Audience Theory:

Persuasion v Propaganda

Propaganda is the expression of opinions or actions carried out deliberately by individuals or groups with a view to influence the opinions or actions of other individuals or groups for predetermined ends through psychological manipulations.

Ellul, 1965, p.12 Institute for Propaganda Analysis

The significant point here is that this case study (the use of music and posters in General Elections) illustrates the way in which we could understand the differences between PROPAGANDA and PERSUASION. In that propaganda appears as overtly political and manipulative, whereas the process of persuasion often appears invisible at first glance, subsequently revealed as invidious, suggesting concealment, strategy, manipulation. Essentially, the heart of this post which is the technique(s) known as behaviour management.

As Chris Burgess notes, ‘during the First World War the State produced hundreds of really famous posters in order to persuade the public of a certain point of view and they use tropes that we see in political posters all the time‘ (The Ballot Box 11:08). For example, the use of ‘an enemy of a horrible beast‘ and the ‘setting up of the other‘ (ibid).

Burgess notes that a lot of people who had been involved in the act of mass persuasion before the War were drafted into political campaigning, which perhaps sows the early seeds of growth for the development of PR, political lobbying and other advertising and promotional organisations, bodies, frameworks and networks; whose main purpose is to persuade a critical mass of the public to support a particular social, political or economic aim.

Look for example, at The Budget League, an organisation set up in 1910 by Winston Churchill, with the direct aim of campaigning to influence political parties and political decision making. Follow this up with a look at ‘Get Me Roger Stone‘ a Netflix documentary ‘exploring the life and career of notorious Republican dirty trickster and longtime Trump adviser‘ (imbd)

Activity: get your students to look at 2-3 political posters (look at posters from The Budget League if it seems interesting) and identify the intention of each poster. Use this post on the language of print to identify some of the key elements that are used.

source here

Extension activity: watch Get me Roger Stone (available on Netflix) to illustrate the extent to which ‘dirty trickster’ individuals (and organisations) will go to put across a political message. Note that Roger Stone recently went to goal:
https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/feb/20/roger-stone-sentence-judge-refuses-new-trial-request

The distinction between PROPOGANDA and PERSUSAION is important when teaching media studies, as much of this subject is taken up by thinkers such as, Antonio Gramsci, Raymond Williams, Richard Hoggart, Noam Chomsky and Stuart Hall, who were clearly committed to the uncovering the relationship between popular culture (ie media studies) which is, in so many ways, clearly connected to the dissemination of political messaging and the engineering of social relations. In other words, looking at posters (particularly political posters or adverting posters and campaigns) is a good way to understand the complicated notion of HEGEMONY – the tug-of-war struggle for social and political control which can be analysed, understood and monitored through the study of popular culture (ie media studies!).

As the video below makes clear, ‘where other media theorists argue that messages are imposed on people from above, Hall said power is not as simple as that. . . seek out stories elsewhere in the lowly despised spaces of knowledge – the gossip mags, the soap operas, the music videos, . . [and] if you want to understand society, then maybe avoid the news, those formalised spaces that house official discourse. Find different stories, different perspectives, different realities.’

In summary, those in power and those who seek power understand the value and potential of mass media communication to secure their own desires and ambitions. So it is the task of the media critic to recognise, engage with, understand, critique and counteract (if necessary) this form of behaviour management / societal control.

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