“What’s your definition of propaganda?”
The question left me flat-footed. I didn’t want to answer because a) I was fighting a cold (still am), so I was thinking fuzzily, and b) I think fuzzily even when I’m healthy. (Relatively healthy, but that’s a discussion for another time.)
What precipitated the question was my posting of the following video to Facebook, a video the questioner had emailed to me and other left-leaning friends, but hadn’t posted herself. She usually posts these things to FB, but for reasons of her own, didn’t this time.
The video in question.
Funny, huh? Well, it is if you lean left and/or aren’t a GOP fan. While entertaining, this video is a lazy parody (read: takes easy, massively-obvious potshots; reaches for only low-hanging fruit, etc.) and also serves as pure propaganda. I said as much in my post.
Which prompted my friend’s question during an online chat. “What’s your definition of propaganda?”
My working definition relies on that old phrase coined by a Supreme Court justice, “I know it when I see it.” The original usage was in an opinion written regarding a pornography case, but has since been applied everywhere from modern art to science fiction literature. (Before you begin to question my motives, I do lean left, myself. But I recognize propaganda when I see it. And this is one such example.) A more precise, but still rather loose, definition would be: “A single-minded attempt to sway or reaffirm an audience’s opinion.”
It’s a simplistic definition, but a handy one. A lot falls under it: advertising, marketing, political speech of all sorts, motivational speakers, self-help books, movie trailers, the lies your best friend tells you to make him/herself look good. When we think of propaganda, we usually think of political speech, especially negative political speech. Leni Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will,” the whitewash documentary of Hitler’s rise to power, come to mind for many people as a prime example of political propaganda.
Another thing that comes to mind regarding political speech: it’s propaganda when the other side uses it but it’s the truth or simple persuasion when our side uses it. Bullhockey. Propaganda is propaganda, even when it’s truthful, especially when it’s used (especially like a bludgeon) to trumpet one side’s point of view versus an opposing point of view.
The Old Spice guy is propaganda. Tony the Tiger is propaganda. The latest Lady Gaga music video is propaganda. Your favorite novel is propaganda. It’s all shades of gray, not black or white. About the only thing in your life that isn’t propaganda is your alarm clock. It just tells you the time: when to get up, when to go to bed.
Communication isn’t all about lies. It’s about the truths that become lies, and the lies that become truth. And how truth and lies can become a hammer we use to beat on our perceived enemies.
This has been a simplistic post by a guy who ain’t a deep thinker. Caveat emptor, post hoc ergo propter hoc, pax vobiscum, hoc tui.
Today’s Prevarication: All of this makes perfect sense even though I still have a cold.