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Home Notes for Introduction to Literature Notes for Basic Writing (ENG 020)
Notes for Introduction to Literature
Notes for Basic Writing (ENG 020)
~~ Propaganda Analysis ~~
We've been studying the language of persuasion. It's not the language of rational argument. It's not persuasion based on clear thinking and logic. We've been looking at the language that persuades by manipulation, the language that reaches out to our emotions, plays on our fantasies, fears, desires. We've been looking at the manipulative language of advertising.
You noticed in the ads you analyzed how advertisers bend language, distort it by using weasel words, euphemism, or just plain goofy nonsense. Anything to arrest our attention, make us pause and enjoy the image, the feeling. The language of advertising is a language that powerfully (whether we want to realize it or not) engages our emotions and diverts our critical intelligence until we are willing to base our consumer decisions on "feelings" rather than any specific evidence that one product is indeed objectively superior than another. We've allowed advertising to interrupt rational, critical thinking. But by studying these issues, hopefully we've begun to erect some defenses against its relentless efforts. I'm encouraged by the essays you wrote, and I think you all have begun to erect those necessary defenses.
But the persuasion doesn't stop with advertising.
Now we're turning the page-all the way up to p. 221-and we're going to scrutinize another kind of language that surrounds us daily-especially in election years or during massive military action-as you may have been noticing right about now. I'm speaking, of course, about the language of politics, which, like advertising, is everywhere. Just like the language of advertising, we're going to see how the language of politics is also flexible and ambiguous, sometimes (in the case of propaganda) rich and arresting-it's definitely purposeful and edited. The result of its use is all too often the same kind of bent, distorted truth and hopeless illusion we've been fed by advertising. Political language tells us what we want to hear, plays on our emotional weak points or hot spots. It's a language to be wary of, to study, to think critically about, to maintain a healthy skepticism over. It's a language that often blurs the truth by being so vague or general as to be practically meaningless. As the writers of "How To Detect Propaganda" declare, socially beneficial language will never suffer by our scrutiny-but the disastrous, socially harmful type must be exposed for the evil it really is! (I'm paraphrasing.)
It's important to study the way politicians speak because they represent the language of POWER. As a result of what politicians say, and think, and do-as a result of their powers of persuasion-things get done-important things. NATO drops bombs, peace prevails as a result of a summit meeting, social programs are funded or reformed or made extinct, budgets are passed, and billions of dollars are being spent one way rather than another. Political language is Power with a capital P.
And political language, as we'll learn, is shifty, just like the language of advertising. At worst, just like the language of advertising, it seems to serve the needs of its maker, not the needs of its hearer. It serves the needs of the politician, the party, the movement, the one seeking power, seeking re-election; it thrives on its users ability to make it pliable, flexible, and ambiguous. It's evasive, euphemistic, avoiding responsibility and accountability. "Unintended buildings were hit. Collateral damage was done." That doesn't sound too very terrible, certainly not as bad as "U.S. airplanes bombed and destroyed a Red Cross building in Afghanistan which housed humanitarian workers and critical food supplies."
A wholly cynical perspective of the political process sees politicians engaged in the act of selling themselves. But let's give people the benefit of the doubt and recognize that it's not always that bad. Even so, let the buyer beware. Once you begin to look into this, you may feel you need to arm yourself against weasely sales tactics.
Here stands a politician who wants to be elected.
Here stands another politician who wants to defend his legislative record so he can be reelected.
Here stands another politician who's been slandered mercilessly by his opponent, or painted in clown make-up by the mass media (my guy, Ralph Nader, in the last election), and he's also trying to persuade you to vote.
All of these candidates want that one thing from you-your vote. Give me your vote!
If I'm a politician, I'm going after votes, wherever they might be. (And if you don't vote, I couldn't care less about you.) But all you voters out there, I'm going to hit you with every ounce of persuasion I can muster. I'm going to study Aristotle so I can argue and debate effectively (should the need ever arise-don't worry, it rarely actually does). I'm going to do what almost every politician living and breathing eventually does-play the propaganda game. Play the doublespeak game.
When political language ceases to be straightforwardly informative about its record of service or its plan for service-when it ceases (or never begins) to explain ideas, policies, proposals, vision-when it, instead, seeks to influence its audience's beliefs or change its behavior, those propaganda techniques you read about in Exploring Language aren't far from earshot.
Let's look at "How to Detect Propaganda" in your textbook.
This famous pamphlet was compose in the 1930s to help people analyze the particular rhetorical devices that constitute "propaganda" in the hopes that such knowledge would help us hold politicians more accountable for the kinds of manipulations they tried to get away with. Powerful propaganda was in the air back then. Dangerous nationalists like Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin, waiting there in the wings . Would people in those societies have been as vulnerable, as gullible as they were if they'd had this kind of knowledge about how they were being manipulated? The writers of this pamphlet were attempting to inform their American readers about propaganda, in part, to protect them from being vulnerable to its effects.
A few questions
we want to ask and answer based on this article are:
And some questions
you might ask and answer yourself are:
We can answer those two questions up there fairly easily.
defined by the IPA, means deliberately designing messages so that people will
be influenced to think or act in predetermined ways, in was the propagandist
prefers. That is, it's an instrument of persuasion meant to get people to form
rash judgments. Why rash? Because they're not based on rational thought or inquiry,
just bald feeling. In this broad sense, you can see how advertising is "propagandistic,"
but properly understood, "propaganda" is a term usually reserved for
those who wield it, or want to wield it, for political purposes.
2. The propaganda tools discussed in the IPA pamphlet are "NAME CALLING," "GLITTERING GENERALITIES," "TRANSFER," "TESTIMONIAL," "PLAIN FOLKS," "CARD STACKING," and "BAND WAGON." It would help to give some of these new names, I think.
Name Calling. Say something nasty about someone. Use broad strokes and never fill them in. Get your audience rushing to judgment without providing any evidence. "He's a pen-pushing bureaucrat." "He's a liberal." (That didn't used to be a bad name!) "He's a terrorist." (Ah, we don't want to admit it, but that's name calling. One person's terrorist is another person's "freedom fighter.")
Glittering Generalities. Use virtue words. Use the same broad strokes, and never fill them in. Get your audience, once again, to rush to judgment without examining any evidence. "He's a good American." "We're for family values."
Transfer. To make something more palatable, set it next to something we like a lot. Get us to feel good about it by the power of association. "Transfer" that good feeling we have about this thing or idea to that thing (or idea). Get your audience to completely confuse the two as much as possible. (The flag = "America's New War." Several news stations seem to want us to associate our patriotism, our need to bond together, our rallying around the flag, with feeling okay about our "new war."
Testimonial. Display somebody whom a lot of people respect or idolize and ask them to take that person's word for it, whatever it is. ("Mayor Guilliani says he is definitely going to vote for so and so, so what do you think of that?")
Plain Folks. Go out and be among the people, doing and saying the things that ordinary people do. Get the people to believe you are just like "one of them." Visit the factory and press some flesh with the machine operators if you really want their votes (and all the other working class folks out there watching on the evening news.)
Card Stacking. "Stack the cards" or "arrange the deck" of facts against the truth. Use under-emphasis and over-emphasis. Suppress facts that don't support your side. Dodge questions, issues, evade facts. Even lie if you have to. Use censorship, distortion. Omit things. Offer false testimony. Create a diversion-raising new issues when you want something forgotten. Draw a red herring across the trail to keep nosy inquisitors off your trail. Make the unreal appear real and the real appear unreal. Let half-truth masquerade as the whole truth. Use as much sham, hypocrisy, and effrontery as you can get away with! (Ask the American people and the rest of the global community to believe that Osama bin Laden is behind the recent terrorist activity in the U.S. without presenting us with the evidence. Oh, I'm willing to believe he's guilty! But show me the evidence! They've showed to practically everyone but us.)
The Band Wagon. Encourage everyone to conform, to follow the crowd, to join in the parade, to get that fellow feeling of belonging to the group. Hey, "everybody's doing it," so what's your problem? Get with the program! Hop on! Flatter and pander and play on people's prejudices, biases, convictions and ideals-work their emotions until they join. (Don't you support our war in Afghanistan yet? What do you mean you don't think we should be dropping bombs? What's wrong with you? Get with it!)
You may have been tempted to file this pamphlet away under the heading: "a dull thing I had to read for my English class." And that's fine. It's not really something meant to be "entertainment." You can think of it as dull, if it was. As long as you THINK OF IT! Don't turn off your mind or your attention because it may strike you as "dull." A lot of important business we attend to as citizens might be construed as pretty dull, but no one thinks it's unimportant. This dull little ditty is very effective, in its way, at communicating significant ideas. People have been reading it ever since it was written in 1937, and the IPA is still around-it has a great website.
Visit my weblog, or write down this address: http://carmen.artsci.washington.edu/propaganda/home.htm
Why is this short little article so effective? Because it does everything I've been telling you to try to do. It understands its purpose, and it crafts its message effectively to achieve that purpose. It uses a few key rhetorical strategies effectively-namely definition, classification, more definition, and illustration. Some comparison/contrast and cause/effect comments are thrown in, too. It's a very well developed piece of information.
Just look at the way the introduction is put together. The thesis is given right away, then 3 or 4 rhetorical devices are used and the introduction closes with a thought provoking quotation from Abraham Lincoln.
There's the thesis
in the first sentence: "[Americans] must be able to recognize propaganda,
to analyze it, and to appraise it." We have to know:
In the introduction
alone, definition, contrast, effect, and classification are used effectively.
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