Over 60…And Getting Younger: September 25, 2009



What do you know about propaganda? I have always been intrigued by this question.

Propaganda is not necessarily a lie, but it does have by definition an element of deception. A propagandist seeks to change the way people understand an issue for the purpose of changing their actions in a way that is beneficial to the propagandist. He wants change through trickery instead of information.

Successful propaganda in the two world wars: WWI “Uncle Sam Wants You!” was a poster used to have American youth join the war effort. It worked well as Uncle Sam pointed directly at the viewer. WWII – “Rosie the Riveter” attempted to appeal to women to join the factories making war materials. It drew many women into the war effort.

In a war it is used against the enemy. It emphasizes that our cause is just and not the enemy’s. I was surprised when my professor at SUNY-Old Westbury, John Friedman, listed all the subtle types of propaganda in my “Politics and the Media” course. I never realized the varieties of propaganda that are used in daily life and in political campaigns. Some examples:

• Sub-human – points out that the other side has no good human qualities; it dehumanizes the opposition.

• Disinformation – feed false information and quotes. Use false records that are not immediately unprovable.

• Scapegoating – blaming somebody else. This was used against the Jews by the Nazis.

• Repetition – keep repeating stuff until it becomes true to the listener (advertising campaigns).

• Stereotyping – uttering preconceived ideas that use the lowest common denominator.

• Testimonials – quotations from authority figures such as Hollywood stars or famous athletes or other “beautiful people.”

• Flag waving – makes people feel patriotic and appeals to their nationalistic tendencies.

• Labeling – categorizing is used to diminish a group or an idea.

• Issuing quotes out of context. It seems to make sense but it doesn’t make sense.

• Rationalization – offering good reasons for bad actions.

• Generalities – make broad, unprovable statements.

• Intentional vagueness – lacks specificity and allows the audience to use its own interpretation.

• Half-truths – includes many elements of truth; half deceptions that are partially true.

• Name-calling – this is blatant rudeness and an obvious degrading of the enemy.

• Slogans – short stock phrases that appeal to emotions.

• Reductio Ad Absurdium – use simple answers to complex issues and questions (reducing ideas to the absurd).

I wish to thank Professor J. Friedman for his lecture on propaganda. It listed and codified some of the ideas we as citizens should be wary of in the speech of our electioneering candidates for public office. It opened my eyes! I hope you, too, will become aware of this type of speech.


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