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Techniques of Propaganda

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  1. Techniques of Propaganda Aesthetics, Emotion, and Argument

  2. Making a Wildlife Documentary – A Broken Contract? “We tried to shoot a few, and missed both of them. Unbeknownst to me, the [animal wrangler] broke the next rabbit’s leg, so it couldn’t run. So we got one. On the next take, they then asked, ‘Should we break its leg again?’ . . . the DP [director of photography] was sitting there, saying ‘No, I’m sure you wouldn’t want to do it,’ but nodding his head yes. I made the decision, let them break it. I regret it. It eats me up every day. I can sort of rationalize this, that it might be killed by a natural predator. But for us to inflict pain to get a better shot was the wrong thing to do.” -- Quoted in Aufderheide, Jaszi, and Chandra (2009)

  3. I. Techniques of Propaganda • Logical fallacies: Use faulty logic (the claims may be true or false, but their logic can’t tell us). Common ones include • Appeal to authority: Most problematic if the authority is no more expert than we are. Examples: Ongoing squabble over Susan B. Anthony’s views on abortion, “Log Cabin Republicans,” the Dixie Chicks on American foreign policy, Ben Stein on Teaching Evolution, etc.

  4. 2. Circular Reasoning (Begging the Question): Uses the claim itself as the support for a claim • Example: Most “foundational” religious arguments “Why Should I Believe That?” “How Do I Know the Bible is Correct?” “Because the Bible is God’s Word” “God Must Exist” “Because the Bible Says So” (…Which Presupposes That…)

  5. Often Implied Rather Than Stated • Chomsky: “a principle familiar to propagandists is that the doctrine to be instilled in the target audience should not be articulated: that would only expose them to reflection, inquiry, and, very likely, ridicule. The proper procedure is to drill them home by constantly presupposing them, so that they become the very condition for discourse.”

  6. 3. Ad Hominem Attack • Criticizes the person making the claim rather than the claim itself. Frequently attacks “hypocrisy” (a character flaw) rather than the evidence presented. • Examples: Attacking the Wall Street bailout because the CEOs were arrogant, attacking Michael Moore for being fat, attacking climate change researchers for flying to conferences, attacking free-trade advocates for seeking protection for their firms. • Note that attacking a relevant characteristic (expertise in the case of someone rendering an expert judgment or being nominated for office) is not necessarily fallacious.

  7. 4. Either-Or (Or Black and White) Fallacy • Reducing an issue to only two sides, where other opinions may exist, and/or presenting any counter-argument as an argument in favor of “the other side” • Very common in material labeled “propaganda” (reduces number of views being presented) • Example: “Either you’re with us, or you’re with the terrorists.” (Omits options of being against both or for both – the first being more plausible than the second)

  8. 5. False Analogy • Comparison with something dissimilar. • Long-time favorites in foreign policy discussions: Pearl Harbor, Bay of Pigs, Vietnam (now joined by 9/11 and Iraq). • Problem: Reasoning by analogy is almost always fallacious because no two events/processes are the same. But analogies are one of the most powerful tools of persuasion and one of the most common tools of analysis. The entire subfield of Comparative Government was founded on analogies between pairs of countries.

  9. 6. Straw Man Fallacy • Substituting a weaker for a stronger argument, then defeating the weak argument and ignoring the strong one. • Traditional politician’s trick: “Answer the question you wish had been asked rather than the one that was asked.” • Examples: • Pro-lifers refute the “pro-abortion” argument (ignoring the stronger pro-choice position that promotion of birth control will reduce abortions more than a ban) • Pro-choicers refute the “anti-choice” argument (portraying opponents as anti-woman or pro-government control, even though the stronger pro-life argument is based on rights arguments applied to human life and includes support for poor mothers) • Almost everyone tries this one if they can get away with it

  10. C. Other Argument Strategies • Red Herrings: Using an unrelated issue to derail the discussion. Examples: • Responding to complaints about Obama’s health care plan with “Bush started an unending war based on lies” (tuquoque) • “If you cared so much about poor people, you would focus on helping Haitians, not poor Americans.” (True: Poverty in Haiti is Worse. Assumed without Proof: Should not tackle poverty in US). • Arguments about women’s rights  “At least you don’t live in Saudi Arabia.”

  11. C. Other Argument Strategies • Bandwagoning: It is “universally accepted” or “overwhelmingly supported by the people” and therefore you should support it. • Card stacking: Omits factual details in order to misrepresent a product, idea, or cause. It intentionally gives only part of the truth • Transfer creates an association between a product, idea, or cause with a symbol or image that has positive or negative values

  12. Example: Transfer and “Greenwashing” This GE ad targets environmental sympathies. What is the message of the ad?

  13. Ford • Not mentioned in the ad: is they only produced 20,000 of these cars a year, while continuing to produce almost 80,000 F-series trucks per month!

  14. C. Rhetorical Weapons • The “Glittering Generality:” Vague words that sound nice but contain little informational content. Common in politicians’ public addresses (yes, your side too – all politicians’ speeches start to sound the same after a while) • Delete the agent of a sentence – obscures responsibility. Instead of US declared war, War was declared. • Delete experiencer—imputes a harder fact. Instead of “journalists estimated 10,000 at the demonstration,” say “10,000 hit the streets.” • Renaming: Orwell’s “Ministry of Truth.” See also: Pro-abortion instead of pro-choice and anti-choice (or even anti-abortion) instead of pro-life. HANDOUT

  15. 5. Euphemisms, Code Words, and Dog Whistles • a. Euphemisms: New words for old (discredited) concepts. Examples: • Slum  “depressed socioeconomic area” • Invasion  “reinforced protective reaction strike” • Nuclear Accident: “incident” or “event” • Heated Argument  “full and frank discussion” • Rebels  “terrorists” or “freedom fighters” • “Water cure” (1899-1901)  “torture” and “war crimes” (WW II, Korea, Vietnam/Cambodia)  “waterboarding” (2002?-present) • Torture  “enhanced Interrogation Techniques” • “Massacre”  “collateral damage” • All-Out Nuclear War  “strategic exchange”

  16. b. Code Words • Words which have an innocuous definition, but tap into associated non-innocuous concepts or stereotypes • Racially loaded words: “food stamps” or “welfare recipient” (even though most are white), “gang member,” “street thug,” “urban,” “quota,” “states’ rights,” “our folks,” “articulate,” etc. • Ethnically-loaded terms: “real America(n),” “Founding Fathers,” “bilingual,” etc. • Gender-loaded terms: “hysterical,” “worker,” “homemaker,” “queen”

  17. c. Dog Whistles • Words (euphemisms) used to signal one group without alarming others who may be listening • Dred Scott and abortion • “Christian” as a subtype of Christian • “Strict Constructionism” for “Judicial Conservatism” • May use words that are disproportionately loaded for one group • Gingrich: Obama “the most successful food stamp president in American history”

  18. D. Misrepresenting the Speaker • Pretending to be someone we are not • “Plain Folks” Strategy • Misleadingly bolsters ethos of speaker • Examples: • Michael Moore in Roger & Me

  19. II. The Fascist Aesthetic: Susan Sontag’s Critique • Nicely annotated and illustrated version available at

  20. A. Riefenstahl’s Work as Critiqued by Sontag (1975) • Fiction: The “mountain films” • Contrast strong mountains and those who can conquer them with weak valley people • Mountains seen as mysterious or even magical (climb represents spiritual ascent through strength and purity) • Riefenstahl’s own film The Blue Light opposes the creative spirituality of the heroine with the rationalism of outsiders and the hate of those who envy her ability

  21. 2. The Documentaries • Victory of the Faith (1933) – Focuses on mass rallies and marches but flawed • Triumph of the Will (1935) – Full of symbols: classical architecture, physical strength, ideal bodies, mysterious leader, spiritual devotion to the leader, identification of “essence” of the people • Day of Freedom (1935) – Short film.

  22. d.Olympia • Again shows the “body perfect” – the only flaws are from exertion itself • Notable: Race is less relevant than “build” • Actual performance less important than idealized performance (e.g. diving scenes)

  23. 3.Tiefland • Another film contrasting mountain purity with lowland/valley corruption

  24. 4.The Last of the Nuba • Riefenstahl picked them because of looks • Old and disabled not filmed or photographed (not part of essentialized “authentic” Nuba society) • Emphasis on purity (especially sexual purity) as the containment of vitality • Sontag: “The Last of the Nuba is about a primitivist ideal: a portrait of a people subsisting in a pure harmony with their environment, untouched by ‘civilization.’”

  25. B. Sontag on fascist aesthetics • “the contrast between the clean and the impure, the incorruptible and the defiled, the physical and the mental, the joyful and the critical” • “contempt for all that is reflective, critical, and pluralistic”

  26. Goebbels, 1933: • On book burning: “The age of extreme Jewish intellectualism has now ended, and the success of the German revolution has again given the right of way to the German spirit.”

  27. Sontag: “Fascist aesthetics…flow from (and justify) a preoccupation with situations of control, submissive behavior, extravagant effort, and the endurance of pain... The relations of domination and enslavement take the form of a characteristic pageantry: the massing of groups of people; the turning of people into things; the multiplication or replication of things; and the grouping of people/things around an all-powerful, hypnotic leader-figure or force. … Fascist art glorifies surrender, it exalts mindlessness, it glamorizes death.”

  28. III. Fascist ArtNote: This section taken from “The Fascist View of Art: VolkischeKunst vs. EntarteteKunst,” presentation by James Handley at Adrian College

  29. A. Fasces • “A bundle of rods (often accompanied by an axe, which symbolized power over life-and-death) carried by  Roman officials as a symbol of authority.”

  30. Fasces in the Lincoln Memorial • he Lincoln Memorial (1922) uses the image of fasces are sculpted in the front of his seat, beneath his hands.

  31. B. The Nazi’s EntarteteKunst Exhibit • Entarte Kunst means “degenerate art.” • Art work that adopted from primitive forms, or in otherways could cause a “degeneration” in the (so-called) Aryan spirit. • This is contrasted with the Nazi’s preferred “Volkische” art (populist, or “of the people”). • Ironically, the show was exceptionally popular, with 3 million people viewing it.

  32. The Entartete Kunst Exhibit • In 1941, the exhibit appeared in 13 cities in Germany and Austria.

  33. Image from the Entartete Kunst Exhibit • The exhibit purposefully used poor lighting. • On the walls were slogans such as: • “Nature as seen by sick minds.” • “Incompetents and charlatans.”

  34. Joseph Goebbels visits the exhibit • Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Propaganda Minister and an art lover, visited the show.

  35. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, The Artillerymen (1915) • The work of Kirchner, a German Expressionist, was included in the exhibit as an example of the type of art the Nazis considered degenerate.

  36. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Bathers at Moritzburg (1909 – 1926) Ironically, Kirchner’s “Bathers: was initially approved of by Joseph Goebbels because of its anti-modernist aesthetic. However it fails to promote Aryan beauty.

  37. Max Beckmann, “Brother and Sister” (1933) • Beckmann, another German Expressionist, also was presented in the exhibit.

  38. Wasily Kandinsky, “Composition IV” (1911) • Another degenerate style was abstract art. • Kandinsky, who taught at the Bauhaus from 19922 – 1933 (when the Nazis closed it) created a series of “Compositions” prior to WWI. • The first 3 “Compositions” were confiscated and displayed in the exhibit. They were later destroyed along with many other works from the exhibition.

  39. C. EntarteteMusik • The Nazis were also concerned about degenerate music. • Notice the stereotyping of the black jazz musician, including the Jewish Star of David on his lapel..

  40. D. Nazi Art: Albert Janisch, Water Sport (1936) • This is a classic example of “good” Nazi art. • The composition is classically structured, the figures are strong and masculine, and a heroic golden light shines from the rowers. • Note that 1936 was the year the Olympics were held in Berlin, and Janisch seems to represent that event, in which the Nazis hoped to prove their racial superiority.

  41. Nazi Art: Adolph Wissel, Farm Family from Kahlenberg (1939) • Wissel portrays another favored theme of Nazi painting, the good German farm family. • Families were vital to producing more soldiers and workers for the Reich, and farms had the “honored” and critical role of feeding the nation’s warriors. • The painting also reflects the Nazi’s mythicization of rural, primitive (non-modern) life. The “re-generation” takes them back to a more idyllic, pastoral, time.

  42. Nazi Art: Julius Paul Junghanns, Plowing • Junghanns also presents the classic Nazi vision of a re-generation as a return to the soil. • The romantic (anti-modernist, anti-rational, anti-intellectual) vision of the Nazis is displayed in the old-fashioned method of plowing the earth. (Unlike Soviet paintings, which frequently feature tractors, to emphasize the Communists industrial advances over the Czars). • Oddly, the Nazis were in fact committed to maximized efficiency through machine labor. Their public image and private reality were very different.

  43. Nazi Art: Ernst Liebermann, By the Water • The Nazis had a very sexualized political ideology, which fused with their vision of superior Aryan beauty. • Images which emphasized the beauty of German women (and German men, such as Water Sport), especially when done in a classical style, are emblematic of Nazi art.

  44. Nazi Art: Karl Albiker, Relay Runners • The Nazis also prized sculpture. • Typically, Nazi sculpture mimics classical styles, and treats its subjects as heroic figures (as befits a “master race”). • Relay Runners is one of the many poorly executed pieces created quickly to fill the empty exhibition space left by the confiscation and destruction of “degenerate” works.

  45. Nazi Art: Arno Breker • Breker’s sculptural works were of higher quality, and so, in a disquieting way, successfully reinforce the Nazi image of German superiority. • (click for two more Breker works) The Warrior Departs The Guard Preparedness

  46. D. Controversy 1. Exercise: For each of the following, classify it as “fascist” or “degenerate” based on the fascist aesthetic