Friday, October 10, 2008

Propaganda - Not Worth the Risk

As Ursula M. Franklin said, "Let me begin now, like any good academic, with definitions." (Franklin, 5)

So first, let me attempt to define what propaganda is, with help from

information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.

This is the most general definition I could find. I find it interesting that rumors are included. That means that although propaganda can be factual, that isn't always the case. It is also interesting that it says help or harm, because for me propaganda has always had a negative connotation. In fact, when thinking of propaganda, slander is one of the other words that come to mind. Even before I knew about complex words and ideas, somehow I knew, or was taught, that propaganda was a bad thing. So if everyone knows propaganda=wrong, then what makes it so powerful?

I think its power lies in its ambiguity, and its difficulty to identify. Propaganda isn't a commercial that blatantly says "See those other people? They totally suck, and therefore we don't!" Even though that is in essence what propaganda does, it's a little subtler, which is the only way people would ever listen to it. If you thought that propaganda was a fair and balanced representation of the facts, you'd be more likely to listen to it.

Another power that propaganda has is to take advantage of the medium in which it is presented. Remember how you're not supposed to believe everything you see/hear/watch on TV? Well, propaganda is part of the reason for that. Despite this common warning, we are much more likely to believe something because it has been in such a powerful medium as the television. We think, not anything can be on TV, right? So if this thing was on TV, it just has to be true.

Any message that tells us how to live or what to do can be considered propaganda. More than ever, we are likely to accept what we are told through the media without question, which makes propaganda more dangerous. "...we live in a culture of compliance, that we are ever more conditioned to accept orthodoxy as normal, and to accept that there is only one way of doing "it"." (Franklin, 17) We are used to accepting what the media says without question, but we are even more used to accepting what people in power say without question. If the Prime Minister told you something was true, depending on your opinion of politics, you might be more likely to believe him than some average person. This is why political propaganda is the most commonly used, and successful. Take this message sponsored by the Conservative Party of Canada for example, that ran several times a day on most television stations.

All this video is basically saying is Stephane Dion sucks. Not that I think that, but that's what this video wants me to think. It lists all of the apparent bad things about Stephane Dion, but it isn't that it offers no proof that bothers me. What bothers me is though it was sponsored by the Conservative Party, it doesn't mention them once. It doesn't say why they would be any better. This "everybody sucks but me" attitude falls under the "deliberately harm" part of the definition of propaganda. I'm sure everyone who ever watches TV, even a little, has seen this by now. We all know that all parties engage in attack campaigns such as these, but this is the most widespread and blatant one in the current election

"To what extent does a medium contribute to the development of democratic processes?" (Postman)

In this case, commercials, such as this one, can greatly harm democratic process. It causes the focus to shift from what politicians will do (or at least, say they will do) to what is little more than slander of their opponent. Propaganda has taken the amazing power of many media, such as television, to reach a large number of people who will believe the message, and twisted it into something only about gain.

I'm not sure who I'm going to vote for yet. I'll probably decide what to do when I get there. Personally, minimal attacking of the opponent is one of my many criteria. This post isn't to say I'm against any one candidate. I just don't care what other people haven't done. When I attempt to be an informed voter, all I care about is what the candidates say they will do.

Propaganda in Canadian politics? - Definitely not worth the risk.

Works Cited

Neil Postman, "The Humanism of Media Ecology"

Franklin, Ursula M. The Real World of Technology. Scarborough, ON: Anansi Press, 1990.

No comments: