military, in the media, in advertising, in politics, and in all sorts of human relationships.
To protect yourself against the techniques of propaganda, three good questions to ask yourself are:
Is Propaganda always negative?
Propaganda does not have anything to do with negative or positive. It's a technique. The word propaganda refers to anything that attempts to influence the opinions, emotions, attitudes or behavior of a group in order to benefit the sponsor.
What is reverse propaganda?
People sometimes use the term "reverse propaganda." This phrase implies that some propaganda is negative (bad) and some - reverse propaganda - is positive (good.) But propaganda is not negative or positive. No matter what you call it, it's still propaganda, and its purpose is unchanged. The purpose of propaganda is to persuade (in order to benefit the sponsor.)
Example of propaganda:
The following is a real life example of propaganda that you would not normally see. This very clever piece of psychological warfare was a postcard created by the U.S. Army. It was freely distributed to U.S. troops. In this example, the sponsor is the United States Army and the group was the target listed below. This postcard had three main purposes:
Source: United States
Author: U.S. Armies Department of Psychological Warfare
Campaign: Desert Storm/Desert Shield 1990
Target: U.S. military personnel in Saudi Arabia and their families at home
Distribution: Freely distributed to U.S. troops.
Message/Purpose #1: It was created to encourage soldiers to write. Soldiers who write and receive mail are happier.
Message/Purpose #2: It was designed to instill confidence and a warlike spirit to people who seem them. The use of a circle around a map imples global effort and containment. This emblem of logo-like design also images power and world leadership.
Message/Purpose #3: It was worded to provide a touch of humor to lighten the mood of those sending and receiving these postcards.
Question for Students: What other messages are hidden in this card, including messages that support the phrase "Summer Tour 1990"? (See answer below)
Don't be tricked:
Most certainly, you can agree with the messages hidden in a good piece of propaganda. But, you don't want to be persuaded into doing something or believing something simply because you've been the target of an effective propaganda campaign that influenced you without your knowledge. That's why it's important to understand what propaganda is and how it works. Here are some links to help you better understand propaganda techniques because not everything is propaganda, although sometimes in this media age it does feel like it.
Answer to Question for Students: Hidden Messages (Summer Tour 1990). How about: the sea, the sandy color, the red, white and blue colors in the lettering? This was designed to appeal to the musical interest of young U.S. troops. Bands have "Summer Tours". Summer makes us think of sea and sand, and transfers (a type of propaganda) to personal experience like a game of volley ball or sunny weather, no school, or another positive memory. The red, white and blue are the colors in our proud and flying free U.S. flag. The phrase "Summer Tour 1990" implies a short period of time - this is not a war that is going to go on for years, so take heart. A great many hidden messages were packed into one postcard that was targeted towards a specific group to benefit the sponsor. That's propaganda.