The word “Propaganda” derives from the work of the Congregation for Propagation of the Faith. The Congregation for Propagation of the Faith was a Roman Catholic Organization, founded in 1622. Its activity was aimed at “propagating” the Catholic faith in non-Catholic countries.
In the mid 19t century, “propaganda” started to get a negative connotation as it began to be used in the political sphere.
In 1928, Edward Barneys writes “Propaganda”, trying to explain the necessity of the action and the intentions behind it. However, instead of being a testimony in favour of propaganda, it is an indirect confession of the level of manipulation reached, using propaganda as a results-oriented tool.
Edward Barneys and the beginning of “Propaganda”
Edward Barneys was an American business consultant who set the foundation of modern public relations. He was vastly employed by major corporations to help them promote their products and increase sales. However, Edward did more than that. He didn’t promote the products in order to increase sales. Edward was set to make a change in the opinions of the general public, creating a demand that would indirectly increase the fortunes of the promoted product.
One of his most famous campaigns was while working for the American Tobacco Company in the late 1920s. Smoking became quite popular among women in the years following World War I. However, the habit carried stigma and only a fraction of Americans found it acceptable for women to smoke, especially in public.
He first introduced the idea, through various means, that smoking is an alternative to candy and desserts. Tobacco was associated with the idea of losing weight. He then followed that with the idea that cigarettes bring freedom to all modern women. The way he introduced the idea to the public was a stroke of genius. During the Easter Sunday Parade on Fifth Avenue in New York City, a group of women were hired to lit up cigarettes all at the same time. He arranged for a photographer to shoot images of the young women. The following day, the New York Times published a story on the annual Easter Celebrations and a sub-headline on page one read: Group of Girls Puff at Cigarettes as a Gesture of Freedom”.
What is propaganda?
Definition = dissemination of information – facts, arguments, rumours, half-truths or lies designated to influence public opinion.
It is a more or less systematic effort to manipulate other people’s beliefs, attitudes or actions by means of symbols. Propaganda cannot be compared to the casual conversation or the free exchange of ideas. Unlike the free exchange of ideas, propagandists have a clear goal in mind when engaging in propaganda.
In order for propagandists to achieve their goals, they use selective facts, arguments and displays of symbols and use them or abuse them in order to achieve the desired effect. Propagandists will stop at nothing to achieve their goals. They will distort facts, appeal to lies, distract your attention. All is done in order to divert your focus from their own propaganda, daring to label everything else besides their work as propaganda.
Propaganda in Edward Barneys’ view
Propaganda is an inherent element of every democratic society. It spread among every aspect of our lives, and it influences thoughts, attitudes, choices and behaviours.
Even though Barneys tries to write as if he is part of a society that is subjected to propaganda, he himself is a perfect tool of its usage. It is not in vain that he is considered the founder of Public Relations, which is a fancy name for propagandist and a quite good one.
The book about propaganda is, ironically, propaganda for the justification of subjecting the masses to the will of the few.
Take the following headlines for example:
To the untrained eye, they might appear as spontaneous happenings. Or are they?
“Twelve Nations Warn China Real Reform Must Come Before They Give relief”
“Pritchett Reports Zionism Will Fail”
The article on China explains the joint report of the Commission on Extraterritoriality in China, presenting an exposition of the Powers’ stand in the Chinese muddle. What it says is less important than what it is. Since “it was made public by the State Department today”, its purpose it’s clear. It aims at presenting to the American public a picture of the State Department’s position. Its source gives it authority.
How authority figures use propaganda
Robert Cialdini would point out how the principle of authority comes into play in such a case. People are more likely to accept something if it comes from a figure of authority. In his book “Pre-suasion”, he talks about one of the experiments performed to study the principle of authority and its dangers.
One person called the local hospital. He introduced himself as the new doctor on staff and informed the nurse staff to start a new treatment. Despite the fact that the nurses have not personally met the doctor didn’t have much of an importance. The fact that he introduced himself as a doctor made all the difference. What makes it even scarier is the fact that the doctor didn’t come personally to the hospital, he gave the order over the phone.
We place our trust in people with authority, believing their intentions are honest and in our best interest. However, the thought that people we’ve never met mould our minds, form our tastes, govern us, suggest ideas, can be quite terrifying.
The old propagandist would try to use almost exclusively the power of the printed word to try and persuade the individual reader to buy a certain product, adopt a certain point of view, express a certain opinion.
Modern propaganda is quite different. It is a consistent and enduring effort to create and shape events to influence the relations of the public to an enterprise, idea or group.
Let’s take the old fashion salesman trying to sell bacon. According to reaction psychology, if a certain stimulus is repeated often enough, it would create a habit. In the same sense, the mere reiteration of an idea would create a conviction. In order for our salesman to increase sales, he would have to repeat the message as often as possible “Eat more bacon. Eat bacon because it is cheap, good and it gives you energy”.
The new salesman would not walk in the footsteps of his older version. He understands the structure of society and the psychology of the masses (“The Crowd” – Gustave Le Bon). Going into depth he asks himself who influences the eating habits of people. The doctor is the most reasonable choice. In pleading with the doctor for help, he now has the figure of authority behind him. He would convince the physician to state publicly that it’s wholesome to eat bacon and stand back and gaze at the result. He knows that a lot of people will place value on the statement since it comes from a figure of authority.
Despite Edward Barneys’ attempt to convince us of the necessity of propaganda in our modern society, there is one question that remains unanswered: is anything else still left to chance or everything is pre-planned to reach a certain goal? Our strongest weapon, which is our brain, can be so easily deceived at every corner, without us even realizing it.