By Rivka Willick
Propaganda-we know the word and most of us would consider it a bad thing, but have you really thought about it? Have you been swayed by propaganda? Do you run into it very often? Do you ever spread propaganda, either knowingly or unknowingly? I decided to take a closer look and discovered that propaganda is woven into the culture from several directions.
Let’s start with the definition.
Merriam-Webster’s Definition: 1. the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, cause, or person. 2. ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one’s cause or to damage an opposing cause.
Dictionary.com Definition: information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view. “he was charged with distributing enemy propaganda”
Merriam-Webster’s definition focuses on the purposeful and deliberate use of information, ideas, or allegations. Dictionary.com emphasizes the biased or misleading element of propaganda. I was especially interested in the Dictionary.com’s example sentence and its use of the word enemy.
After reading the first definition, I thought maybe propaganda could be a good thing, but after I read the second, I came to a deeper understanding. Propaganda divides us-it creates an Us and Them mentality. Propaganda is designed to make the listener feel superior, be on the right side, be acknowledge as one of the good guys. Unfortunately, once it becomes a game of us and them, we stop looking for solutions, or examining the flaws inherent on the “good guys” side.
Propaganda is often filled with truth, but often partial truths or the deliberate deletion of negative facts, but it’s wrapped up in pretty pictures and often…compelling stories.
After I got the general idea, I searched for specifics and came across a classification system on a marketing site. https://marketingwit.com/examples-of-propaganda (yes, propaganda is used a lot in marketing). Let’s use their basic groups to get a better understanding of propaganda and its many forms.
Stacking the Deck – Leave out certain facts (unpleasant or negative) and include only the positive ones. How often do you do this when you want to look good and push an idea? Do you include the other side?
Mob Mentality – You are inferior unless you behave, buy products, or believe like the rest of us. Anybody who doesn’t is an outcast.
Name Calling – This one is self-explanatory. Using negative words or names to describe someone or something tells the audience who is the bad guy. Now we can take sides. Politicians use this, but historical storytellers can also fall for this trap.
For Your Own Good – Present an opinion as a fact that should be followed. Presenting something as an absolute truth makes it difficult to bring up or even consider another side.
Rotten Apple Philosophy – Just as one rotten apple can contaminate an entire barrel of apples, a negative trait or idea can taint and dismiss the entire person or idea. (I fall for this one all the time)
When propaganda is woven into our stories, it becomes especially powerful. If the story is compelling, fun, or emotional, we may not notice or care that we’ve been swayed to one side or the other unfairly.
In Propaganda Part 2, I’ll try to tackle political propaganda -specifically when used in “The Presidential People Stories” (Just in time for the US State of the Union)
Rivka is available as a story-coach online, in person, and through workshops. Contact her at Rivka@simplyextraordinarytales.com